“No Kill Huntsville came about in January of 2012 because at the time the city animal shelter, which serves both the city of Huntsville and Madison County, but not Madison city, had what we call a live release rate of about 30 percent, which meant that 70 percent of the animals entering the building were destroyed,” said Aubrie Kavanaugh, spokesperson for No Kill Huntsville.
She said the group, consisting of rescuers and advocates from the area, formed to “speak with one voice.” The group took 2012 to do research and network within the community and with other animal advocacy groups.
“In 2013 things started to improve a little bit, but things really picked up in 2014,” said Kavanaugh.
In 2014, the live release rate increased to above 70 percent. Kavanaugh said the increase was thanks to city leadership and a change in culture.
“Following that, from 2015 moving forward, we’ve had an overall live release rate at the shelter of above 90 percent,” said Kavanaugh.
At the end of 2019, the live release rate was 92 percent for dogs and 96 percent for cats. That is an increase of one percentage point each for both since 2018.
“We’re hoping that the city will continue to refine programs as years go by,” said Kavanaugh. “We see every death as a tragic loss… I think that there is always room for improvement.”
The shelter’s foster, return to owner, and adoption programs have been instrumental in increasing the city’s live release rate, but members of No Kill Huntsville still think there’s room to improve.
“The shelter has done a wonderful job promoting their foster programs. They’ve upped the number of animals that are getting back into homes by doing more work in the field to try and figure out ‘Okay, does this animal have a tag? Is this animal chipped?’ and maybe those animals don’t even go to the shelter at all,” explained Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh said the shelter has also excelled in its Working Cat Program.
“A lot of people don’t realize it, but we have a lot of free-roaming cats in the area, and they’re not all house cats. Some of these cats were born outside,” stated Kavanaugh.
If cats can’t get back home, they either adopt them out of the shelter or allow cats that meet certain criteria to participate in the Working Cat Program, where cats provide rodent control for people.
“They’ve really ramped up adoptions. They have promotions going on all the time… because they’re doing renovations, a lot of adoption fees are waived right now,” explained Kavanaugh.
Huntsville Animal Services has also made the animals visible to the public in a creative way.
“Another thing that they’re doing really well, they do a lot of really good marketing, which is part of community involvement and public relations,” said Kavanaugh.
The improvements have been life-changing for the animals, and Aubrie Kavanaugh is hoping the public can get even more involved.
“Of all the city departments,” said Kavanaugh, “the animal shelter is the one that has the most unpredictable operation due to public behavior.”
Kavanaugh said No Kill Huntsville focuses on making the public aware of how their choices affect how the shelter operates. She said more than 4,500 animals were found running at large in 2019.
“We all have to take extra efforts to keep our pets contained… it’s up to all of us to keep them contained… because your animal is not going to behave in a shelter anything like it’s going to behave in your home,” explained Kavanaugh. “As the community grows it [the number] is apt to just get higher, so we’ve got to keep our pets contained. If our pets do get loose, we’ve got to go down to the shelter to look for them.”
“You can look and see the dogs and cats picked up in the last 72 hours by location,” said Kavanaugh.
She stressed that people also need to make sure their pets can be easily identified.
“If your pet has a microchip, the shelter is going to scan for that microchip,” said Kavanaugh.
Another preventative measure to help with overpopulation is getting pets spayed or neutered. The North Alabama Spay and Neuter Clinic is a nonprofit on North Memorial Parkway that helps people who may not think they can afford to have their pet spayed or neutered. The Fixin’ Alabama Spay/Neuter Program is a program for low-income families who may need assistance to get their pet spayed or neutered.
She believes taking these steps will help cut back on the number of animals brought to the shelter each day.
She said No Kill Huntsville advocates are also hoping the city will consider contracting with a contract behavioralist who could work with dogs with behavior issues. She said this would also help increase the city’s live release rate.
Aubrie Kavanaugh hopes that more improvements, like changes to shelter hours and a newer facility, can be made with continued help from city leaders and the community.
“And as far as we are concerned there’s no going back, there’s just looking forward, and we can only continue to improve,” said Kavanaugh with a smile on her face.
To contact No Kill Huntsville, click here.
The Animal Shelter is located at 4950 Triana Boulevard and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
To visit Huntsville Animal Shelter’s Facebook page, click here.
For information about how to support or volunteer at Huntsville Animal Services, click here.