Giving shelter pets the best possible care and a second chance

single-meta-cal August 14, 2018

Kelly Jo Gunn was working as a hairdresser when one of her clients convinced her to volunteer at Huntsville Animal Services.

She loved the work so much, she quit her job to focus exclusively on dog walking for the shelter. She’s now there up to five days a week working with some of Huntsville’s most vulnerable homeless pets.

Many of the dogs she meets have never had a bath, walked on a leash or received love or affection from another human being. It’s those dogs that are closest to Gunn’s heart.

“There are so many disadvantaged dogs there,” she said. “I show up and I try to pick the dogs that need a little help in that direction, so they can get adopted more quickly.”

Changing the shelter environment

Animal shelters were originally designed as short-term hold and extermination facilities. Although many shelters have made great strides to improve living conditions for pets, the facilities are often loud and overwhelming for both the animals and adopting public.

After working for two years as a Huntsville Animal Services volunteer, Gunn said she was thrilled to learn of the City of Huntsville’s plans to spend about $1 million to renovate the shelter to provide better care for pets and an environment that is more conducive for adoptions.

“I’m so proud to have the opportunity to be a part of something as wonderful as Huntsville Animal Services,” she said. “The staff are such a wonderful group of dedicated animal lovers, doing so much to benefit the animals most in need. They really don’t get the credit they deserve.”

Huntsville Animal Services Director Dr. Karen Sheppard said the renovation will include new double-sided dog houses, with double the amount of space currently available and guillotine-style sliding doors for the kennels. The city also plans to complete a facelift of the building with a new drop ceiling, fresh paint, doors and flooring.

Sheppard hopes the expanded living quarters, quieter, less stressful environment, and better accommodations for prospective pet owners will keep the shelter’s live release rate in the 90th percent range.”

Finally, crews will implement a better ventilation system to reduce noise and cut down on kennel cough and other respiratory disease in dogs. Sheppard said the shelter installed new air exchanges for the cats two years ago and has nearly eliminated feline respiratory disease at the shelter.

“We’re hoping the air exchanges are not only going to help the dogs but improve the smell in the building,” she said. “We’re hoping it’s going to be a better environment for our adopters, too. Less noise, less smell.”

Hay Buchanan Architects is handling design for the renovation, which should begin this fall. Because the shelter will remain open throughout the project, Sheppard expects it will take about 18 months to complete.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said the project will be the second phase of renovations at the shelter on 4950 Triana Boulevard S.W.

“It is an important investment for our growing community to provide a quality environment that offers the kind of veterinary care, adoption services, and pet education that our citizens and our pets deserve,” he said.

Picture of the new cat room

Phase one of the renovation allowed the shelter to create its first “cat world” room for felines.

Turning the tide

With the city’s emphasis on saving the lives of all adoptable pets, Huntsville Animal Services boasts an average live release rate of 92 percent. However, maintaining such a high adoption rate can be difficult, especially during months when the shelter is overcrowded and must turn adoptable pets away.

Space is a challenge – but Sheppard hopes the expanded living quarters, quieter, less stressful environment, and better accommodations for prospective pet owners will keep the shelter’s live release rate in the 90th percent range.

“It’s just going to take us to the next level because we want to make sure their quality of life is good,” said Sheppard, who received the Maddie Hero Award last year for her dedication to animal welfare. “We don’t want to just keep them alive while they wait for their home, their second chance at life.

“We’re proud the city’s investing in the animals because it’s important and it’s a great role model for the rest of the Southeast that Huntsville, Alabama is investing in our facility.”

Photo of volunteer and pet at the shelter

Animal Services volunteers are instrumental in helping to bathe, feed, play and care for the pets.