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Geek Alabama Pets: Shelby Humane’s No-Kill Shelter Found ‘Forever Homes’ For More Than 1,400 Cats And Dogs In 2021

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Post by Chuck Chandler from Alabama NewsCenter

A couple of cats can produce a litter that, over the course of the next six years, can balloon to 70,000 offspring if none of them are ever spayed or neutered. It’s part of the battle facing animal shelters across Alabama, including Shelby Humane in Columbiana.

The staff of 43 is awaiting the annual spring influx of puppies and kittens, when the facility may swell to 600 animals needing health care and boarding until they are adopted. Shelby Humane is a “no-kill” shelter, with a 97% live release rate in 2021.

Dooey is one of the cats recently available for adoption at Shelby Humane. (contributed)

On a recent day, about 30 feral cats and kittens were brought in by Shelby County Animal Control officers who seized the animals from a near-hoarding situation, which is a fairly common occurrence, said Bill Rowley, director of operations at Shelby Humane. When owners fail to have their pets spayed or neutered, a few cats can quickly grow out of hand. In the past, the only option for these animals was euthanasia, but now confiscated cats can be altered and returned outdoors for rodent control.

It costs more than $6,100 per day to operate Shelby Humane, where on an average day employees and volunteers take care of between 100 and 300 animals. The puppies, dogs, kittens and cats eat an average of more than 250 pounds of food each day. Many of the boarders need medical treatment, ranging from vaccinations to flea preventatives to treatment for respiratory infections, ringworm, scabies and emergency injuries. Spaying/neutering requires frequent transports to and from veterinarian clinics. (Alabama is the only state that doesn’t allow shelters to hire veterinarians to work on staff; veterinarians can only work for licensed veterinarian practices.)

“It’s a challenge,” said Rowley, who took the director job in 2021 after years heading educational and church organizations. “The failure of pet owners to spay and neuter their animals is a huge, continuing problem.”

A visitor to the 8,523-square-foot shelter across the street from the Shelby County Jail will find wall-to-wall animals of every size, age, sex and breed, most of them rushing to the front of their pens clamoring for attention. There are isolation rooms for new arrivals to avoid the spread of disease. There are special rooms for kittens and puppies, where they are often kept with litter mates for comfort. There is a room for small dogs, where some pens have blue tags to show they have already been adopted.

The largest area in the 21-year-old shelter is for larger dogs who live inside 3-by-5-foot and 3-by-6-foot fenced pens, each with a bed and bowls for water and food. Containers holding treats hang outside the pens, and the quiet is frequently broken as employees approach each area and dogs rise for a special handout. Pens lining the outside walls have sliding doors that open to larger run areas. Each employee walks at least one dog daily – some walk as many as 10.

Under a tall outdoor shed, playpens await the dogs while their inside pens are cleaned each morning. A large, fenced area provides a place for recreation, where dogs can run and play with others. The area is also used for behavioral training. Farther out on the facility grounds are three smaller covered enclosed areas, each with a picnic table and benches where employees and potential adopters can interact with animals.

Spooky is one of the cats recently available for adoption at Shelby Humane. (contributed)

“Adoptions are very fluid around the holidays, when we have our biggest influx of visitors,” Rowley said. “Other days we will have almost no one show up.”

Rowley said Shelby Humane makes financial ends meet through funding from Shelby County, by being awarded grants and with donations from people in the community. Nearly 200 volunteers, about 70 of them active, provide additional support for the staff that would otherwise be costly. The volunteers do laundry, post photos to social media, walk dogs, feed animals, work at fundraisers and aid adoptions, among other efforts.

“We have a great staff here, so I’m actually able to focus on how we make the shelter better, rather than focusing on individual animal welfare issues,” he said.

Rowley would like to keep the number of animals at Shelby Humane to around 100, rather than seeing it reach current – or seasonal – levels that stress the staff, animals and facility. He understands that there may always be a few pets like “Velvet,” who has been there terminally ill for two years, after veterinarians expected her to have only a few months to live. In such cases, the staff is always looking for an adopter who can provide a “healthy, loving environment” for a dying dog’s or cat’s last days. Otherwise, employees want to find a “forever home” for every animal in the shelter.

Harry is one of the dogs recently available for adoption at Shelby Humane. (contributed)

Other programs at Shelby Humane are lowering the number of strays in the county and increasing the rate of dog and cat adoptions. In March, the shelter transport program had its most successful trip ever, moving 87 animals overnight in two vans to New Jersey and New York. Those states have a shortage of adoptable animals, and all from Shelby Humane were immediately adopted. More than 400 pets were adopted in 2021 through the transport program, which is seeking more drivers.

Working with Alabama Spay Neuter Clinic of Irondale and local veterinarians, Shelby Humane operates public clinics for vaccinations and alteration surgeries. Rabies shots are $15; spaying is $45 for cats, $75 for dogs; neutering $45 for cats and $60 for dogs. About 50 animals are treated through the project each week. (Contact [email protected] for appointments or information.)

In 2021, the Shelby Humane foster program placed in private homes 1,419 animals, newborn puppies and kittens, medical cases and some requiring behavioral training. Rowley said fostering is a major need in maintaining the shelter’s no-kill status.

Jupiter is one of the dogs recently available for adoption at Shelby Humane. (contributed)

Shelby Humane is the only shelter in Alabama offering the Safe Pet program that helps victims of domestic violence keep their dogs and cats through free, anonymous boarding beyond the animal shelter. Funded through a national grant, people in Shelby, Blount, Clay, Coosa, Jefferson, St. Clair and Walker counties are being aided, Rowley said. The program is being expanded next year to other counties to provide veterinary and pet care for up to 60 days.

“Our goal is to help the survivors get the help they need without them worrying about the safety and care of the family pet,” Rowley said. “Victims who can keep their pets have a higher chance of not returning to a domestic violence situation. Typically, the aggressor will go after the animal if they cannot get to their domestic victim.”

Meanwhile, inside Shelby Humane, employees and volunteers are continually touched – physically and emotionally – by the animals under their care.

“I think everyone here has either fostered or adopted a dog or cat,” Rowley said. “It really is common to take your work home with you.”

Adoption hours are Tuesday through Saturday from noon until 4 p.m. at 381 McDow Road, Columbiana 35051. Animals available for adoption can be viewed on the website at www.shelbyhumane.org. Call 205-669-3916 to adopt, donate, volunteer or for information.

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