In Julie Buchanan, Huntsville’s homeless pets have friend, advocate

single-meta-cal February 20, 2017

For most of the conversation, a cat named Leighlu nestles in Julie Buchanan’s lap and arms. Another cat, Campbell, warily stalks around a visitor, occasionally rewarding him the great privilege to scratch underneath the cat’s chin.

On this recent Friday morning, Julie has been trying to do some work on her laptop, but as every cat owner knows, that’s nearly as impossible as landing the Space Shuttle in your driveway.

“You can’t sit on my mouse especially if you open up things on my Facebook page,” she admonishes Leighlu as the cat squirms free.

Leighlu recently had a stroke. Her eyesight is nearly gone. But the rest of her senses work. She knows that, in Julie Buchanan, she has a best friend and advocate.

So does every other homeless dog and cat in Huntsville.

Buchanan, 32, is a volunteer for the City of Huntsville Animal Services. She manages the organization’s Facebook page, the most effective outreach method to potential pet adopters, and handles countless other duties. She also works as a liaison between Animal Services and the group Friends of Rescue, which assists pet fostering programs.

“I’ve always loved animals but I never knew there was so much to do to help them,” she says. “I never thought about going to the animal shelter.”

Quite simply, “Julie has changed the face of our shelter. She’s amazingly dedicated and tolerant and passionate about the mission,” says Animal Services Director Dr. Karen Sheppard.

Buchanan’s friends and her coworkers at Redstone Arsenal “think of me as the crazy animal lady. When I’m sitting at work and scrolling through pictures and go, ‘Oh my gosh, you have to come see how cute this dog is,’ most of the time they ignore me now.”

Buchanan grew up in Dickson, Tenn., just southwest of Nashville, in a rural area where her family typically had several pets. (She currently has five in her home.)

“I’ve always loved animals but I never knew there was so much to do to help them,” she says. “I never thought about going to the animal shelter.”

In 2013, a friend who was volunteering for Huntsville Animal Services mentioned the need for photographers to take pictures of the sheltered dogs for the webpage.

“Sure, put my name on the list. Why not?” she responded.

That opened the door to enormous joy for Julie.

“I get to go out and play with dogs and socialize them and take their pictures. It’s kinda like having grandkids. Spoil ‘em and leave ‘em,” she laughs. “Working at the shelter is stress relief. I don’t think about my job, or home, or how much laundry I have to do.”

Her twice-monthly shelter visits have become weekly stints every Saturday. Buchanan schedules photographers for dogs and cats, manages the Facebook page and often participates in the “Get Along Little Doggie” program, in which volunteers socialize with sheltered dogs.

“We have some dogs come in that are absolutely terrified,” she says. “After a few weeks (in the program), they’re happy and they’re healthy and they show better in their kennel. They’re smiling and happy and their tails are wagging. We’ve had quite a few that have made a drastic turnaround. It usually only takes a couple of weeks of people playing with them.”

“She works so hard. She is a volunteer to the core,” Sheppard says of Buchanan. “I really admire her. She created this monster of a Facebook page (over 20,000 page follows) that’s been an incredibly powerful tool for us.”

So, the natural question for Buchanan is what motivates her? What touches her about animals.

“The love,” she says after a moment’s pause. “It’s unconditional.”

With Julie Buchanan, it’s love that’s reciprocated.

Want to volunteer and join Julie and others at Huntsville Animal Services? There are countless opportunities, from simply sharing posts and photos from Huntsville Animal Services Facebook page to participating in “Get Along Little Doggie” to donating dog and cat toys. For information, contact the shelter at (256) 883-3783. Huntsville Animal Services recently celebrated its success rate toward becoming a no-kill shelter, with a 92-percent adoption rate in 2016, meaning virtually every adoptable pet that wasn’t sick or dangerous found a home.