How Huntsville Animal Services finds safe ‘forever families’

single-meta-cal February 6, 2017

It’s an obvious point that Huntsville Animal Services is in operation to provide care and attention for animals. But equally important, it’s in operation to provide for people.

“We look for opportunities to connect people and pets together,” said Dr. Karen Hill Sheppard, Animal Services Director.

Animal Services has pets for adoption, following national guidelines set by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of America and Best Friends, three leading pet advocacy groups.

The “Open Adoption” process – “the gold standard,” Sheppard said — assures pets will be taken into good homes and given the care they need.

Step one for potential pet owners is a visit to the Animal Shelter on Triana Blvd. He or she chooses a cat or a dog, then interacts with a volunteer or employee while becoming familiar with the pet.

A new owner must sign an adoption contract, signifying they understand all the needs of the pet – flea control, nutritious diet, etc. Virtually all of the pets will have already been spayed and neutered.

“We connect with people and let them know it sometimes takes a full year for a pet to fit in,” Sheppard said. “If there is a problem, the pet is to come back to us. We work to help find a new home.”

“Ninety-two percent of the animals go back into society that come here, and it’s a factor of a lot of things, including a lot of hard work.”

During the entire process, staff members are looking for potential red flags that might signal the owner would not be responsible. There is also a “Do Not Adopt” list that includes names of previous owners who have demonstrated irresponsible behavior. However, Sheppard said, seldom does either factor come into play.

“If we have concerns, we do a home visit,” Sheppard said. “We usually wait three to seven days, an officer makes contact with the owner, finds where the pet is and how it’s treated. We have not had to reclaim one yet.”

Animal Services announced in January it had achieved a 92 percent adoption rate in 2016. According to Sheppard, every pet was adopted that was not too sick for adoption or a potential threat.

“Ninety-two percent of the animals go back into society that come here, and it’s a factor of a lot of things, including a lot of hard work,” Mayor Tommy Battle said, praising the efforts of Sheppard and her staff.

Another factor has been the spay and neuter program provided by Animal Services. Low income families are eligible to bring their pets in for spaying or neutering for $5. The program has drastically reduced the number of homeless pets and the cases handled by Animal Services. Sheppard said that when she took the job 14 years ago, her department had some 10,000 pets to deal with; that number decreased to 5,100 in 2016 thanks to the program.

Despite the success, Mayor Battle said, “It’s not over. It’s an ever-continuing effort to make sure these pets have good homes.”