Allison Sweatt is in an unenviable position.
She loves animals. And she wants to see them live.
In order to help make that happen, though, the 28-year-old Hamlet resident must work past any tension that exists between herself and her former employer — which happens to be the Humane Society of Richmond County.
The county-operated Richmond County Animal Shelter and the humane society have, since July, divided responsibilities with the aim of reducing the number of unwanted pets. The goal is not to put them down for lack of space, though euthanasia still is a weapon in the shelter’s arsenal.
Not all animals can be saved. Sweatt, though, doesn’t want to hear that.
“I was kind of looked at as the crazy girl who wanted to try and save every animal,” Sweatt said.
Even with the new group, “we might not be able to (save) every animal,” Sweatt acknowledged. “Nobody can do that.”
Richmond County Animal Advocates is a group of about 50 people, including nearly a dozen core volunteers who help with fundraisers, with roots dating back to July 2012. That’s when Sweatt left her job as rescue coordinator with the Humane Society of Richmond County — and a year before the humane society transferred the ownership and management of the shelter to Richmond County government.
The new group is a 501(c)3 nonprofit under the umbrella of the Last Chance Animal Rescue in Southampton, N.Y. To that New York group, her message was clear:
“”I’m tired of killing animals. Someone please help me.”
Animal Advocates, Sweatt said, “was pending 501 (status) the minute I left. It was, ‘okay, let’s get this going.’”
Sweatt is not paid for her work with Animal Advocates. Neither is anyone else with the Richmond County chapter. So when one of the many fundraisers the group holds nets money — such as the $4,312 generated from the inaugural Allison Butler Memorial 5K at Hinson Lake — that money is spent efficiently but swiftly.
“We’re a little different,” Sweatt said. “We’re not a shelter. We do not have a facility.”
Sweatt uses contacts, generated largely from her days as a humane society employee, including rescue groups “from South Carolina to Maine” in order to get animals out of the county shelter. Sweatt estimated that, in the year-plus of the Animal Advocates, volunteers have helped more than 300 animals.
Funds raised goes towards food, veterinary expenses — including spaying and neutering — and when it can’t be avoided, boarding, Sweatt said.
“We don’t really have a budget,” Sweatt said. “We get what we get when we get it.”
In the case of the donation from the Allison Butler Memorial 5K, “some of that money was used prior to the event.”
Sweatt explained that two pugs have been abandoned by their previous owner, locked in a crate in the bathroom of the home. They were infested with fleas and required medical care.
In other areas, Sweatt noted that the goal of Animal Advocates, and that of the reformed Richmond County Animal Shelter and Humane Society of Richmond County, are not far apart.
“We want to see a better outcome for the animals that reside here,” Sweatt said, acknowledging the other two entities’ efforts. “Let’s all work together.”
It takes more than one person who wants shelter reform to make a difference, she said. And those with the shelter and humane society also have bought into the concept of working together to make the animals’ lives better.
The new venture hasn’t come without obstacles. Sweatt admitted she has “a problem saying no” and thought she was doing what was necessary when she was contacted by a woman who, according to the story, found an injured dog and sought assistance from Richmond County Animal Advocates to help pay the medical bills.
Sweatt, reading the situation as it was presented to her, offered to help. Only after the fact did the woman indicate that she’d found the dog several years ago.
“Well, that’s your dog” and your responsibility, Sweatt said.
There have been some successes. Sweatt said education outreach has been phenomenal. Sometimes it’s all about the basics, such as the law requiring and outdoor dog to have access to a dog house. In another instance, she informed owners that a female dog in heat that’s left outside can become pregnant even if caged.
“They’ll figure it out,” Sweatt said of two dogs of the opposite sex looking for the same thing.
Animal Advocates meets at 6 p.m. every first Thursday of the month at Henry’s Uptown Cafe in downtown Rockingham.