Running an Animal Shelter 

With Susan Mah of Furry Friends No-Kill Home for Dogs.

Sometimes dreams just don't work out. So learned Susan Mah when her four-month-old, no-kill shelter closed last week after the group ran out of money.

Mah spent much of last year hosting fund-raisers and securing donations to open Furry Friends No-Kill Home for Dogs. In September, she signed a lease for a facility on Park Avenue near Highland. Rooms were converted into furnished "pet apartments" to help strays adapt to home life before being adopted.

Around Christmas, the $70,000 raised since 2005 began to run out. New donations were not enough to cover $6,000 a month for four part-time employees, vet bills, rent, and utilities.

Eventually, Mah's attempts to keep the facility afloat adversely affected her career as a psychotherapist. She's now relocating her practice out-of-state. But in four months, she learned enough lessons for a lifetime:

• "People are reluctant to give money to a new organization. They don't know if it's going to stick around. What's so paradoxical is if you don't give us money, we're not going to stay in business."

• "Our financial adviser told me we really didn't have enough money to open a shelter [in September]. But I felt like people wanted to see an actual facility. If I have something they can visit, maybe they'll donate money. I knew it was a risk, but I said, let's try it anyway. Maybe we should have existed as a rescue group for longer and built up more money before opening a shelter."

• "Before we opened the shelter, we were fostering five or six dogs at our homes. If we would have been able to find more foster placements, maybe we wouldn't have felt the need to open the shelter when we did."

• "A lot of rescue groups in town don't have paid employees, but it would have been hard to find people who could come in the middle of the day, during business hours, to work. Most people have day jobs."

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