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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – A staff tasked with saving the lives of animals others don’t want now has new energy and ideas.

An expert in helping shelters save the lives of more animals has been working with Huntsville Animal Services to build on good things happening there already.

“He came in as an owner surrender,” said Dr. Karen Hill Sheppard, as she massages a black cat in a kennel.  “His owner for unknown reasons did not want to keep him any longer.”

She’s the director of Huntsville Animal Services.

It’s tough work for her and her staff.

“It’s really hard,” said Dr. Sheppard.  “It’s emotional, it’s chaotic.”

But this week, Dr. Sheppard is getting help from an expert who says she’s been there and knows how to help the staff excel.

“I’m just totally impressed with their commitment to what they’re trying to do here,” said Diane Blankenberg, the CEO of Humane Network.

She has years of experience working with and consulting animal shelters on the West Coast.

She’s visiting to help train staffers to be faster and more resourceful in helping animals and their owners. And she’s giving support to the staff, recognizing the hard, emotional work the staff does.

“That helps me tremendously and it helps for my staff to hear it,” said Dr. Sheppard.

Blankenberg is teaching staffers to reduce the number of owner-surrendered animals by listening to owners in trouble, not judging, identifying the cause of the situation and helping owners use resources available in the community.

“Most people really want to do that, they just don’t understand they have options,” said Blankenberg.

She’s also suggesting staffers run the shelter like a business that people will want to visit again.

“You want people to have a great time there whether they buy anything or not,” she said.

Dr. Sheppard says the staff has saved 86% of the animals they’ve received over the last two months and 70% over the summer.

The city of Huntsville is splitting the cost for Blankenberg’s services with No Kill Huntsville, a local animal advocacy group.