Animal Services Director on Operating the City Shelter & Aiming for ‘No-Kill’ Community

Leadership Perspectives
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Dr. Karen Hill Sheppard has been the director of Huntsville Animal Services for 11 years.  She came from private practice and worked to take away what she calls the 'dark, eerie feeling' that used to surround the city pound.

"It's a place for animals to come and be cared for, and hopefully they improve in health, improve in behavior, and improve in happiness, and hopefully we send them to great homes," said Dr. Sheppard.

The goals early on for animal control were for safekeeping for the public - protecting the public from rabies, nuisance and vicious animals.  Now, the goal is to find homes for as many of the adoptable animals as possible.

Sadly, there's still a big problem when it comes to stray and unwanted pets, though.

"We believe that we will find the day. There are weeks and months when we think 'we're here' then we'll get a big influx of pets," said Dr. Sheppard.  "We want to find homes for every adoptable animal, and every animal that we can help readjust, whether it's a medical or behavioral issue. Right now, unfortunately there are quite a few thousand we're not able to find homes for, but each year, we keep getting better, through all our different resources."

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Dr. Sheppard says over the years, the city has gone from about 10,000 pets to 7,000 each year, for Huntsville and Madison County.

"As you reduce those numbers, then we are able to work better with a smaller number of animals," she said.

Spaying and neutering your pets is still so important. The second challenge, she says, is finding homes for cats and large-breed, short-haired 'bully-type' dogs.

"It's difficult to find those pets homes," Dr. Sheppard said.  "They're great dogs. Bully-type dogs will be pit bulls, or anything mixed in. That characteristic of those heads, slick coat, it's very dominant. Genetically, it's very dominant.  A lot of people are just not as drawn to them as a family pet. They're great family pets."

Dr. Sheppard said the city will keep the dogs as long as possible.

Finding home for cats is also tough.  And then, there's the problem of feral cats.

"Kitty cats used to just be family pets, and then, all of a sudden, there's more cats living, out among us, as feral wild cats.  They're just unowned," said Dr. Sheppard. "There are more cats in the United States living wild, running around freely, than in-family pets. It's a nationwide issue."

You may have a feral cat in your neighborhood, and it may have had kittens recently.  What can you do about this?  First, contact Huntsville Animal Services at (256) 883-3782.

"Try to encourage people if there are any free cats roaming around, get them spayed/neutered.  Based on what you share with us, we'll point you in the right direction. Get you a cat trap, get it spayed and neutered, then we release it."

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There's a strong push to make Huntsville a no-kill community.  Are we within reach of that goal?

"I want that. A lot of people do. I believe it can happen, definitely.  Those two challenges, with the bully dogs and the kitty cats, are going to need more resources, though."

Dr. Sheppard said the community and the city must work together to make it happen.  Here are three ways you can help:

1) Every pet owner should buy a collar and a personalized ID tag for each pet, with phone numbers. Never take it off, not even when you're giving your pet a bath.

2) Reach out. If you have a pet, and don't have the resources to have it spayed or neutered, ask for help.

3) If you see a problem, speak up.  If you see a feral cat having kittens, or an animal being abused, call Huntsville Animal Services at (256) 883-3782.

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