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Shelter Appreciation Week: At Huntsville Animal Services, support drives mission

Published on November 10, 2021

Residents with room in their homes and hearts for a furry friend are encouraged to adopt or foster an animal from Huntsville Animal Services (HAS) during National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week.

The observance represents an opportunity to show appreciation for the local shelter, its employees and volunteers who not only provide a valuable community service, but also save lives.

Adopt a Pet
On average, HAS takes in about 5,000 animals per year – 3,000 dogs and 2,000 to 2,500 cats.

To help understand the importance of animal shelters, consider there are about 3,500 brick-and-mortar shelters throughout the U.S. According to the ASPCA, shelters take in an estimated 6.3 million animals each year – about 3.1 million dogs and 3.2 million cats.

On average, HAS helps find homes for about 5,000 animals per year – 3,000 dogs and up to 2,500 cats. The shelter also takes bunnies, horses, chickens, pet birds, pocket pets like guinea pigs and other surrendered animals. HAS also manages sick and injured wildlife found locally.

Despite occasionally being overrun, the shelter prides itself on a consistently high live release rate. From Jan. 1 through this week, 95% of animals that came into the shelter left via adoption, rescue groups, owner reclaim or other special releases. That number is significantly higher than the national average of 83% reported by Best Friends Animal Society, an animal advocacy group.

Deal of a lifetime

HAS Director Dr. Karen Sheppard said this week’s observance highlights the importance of adopting or fostering a pet and why spaying and neutering is critical. HAS regularly offers adoption fees as low as $10 for adult pets, and occasionally waives fees when intake numbers skyrocket. Each adopted pet is spayed or neutered, microchipped, vaccinated and comes with a free bag of pet food and license from the City.

“For someone with an open heart and an open home, adopting a pet from Huntsville Animal Services is a really great deal,” Sheppard said. “I think there’s a perception that many of our animals have health or behavioral issues, but we have so many great animals that would make great companions. We’re fortunate to have a facility to provide them with great care while they’re here, but our ultimate goal is to find homes for them.”

For existing pet owners, HAS administers a program that spays and neuters pets for low-income Alabamians who live within the city limits of Huntsville. The cost is $5 per pet, for up to six pets, and also includes a rabies vaccine.

Shelter improvements

When asked about improvements to HAS operations, Sheppard credited City leaders who have invested in the HAS facility at 4950 Triana Blvd. A 2020 expansion added a surgery center and double-sided kennels.

A view of a surgery suite at Huntsville Animal Services. There are overhead lights, an operating table covered with a sheet, and various machines and bins that would be used by surgical staff.
A 2020 expansion added a surgery center and double-sided kennels.

A third ongoing expansion approved by the City Council in June will add a larger surgery suite and secure garage bay to allow Animal Control officers to safely bring stray animals in to be evaluated and processed. The expansion will also combine bathing stations, washers and dryers for the first time.

The improvements are indicative of the City’s support for HAS as well as the shelter’s commitment to serve the community and animals in their care. Sheppard said HAS operations align with the Five Freedoms of animal welfare that address both physical and emotional needs.

Renovations in 2018 and 2019 improved ventilation flow to prevent the spread of disease and promote cleaner air. The double-sided dog kennels allow staff to do spot-cleaning throughout the day, which provides a cleaner environment for pets and visitors.

“Animal shelters are often only as successful as the funding they receive, and we are thankful to have the support of our Mayor and City Council,” Sheppard said. “So much of our mission depends on not just having a first-class facility, but also having a great support staff.”

Community support

HAS is also supported by a group of dedicated volunteers who regularly interact with the animals, whether taking them out to play or going on a walk around the block. Animals can become stressed if left in kennels too long, so volunteers provide an important function.

An example of the donated cat-trap covers in use by Huntsville Animal Services. The covers help keep cats calm after entering a trap.
An example of the donated cat-trap covers in use by Huntsville Animal Services. The covers help keep cats calm after entering a trap.

Sheppard also thanked community members who regularly donate supplies like chew bones, toys, towels, food, bedding and other items. Donations helped secure new playground equipment for dogs to play on, and a group of volunteers provided HAS with covers that fit over traps to keep cats calm.

A group of volunteers with the University of Alabama in Huntsville recently raised $1,500 for shelter supplies. And because laundry operations are being impacted by an ongoing renovation project, some community supporters are doing the shelter’s laundry.

“The level of support we receive from the community is truly awe-inspiring,” Sheppard said. “Our volunteers are amazing, but we could always use more. We couldn’t do what we do without them and our generous supporters.”

HAS is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 256-883-3782, visit HuntsvilleAL.gov/Animal or visit the HAS Facebook page to learn more.