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Forsyth Humane Society                    

People love animals at Forsyth Humane Society – and it shows.

Dogs greet visitors in gleaming individual kennels, faced with polished metal and glass and equipped with a comfy bed. Across the way, young women play with kittens in a sunny room filled with toys. Adult cats relax in display cases set into a paneled wall. Outside, dogs run in a play area or walk with volunteers. In an office area, a young couple meets with an “adoption counselor” before taking home a new pet. Everything appears spotless and functional.

FHS is a 77-year-old 501(c)3 charity, explained Sarah Williamson, executive director.  Its mission is “to promote and provide for the humane treatment of cats and dogs in Forsyth County.”

More recently, she said, it has set a more ambitious goal – to increase the rate of animals saved from euthanasia in the county from 36% in 2017 to at least 90% by 2023.

While that’s a big goal, it’s not impossible, she explained. “It’s part of a national trend. Many other communities – like Asheville, or Austin, Texas, or Richmond, Virginia – have achieved that.”

FHS approaches its task from both ends. It makes adoptions easy and affordable. At the same time, it publicizes the benefits of spaying and neutering, subsidizes the cost for owners in need, sterilizes all its sheltered animals and encourages people who can no longer care for their pets to arrange their own adoptions.

“Dropping a pet at the shelter should be your last resort,” Williamson said. “The first step is to re-home it yourself. We recommend adoptapet.com as one example. If you can do that, the pet never comes into the shelter, is not at risk of picking up a disease or developing behavior problems and you have the peace of mind of knowing where your animal lands.”

If someone wants to keep their pet but faces financial hardship, FHS will often help with food or supplies.

FHS counts over 50 paid staff, including 24 full-time, said Amy Justice, who acts as FHS’ finance manager on behalf of Outfitters4, Inc. (O4), in addition to some 800 regular volunteers. Its budget is $2.25 million. The staff, budget and scope of operation surged at the start of this year, when Forsyth County handed off the cat and dog sheltering part of its animal control to FHS. In-house sheltering capacity immediately grew from 100 to 300. But that also added to the challenge of reducing euthanasia, Williamson said – because “county shelters are where most euthanasia takes place.”

In addition to the animals sheltered in-house, an additional 600 are placed with foster homes. Foster placements not only increase capacity, said Mark Neff, director of operations, but also increase visibility in the community and encourage more people to adopt. About 6%, on average, of foster placements become so endearing that they turn into adoptions, he explained, wryly referring to those as “foster failures.” Those animals are also being introduced to friends and neighbors, who also might adopt them. “That moves the number up to 30%,” he added.

“Animals come back from foster care with great notes – things they like and dislike, funny things the animal does, commands they know,” said Williamson. That makes them more a known quantity and “helps immensely with the adoption rate.”

Among the staff, Williamson said, the leadership group tends to remain stable, but part-time staff, who skew young, come and go. FHS recruits through a variety of means. It’s an advantage that animal lovers find the work so rewarding. Justice said volunteers sometimes become part-time staff and part-time staff often hope to move into full-time. 

“I feel very proud of our benefit package,” Williamson said. It includes 100% employer-paid health insurance (for employees; dependents are at the employee’s expense), generous paid time off and holidays, flexible spending accounts, up to a 3% match for IRA contributions and employee-paid dental and vision plans.

“We also make people feel they’re joining a culture, not just a taking a job. We have birthday recognitions and employee outings like bowling night. We recently implemented an official on-boarding process that helps employees meet other employees, both at the management level and peer-to-peer. We promote from within and we’re good about annual reviews and performance recognition.”

“We do a lot of continuing education, and that’s important for a lot of employees,” added Neff. An animal care technician might learn to become a veterinary assistant. Employees can also learn leadership, fund-raising and marketing skills. Employees have left to join veterinary practices or enroll in veterinary school.

FHS relies on O4 to manage its finances, payroll, and components of its benefits administration. During a time of “rapid growth for a small nonprofit in a short time,” Williamson said, “we wanted to focus on our mission, not on developing expertise in these areas. It’s so meaningful to be able to outsource with trust and confidence to a company that has that expertise.”

Williamson joined FHS five years ago after 22 years in corporate marketing in New York. “I’ve always loved animals,” she confessed. “I believe they’re our responsibility and we’re letting them down as a society by just landing them in shelters. They’re a source of unconditional love and they remind us to be kind to each other.” Neff, previously a Petco executive, joined four years ago. His hobby is showing standard poodles.

Two years ago, FHS moved from an 1,800-square-foot building on Miller Street to its new 10,000-square-foot facility, thanks to a $3.8-million capital campaign.

FHS is “100% locally supported,” Williamson said. The primary source is individual donations, supplemented by adoption fees and compensation from the county for running its shelter. A large source is the annual Furr Ball (Sept. 22). There is no endowment. A 20-person volunteer board supervises management.

To donate, adopt or just make a new four-legged friend, come to 4881 Country Club Road (the headquarters) or 5570 Sturmer Park Circle (the county shelter) in Winston-Salem Tuesday through Saturday. The Country Club location is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the Sturmer Park location is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Adoptions cost $150 for dogs and $100 for cats, including vaccinations, microchips and 30 days of health insurance.

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2017 Statistics:

  • 1,685 animals adopted

  • 17,606 volunteer hours

  • 3,155 animals spayed and neutered

  • 2,000 + animals fostered

  • 18,600 pounds of food to pet food pantry

  • 3,131 community room visits

  • 1,700 school children visited