Free advice from consultant helps Huntsville Animal Services achieve shocking adoption rates in October

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - It's an unusual situation at Huntsville Animal Services (HAS), and a very good one.

There are currently no cats in the towers of kennels kept in the front of the building.

The director says it's due to new approaches moving the facility closer to a 90% live release rate.


UPDATE:  See No Kill Huntsville's response to the progress at Huntsville Animal Services.  Click here:  102414 NKH Press Release Regarding Shelter Progress


Visitors to HAS may see the cat kennels after they walk through the front doors.

They are usually full, but on this day, all were empty.

Dr. Karen Sheppard says just 20 days ago, the cat population was out of control.

"Literally, we had more cats than we had kennels and we've recently gotten more kennels," said Dr. Sheppard.  The success comes from changes at the shelter, including adopting cats with shots, neutering and other things, for five dollars each.

"It's become a very common trend," said Dr. Sheppard.  "Shelters trying to motivate good pet owners, instead of getting one kitten, get three kittens."

Adoption rates and medical care for black dogs dropped to ten dollars each.


Dr. Sheppard said the moves went viral and she couldn't believe what occurred in 20 days.

"We've had 310 animals enter animal services. As of this moment, we've had 304 that have left alive."

The ideas came from a non-profit called Target Zero Institute, a consultation firm that paid a free visit to Huntsville recently. TZI staffers recommended facility changes to save as many lives as possible, but not likely 100%.

"Generally speaking, about ten percent of the animals that come into our animal services, euthanasia is the appropriate humane outcome for that animal and that's why it's 90 percent," said John Hamilton, Huntsville City Administrator.  "It's not random.  Some years it might be 91 percent, some years it may be 89 percent."

At the shelter, staffers moved the cats away from barking dogs and added openings between kennels so cats can interact and release stress, making them more adoptable.

Hamilton says the Huntsville City Council will be presented with an agreement to partner with TZI during its first council meeting in November.  Being a non-profit, TZI does not charge for their services.


  • Martha Wiggins

    I’m not so sure this low price is good because of the not so ethical people. You put pit bulls that cheap and they will end up as bait dogs.

    • JA

      I have two rescued pit bulls of my own and can understand the concern, but I’m confident that HAS does a decent “interview” type thing before adopting. I hope.

      On the other hand, if the prices were higher, it may prevent caring families from adopting and leaving more animals to die. I believe there are more loving families that will benefit from the price decrease than there are people trying to find a bait dog. At the same time, I believe if you’re wanting to take on a pet — which can be expensive — you should be able to pay $100.

      Either way, this seems good so far. If any issues crop up, I’m sure they’ll work on remedies.

  • Nuclear Mike

    This calls into question why “free” TZI consultant services have out performed the taxpayer’s salaries given to the good Dr. Sheppard to manage the cat & dog numbers there at the shelter.
    Clearly, Dr. Sheppard is over paid or not providing the professional talent at her position as a City paid employee to accomplish what “free” consultants just accomplished.
    Seems she needs to be replaced and the “free” TZI consultants take over the City’s shelter.

    • Jewced

      I’d have to disagree on the comment about Dr Sheppard being over paid or a poor leader. When we visited the shelter she was working with the people and animals like an equal- not afraid to get her hands dirty. The reason for the high adoption fees is to offset the cost of bording the animals and their medical expenses. While a ‘sale’ is a great tool to temporarily boost adoption- it is not the end all answer. You know as well as I that nothing is free. If I changed anything at that shelter it would be their software. It should be streamlined where a customer doesn’t need to fill out the same information over and over. God bless those working there. They helped me find the perfect 3 kittens.

  • Debbie Tucker-Smith

    I guess Dr. Sheppard doesn’t read much about sheltering? And she told the No Kill people last year that their proven ideas would not work? Yet know she is implementing at least SOME of them and seeing that they do? TZI is promoting the No Kill equation, thank you – most animal rescuers have known about it for, oh, about 10 years or so.

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