By Amy Ferguson
It’s a bizarre time to be alive. This weird, new world of social distancing and over-the-top sanitizing has thrown us all for a loop, bringing with it fresh feelings of anxiety and a heightened sense of uncertainty. We are finding joy where we can; for me it’s a glass of wine, for others it’s a puzzle, a good book or a Facetime date with long-lost friends and family members. For those who live alone (and even for those of us who don’t), the companionship of a loyal fur baby has never been more comforting.
In fact, mental health experts suggest the emotional boost we get from our pets could be the very thing that gets us through this crisis. And that’s why, perhaps now more than ever, the Sugarbelle Foundation is dedicated to keeping pets together with their humans when financial troubles unexpectedly arise. Whether you have temporarily lost your job due to COVID-19, find yourself in a short-term homelessness situation or live on a fixed income that cannot accommodate an emergency veterinary surgery, the Sugarbelle Foundation steps in to help, allowing folks to keep the animals they so love.
Founded by Hoover resident and Simmons Middle School sixth-grade science teacher Jana Budoff Maynard, the Sugarbelle Foundation is not your traditional animal shelter or rescue organization. Rather, its goal is to eliminate the need for animals to be rescued in the first place.
“People find themselves in tough times, and I saw a need,” Jana says. “I started the Sugarbelle Foundation to help families with the cost of pet care when they fall on hard times so they don’t have to surrender their pets to overcrowded and under resourced animal shelters.”
Originally hailing from New York, Jana was born into an animal-loving family. When she was 11 years old, they moved to Birmingham, where Jana’s mother became involved with the Greater Birmingham Humane Society and served on its board of directors.
“Growing up, we were always washing and playing with dogs on the weekends,” Jana recalls. “(My mother) had a heart for animals who needed help and was always bringing animals for us to foster. So, animals have always been a part of my life. It’s what I’ve always known.”
The Sugarbelle Foundation—affectionately named in honor of Sugarfoot and Holly Belle, two of Jana’s beloved adopted pets who are missed everyday—is, quite simply, all about giving and love. Jana, along with the foundation’s small group of animal-loving volunteers (many of whom are her past students), host events and fundraisers throughout the Birmingham area to raise money for struggling families to afford pet supplies, spay and neutering procedures, flea and heartworm prevention, and unexpected veterinary bills. The foundation also partners with a variety of organizations, many of which are in the Hoover area, that provide resources and services to families who otherwise would have had to give up an animal they love.
“The city of Hoover is definitely an important area for us,” says Katie Myers, a member of the foundation’s Board of Directors. “It’s where (several of) our partners and donors live and work, and where our generous sponsors conduct business and kindly support us.”
This includes the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS), whose critical care clinic is located in Hoover. The foundation works as a rescue partner with the GBHS and therefore, is able to use the low cost spay/neuter program (which is not open to the general public) to help many people who otherwise would not be able to afford care.
But no partner has quite stepped up to the plate like the Galleria Animal Clinic, which Jana describes as her “second home, if I’m not a fundraising event.” The clinic is the foundation’s preferred veterinarian where they send pet parents for animals who need care and where they take the animals for most wellness visits, procedures, boarding, etc.
“(Galleria Animal Clinic) has been so great and generous,” Katie says. “They allow us to keep a balance that we pay down through donations. Donors can contribute directly to the Sugarbelle account if they want to pay specifically toward vet services, and that way, the donors have a peace of mind knowing their money is going directly to the source.”
Limited in funds, the foundation works with people on a case-by-case basis. Regrettably, in the past, it has had to turn people away due to a lack of steady donation flow, a phenomenon Jana says breaks her heart.
“We’re small, but try to help as many people in as many ways as possible,” Katie says. “We are slowly building ourselves up, but ultimately, it is all based on the kind heartedness of the people in the community around us.”
Take people like animal advocate and Sugarbelle donor Molly Nobinger, for example. At any given time during her childhood she had at least two or three dogs, a few cats, a canary, and even a handful of guinea pigs, and accordingly she’s always seen it as a responsibility for humans to care for animals, both wild and domesticated.
“I don’t think I could ever be as involved in rescue and animal advocacy as some other dedicated people I know,” she says. “It’s a very stressful, disheartening, discouraging world, and it takes incredibly strong people to do it full force. So that’s why my husband and I donate to the Sugarbelle Foundation. It’s the best way for us to give back.”
The organization also asks for the pet owners to be involved. When the funds are available and the foundation can accommodate, the owners are required to contribute to the care of their animal, even if it’s just a couple of dollars.
“If we can get buy-in from a family to contribute in whatever small way they can and take some responsibility, then it’s a good match,” Jana says.
Ultimately, each scenario is assessed on a case-by-case basis through an application and interview process, which Jana says is critical.
“There are many people who want to help pay for their pet’s care, but do not have the funds at the time,” Jana says. “We work with many folks who actually donate back to pay the vet bills or volunteer their time.”
Since the foundation received its 501(c)(3) status in April 2013, the foundation has assisted roughly 600 pets in the area if not more. But that number is sure to rise, especially now that we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic.
“Several families have asked for assistance (during COVID-19), but thankfully it hasn’t been too overwhelming,” Jana says. “We have been hit hard from a fundraising standpoint though. We’ve had to cancel many events.”
Nevertheless, Jana and her team remain dedicated to their cause and refuse to let the COVID-19 crisis stop them in their tracks. To maintain cash flow, Jana began making and selling masks (all animal themed, of course), and purchase of them goes towards paying off the Galleria Animal Clinic vet bill. In addition, the organization is hosting a variety of virtual fundraisers, including “Phone It In Friday ” to pay down the vet bill, as well as “Sponsor a Spay Day” and “Feed ‘Em Friday”.
“We definitely want to get back into fundraising events once we can do so safely,” Katie says. “Until then, we are working on several projects that will help us grow and allow us to continue to make a solid impact on the community.”
Stay updated on the foundation’s ongoing initiatives, fundraising events, and local partnerships by following the Sugarbelle Foundation on Facebook and Instagram (@sugarbellefoundation). If you or someone you know needs assistance from the Sugarbelle Foundation, visit sugarbellefoundation.org/contact-us.
How to Help the Foundation
The Sugarbelle Foundation cannot operate without funds from its supporters. Any contribution, no matter the size, is appreciated. Visit sugarbellefoundation.org/donate to contribute.
Not sure how much to donate? See estimated costs below for suggestions.
- $10: treats or one month of flea preventative
- $25: bag of pet food or cat litter
- $50: spay/neuter
- $75: training
- $100: vet x-rays or blood work
- $250: portion of heartworm treatment
Sign-up to volunteer with the Sugarbelle Foundation. Several initiatives are in the works for the upcoming autumn and winter season. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
While the Sugarbelle Foundation’s mission isn’t to “home” animals, they do serve as a rescue partner with the Greater Birmingham Humane Society and other local animal rescue organizations. Stay tuned in to Sugarbelle Foundation’s Facebook page for listings of animals who need temporary or furever homes.