Not everyone gets to spend their day caring for and playing with dogs, cats and even bunnies, but Dr. Karen Sheppard isn’t everyone.
As director of Huntsville Animal Services (HAS), Sheppard helms one of the City’s busiest and most critical departments.
Prior to coming to HAS in 2002, the shelter euthanized more animals. By 2016, Sheppard had achieved a no-kill rate of 92%. In January, HAS announced a 95% live release rate, a new record for the organization.
As part of our new “You Ask. We Answer.” series, Sheppard was peppered with several questions about her experiences as HAS director.
What’s the best part of overseeing an animal shelter?
Helping. I love helping the animals and I love helping people. I love working with and helping the volunteers. It’s what I’m passionate about.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about Huntsville Animal Services?
I think some people are concerned we do open adoptions and have subsidized adoption fees for our pets. We don’t want adoption fees to restrict individuals. If someone wants a pet, we want them to have a healthy, spayed and neutered, microchipped pet that can be theirs. And if they have problems, they can ask us for help.
Why should someone volunteer at HAS?
It’s a wonderful place to volunteer. Whether you come in and walk two dogs or pet three cats, you know you’ve helped an animal feel better that day and have some comfort. Volunteers can also communicate with people coming to adopt or redeem their pet or talk with other volunteers. It’s very enriching, and we’re always looking for volunteers. We’re very flexible; some people come in a day a month and some people come three or four days a week.
Can you recall a time an animal arrived in rough shape but was given a second chance?
That’s an everyday thing. There’s one we’re working on now named Chevy, a kitten that came in covered in scabs. Her tail looked broken. Her lower jaw had been pulled away and she was just really frail. She’s going to have surgery next week, but she’s doing wonderful. She’s playing with toys and gaining weight. We weren’t sure she could survive the amount of infection that had developed. We think she got caught in a car engine. All the scabs are coming off her face and she’s doing fabulous. Those types of things happen here all the time and it’s so rewarding to see them get better.
What’s the strangest animal you’ve ever taken in at the shelter?
It had to be the emu – Emily the emu – in 2005. I fostered her at my farm and then we found her a fabulous emu home with other emus and proper housing and fencing. It was running loose in Madison County, so they brought it in. I really thought we’d see more of them, but she’s been the only one. There was a heyday for emus in the 1990s because people were getting them for their eggs and oil.
Dr. Sheppard also answered a question submitted via social media, which can be seen below: