Dog and cat
Dog and cat

For those of us who want company, whether we shelter at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic or for other reasons, a four-footed, furry friend may be just what we need.

Getting the cat or dog that suits our personality and lifestyle is as easy as visiting the Blue Earth Nicollet County Humane Society. (Over the past 50 years, the non-profit has operated under several other names.) On any given day—August 6th for example—BENCHS may have as many as 65 cats and kittens, as well as 16 dogs and pups, awaiting their “forever homes.”

Some of the dogs and cats spend time in foster homes while a health situation is being addressed. Before being adopted, all animals are neutered or spayed and are current on shots.

Uniquely Suited

Like many organizations, BENCHS has had to cancel traditional fund raisers, such as a wine tasting and a garage sale, because of COVID-19. Andrew Burk, the executive director, said that is why the organization so appreciates supporters who access the online auction of donated items, including collectibles and wine. Face masks made by volunteers also are available online, mailed to a purchaser by the volunteer who sewed them—with more than 200 masks sold thus far.

Are you looking for something specific in a cat or dog? …. We let the animal choose the people as much as we let the people choose the animal. Andrew Burk – BENCHS Director

Burk’s background prepared him to lead BENCHS, both from a management perspective (he used to be in big box store management) and because of his love for animals. He said, “I have a good mindset for the business end, and I have two rescue dogs—Harriett, a Lab mix, and Jax, a Husky-Blue healer mix. My previous dog had psychological issues, which gives me more understanding of animals. I grew up with cats, and I rescued loose dogs, put them into our fenced-in backyard, put up flyers and returned the dogs to their owners.”

New Adoption Procedures

For anyone wanting to check out the cats and dogs at the BENCHS shelter, there are, of course, specific procedures since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Burk explained, “Now we are open by appointment only, and everyone is required to wear a mask. Each appointment is 30 to 45 minutes. Everyone washes their hands on arrival, and we have hand sanitizer stations throughout the area. (The sanitizer is fragrance-free and evaporates quickly, so it does not harm the animal when it is handled.) There are no collars or harnesses on the animals, so all cats and dogs are brought to the visiting room by a volunteer or one of the 14 staff members, most of whom work part time. The last 15 minutes of the visit, we apply a disinfectant to every area the person was in.”

Submitted Photo - Andrew Burke, director of Blue Earth Nicollet County Human Society and companion
Submitted Photo – Andrew Burk, director of Blue Earth Nicollet County Human Society and companion

A Critical Component – Volunteers

Of the 250-300 shelter volunteers, five to seven of them come in each day, helping feed the cats every morning, playing with the cats and doing some cleaning. Others walk and play with the dogs, reinforce commands and also do some cleaning, making sure each dog has a fresh blanket. Staff members, who have received training from a veterinarian, do a mini exam of every animal every day, checking for a limp, a runny nose or other symptoms of a problem. A vet comes to the shelter four times a week.

For the volunteers who provide foster homes for the cats or dogs that are not ready for adoption, BENCHS provides food, bedding, toys and medications prescribed by a veterinarian. The foster volunteer provides the daily care. The animal is returned to the shelter when a vet certifies that it is ready to be adopted.

Burk said, “What we look for in a foster home is—are the people dog friendly? Cat friendly? Are there other pets in the home? We place cats and dogs in foster homes within 15 miles of Mankato, any surrounding town where a vet is close enough in case of emergency. The time and energy foster families provide is an irreplaceable donation.”

The End Goal – Adoption

A potential pet owner’s most important characteristic is honesty. Burk said, “Are you looking for something specific in a cat or dog? Personality, size, age? We look for the animal and the people clicking—their personalities. We let the animal choose the people as much as we let the people choose the animal.” The average cost of adopting a cat is $120, depending on its age. The cost of adopting a dog is $300, with a senior dog costing $175.

It’s obvious that the shelter could not operate without its large core of volunteers, whether at the shelter or as foster homes. Burk said, “I thank foster families for their time and energy, which is an irreplaceable donation. Thank you, also, to everyone for financial support. Every dollar counts toward the benefit of the animals.”