Dr. Karen Sheppard is a woman on a never-ending mission. As director of Huntsville Animal Services, she works tirelessly to find homes for each animal that comes through her doors.
Aside from her daily administrative duties, helping animals find loving homes is akin to a second full-time job. In many ways, it’s a race against time. The longer an animal is in the shelter, the more anxious and stressed it becomes.
Fortunately for Sheppard, the victories outweigh the defeats. Huntsville Animal Services found homes for more than 5,100 animals in 2022, representing a live-release rate of nearly 92% for the year.
It was the eighth consecutive year the shelter has achieved a save rate of over 90%, a benchmark of success set by animal welfare organizations across the U.S.
“We desperately need to find more homes for our animals,” Sheppard said. “We have so many great animals that have so much love to give.”
To that end, Sheppard invites the community to find a new furry companion as part of Change a Pet’s Life Day. The event is meant to inspire people to adopt, foster, donate, volunteer or simply advocate for local animal causes.
Three Huntsville pet owners changed the lives of three animals by adopting them. Their lives were also changed by opening their hearts to a new furry friend.
Edie and Clopton
Edie Hartley and her husband, Chad, already had three smaller dogs in their home, but there was just something about the big dog with the funny name – Clopton.
“I don’t know why they named him that,” Edie Hartley said. “I think maybe he was found on Clopton Street, but it does seem to fit him.”
It was love at first sight. The first time she saw Clopton on the HAS website, he was wearing a hat.
“He just had the cutest, sweetest face,” she said. “I just kept coming back to him and telling my husband, ‘I want him.’ I’d see another pic of Clopton and say, ‘I want him now and I’m not kidding.’”
Clopton was in foster care before the Hartley family adopted him in November 2020. The 9-year-old mixed-breed wasn’t without some health issues, however. He was blind in one eye and heartworm positive. They took him home anyway.
“Huntsville Animal Services provided the first round of medicine, and then we took him back for shots,” Edie said. “You have to give them medicine for the first three months and then keep them on heartworm preventative. Now, he’s heartworm negative.”
Since adoption, Clopton is just another member of the family. He goes camping with them. He takes fishing trips with Chad.
“It’s just like he’s always been there,” Edie said. “We’re kind of a lazy family and he matches our energy.”
When asked what she’d tell people about adopting from HAS, she offered a ringing endorsement.
“You can find almost any kind of dog there,” she said. “They’re also there to help you if there are issues with them.”
Karen and Jolene
Karen Paulukaitis adopted Jolene, a rat-terrier mix, in August 2020. She had two miniature schnauzers, but one died of Cushing’s disease. Her remaining dog, Buddy, needed company and she began looking at animals on the HAS website.
“There were two rat terrier mixes, one of which was Jolene,” Karen said. “I sent Dr. Sheppard an email, and she responded right back. We did a meet-and-greet and I knew she was the one.”
Like Clopton, Jolene was an older dog at between 7-9-years-old. She saw that as a plus, however.
“I just wanted a calm dog,” Karen said. “I thought she would fit in well.”
Once at her new home, it took Jolene a little while to adjust. Karen believes Jolene might have been an outside dog at one time because she’s afraid of storms. She would also keep to herself.
“Now, she comes and lays next to me on the couch, but it took a good six months for her to do that,” Karen said.
There were also a few medical issues to overcome, including a mammary tumor that had to be removed, a spay operation and teeth-cleaning. After those were resolved, Karen said Jolene was like a new dog.
“It’s amazing the difference in her demeanor (after resolving her health issues),” Karen said. “I knew I would need to take care of those things going in, but she’s been worth every penny.”
Karen’s smitten with Jolene, who never fails to find a way to entertain her, whether it’s scratching off on the floor with her back feet or standing on the back of the couch barking at passers-by.
In addition to Buddy and Jolene, Karen is fostering Kevin, another rat terrier mix. She hopes someone will give him a loving home.
“I may fail at fostering, but I would rather him be with someone who can give him more time,” she said.
Allie and Billy
Allie Mitchell adopted her dog, Billy, in December 2020. She found the 35-pound mixed-breed on the HAS website and then went to meet him.
When asked about his health at the time of adoption, Allie said Billy was a healthy boy. He’s also full of love and energy.
“He loves to run full-speed and jump on me,” she said. “He loves to stand behind me and bark while I’m cooking.”
Like many dogs adopted from a shelter, becoming acclimated to new environments and people can take a little time. Allie said Billy is slowly learning to trust others.
“He’s made my life a lot happier and more entertaining,” she said of her pup. “He’s definitely improved my life.”