ST. LOUIS — If there was one thing Jamie Case could count on during her drives to her family home in Belleville, it was the packs of dogs roaming the streets of East St. Louis.
It piqued Case's interest, and she joined Gateway Pet Guardians, an animal rescue nonprofit. Eleven years later, she's now the executive director where she's shepherded the organization from $10,000 in debt to opening the first phase of its new shelter this year that serves strays and Metro East residents in need of low-cost veterinary care.
"We don't buy into the mentality that if you can't afford your pet, you don't deserve it," Case, 39, said. "We needed to do more. We needed resources in the community like a pet food pantry and low-cost vet clinic. We needed people to access equitable resources and services. Owning an animal isn't just for rich, white people."
Why did you want to open a shelter in East St. Louis? There's no veterinarian in East St. Louis, no animal control. So when there's a community of pet lovers where half the population lives below the poverty line and don't have money for things like spay or neuter, vet care, or transportation to get to a vet clinic, the problem starts spiraling quickly. There's a statistic that the offspring of one unspayed female and one unaltered male can produce 67,000 animals in six years. Those were real numbers in 2012 when we started our spay/neuter clinics. In 2011, there were 9,000 animals coming in to St. Clair County Animal Control; 25% of that were coming from East St. Louis, Alorton, Centreville, Caseyville and Washington Park. We work with families and try to help them as much as possible. There's a social justice component to what we do and offering the resources where they're needed.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work? Our second phase is a holding intake wing that's about $700,000. All of that is now delayed because we're scrambling to ensure we have operating dollars. Fundraising in March declined 39% and we had projected that income based on opening the building. The retail space, the pet spa, the clinic are all income generating, and we built our budget on that. We hired more staff because of that. We have a 54,000-square-foot building. Our budget grew by a half-million dollars because of that, and now we're on shutdown. But we're still continuing our work. More than two weeks ago, we put out a press release calling for foster homes and the response was incredible. We were able to move every (100-plus) animal out of the shelter within six days and we still have homes to spare.
How did you work your way up through Gateway Pet Guardians? My background is in marketing and small business. I went to a board meeting, and at the time we were about $10,000 in debt to our shelters and veterinary partners and we had $2,000 in the bank. So my mom and I went to work and we had a silent auction fundraiser at a local Pasta House over in Fairview Heights and raised $6,000. I started helping manage the Facebook page, and donations were coming in more heavily. I was working a full-time job at a court reporting firm in their marketing department and was spending a lot of time on my volunteer job. It was one of those things where something had to give. I reached out in late 2009 to the board, and I sat down with a financial adviser. I said, we can afford to hire someone and I'd like that someone to be me. I started going part-time, and by September 2010 I went full-time. The rest is history.
Click here for the full interview.
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