Cumru Township, Pa. -  The Animal Rescue League of Berks County kicked off a series of town hall meetings Friday to discuss plans to become a no-kill shelter with a bold goal of conversion by some point in 2019.

Tom Hubric, interim executive director of the ARL and president of Reading-Berks HR Management, also announced a donor, who was not identified, has pledged $100,000 toward the no-kill initiative, which is expected to increase operating costs by $350,000 to $400,000 a year.

"We need to triple our volunteer pool and fosters for us to even think about becoming no-kill," Hubric said.

Currently, there are 95 active volunteers and 108 active foster homes, he said.

Fifteen women, some of them ARL volunteers, and several employees listened to Hubric's first presentation on the no-kill initiative at the Cumru Township shelter.

Hubric began his presentation by acknowledging the quick euthanization of two lost family pet cats that exhibited aggression after being turned in to the ARL in October and November.

"This is the reason why this organization has really taken pause and felt the need to really take a look at itself," Hubric said, gesturing toward the photographs of the two cats projected on the wall. "For those of you who may not know, these are two family cats that our organization euthanized during my tenure here. The first cat, Violet, she was euthanized on my fourth day here. Sir Diddy was euthanized about a month later."

Since then Hubric said a 48-hour minimum hold policy for cats has been established and additional protective gear was purchased, such as Plexiglas shields so staff can put food and water into cages holding cats that are acting aggressively.

"We've also trained our staff on better understanding animal behavior, in particular cats," Hubric said.

The ARL brought in Dr. Jennifer Fry, who operates The Vet on Main in Birdsboro and is executive director of the Fairchild Foundation, which focuses on feral and stray cats, and Dr. Valarie Tynes of Texas, who is president of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and is employed by Ceva Animal Health based in Lenexa, Kan.

A hard look at finances also is going to be necessary to get to no-kill status.

"We had about $1.8 million in revenue in 2016, 11 percent of that comes from animal control contracts we do with the city and municipalities," Hubric said, noting 4 percent comes from adoption fees and 85 percent comes from donations.

He said the roughly $190,000 received for the contracts is not enough.

"The reality is that the animal control services that we provide to the county are really costing our organization about double that," Hubric said. "We're having to ask our donors to subsidize that loss."

Hubric is confident the public will get behind the no-kill initiative, which also includes establishing a barn cat and a trap-neuter-return program for feral cats, improving sanitation to cut down on medical costs, launching a new customer service program, utilizing the services of an animal behaviorist and rekindling relationships with other shelters, rescues and sanctuaries.

"A month ago I was ready to take you guys out of my will," said Barbara Flowers of Robeson Township, who noted her husband, John C., had the ARL in his will, too. "Now I'm here and I applaud your initiative."

Anna Hehn of Reading said she was worried that the ARL would forfeit its open-admission status to become no-kill.

"The one condition the board gave me as we go down this path is that we always remain an open-admission shelter, that no animal would be turned away," Hubric said.

In crunching the numbers, Hubric estimates the ARL will need to save an additional 1,600 animals a year to achieve no-kill status, meaning the live release rate of animals would have to be 90 percent or more. In 2017, the figures were 87 percent for dogs and 45 percent for cats.

"The Animal Rescue League began as a no-kill shelter," Hubric said. "A lot of time, with organizations and communities, when you want to look for success, you go back to your roots."

The next public meetings are set for Wednesday night at 5:30 and 7.

Contact Susan E. Miers Smith: