Executive Director Corinne Lamata stands with the recently recovered van. The Humane Society logo was painted over. Photo: Berkeley East Bay Humane Society

By Camille Baptista

A van belonging to the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society that was stolen earlier this month has been recovered. After it disappeared from near the shelter at 2700 Ninth St. in Berkeley around July 4, the van was found in Oakland on July 11.

The Humane Society logo had been spray-painted over, but shelter manager Rachelle Williams said police officers were still able to identify the van, and they notified the shelter. A lock was also broken on the van and there were problems with the ignition. 

“There were two staff people who had to pick it up and they had to start it with a screwdriver,” Corinne Lamata, executive director of the Humane Society, said. “But at least we have it back.”

When Williams first confirmed with other employees that the van was missing, she said she was in “disbelief that someone would have so little regard for property of an organization like ours.”

Soon afterwards, the organization reached out to the community for support in purchasing a replacement van.

“The community was very responsive,” Lamata said. Between an online fundraising page and checks delivered to the shelter, the group raised $10,850.

“We got a gift from Japan, we got a gift from New Mexico,” she said. “People really responded, they really felt bad about this.”

Odessa and Ophelia, two cats currently up for adoption at the Humane Society. Photo: Berkeley East Bay Humane Society

Now that the van has been found, the Humane Society has offered, via posts on their Facebook page, to return donations to those donors who request it. But Lamata said that so far no one has come forward with such a request. Whatever donations they are able to keep will be put toward the Hope Shelter Medical Fund, which helps cover medical expenses for animals in need of urgent care.

“That will make a big impact,” Lamata said. “It can cost between $500 to $1,500 and sometimes more to provide urgent care to an animal that needs an amputation or some sort of critical surgery. So we need to have those funds ready to respond quickly to an urgent need like that.”

After suffering an extensive fire in 2010 that rendered 75% of their space unusable, Lamata said the nonprofit had “hit hard times,” and when the van was stolen, it didn’t have the funds to purchase a new one. She said if employees hadn’t been able to find or replace the van, which is necessary for transporting large dogs in particular, the number of dogs they would have been able to take in for the rest of the year would likely have decreased by about a third.

Since the fire, the organization has operated entirely out of what was formerly just the animal hospital section of their property. But despite this setback, Lamata said it completed 829 adoptions in 2012 — more than ever before in a 12-month period. Construction of the new shelter, which is currently in the design stages, will depend heavily on donations over the next three years. Lamata said the organization will need to raise $4.5 million.

“The reason why we are able to save and find homes for as many animals as we do is because we receive donations from our community,” Lamata said. “With our new shelter, our new goal will be to adopt about 1,000 animals a year.”

Camille Baptista is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She studies creative writing and human rights at Barnard in New York City, where she writes for the Columbia Daily Spectator.

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