Shelby Humane, a nonprofit founded in 1977 with the mission of rescuing and rehoming the neglected and homeless pets of Shelby County, recently received a “no-kill shelter” status after achieving a 97% live release rate for 2021.
The shelter found forever homes for 2,024 animals, increased its housing space by expanding its foster program and created a team-oriented, board-supported lab release program. In total, it provides care to more than 5,000 dogs and cats each year.
“All this has not been easy,” Director of Operations Bill Rowley said. “Saving more animals takes more space, more time or staff and more vet care. Obtaining no-kill status was not easy and required a fundamental change.”
To qualify as a no-kill shelter, 90% of the animals must be live released, all adoptable animals must be saved, and only unadoptable or untreatable animals can be euthanized. That scenario only happens to animals that are critically ill or have a terminal illness and no chance of improvement of their quality of life.
“Those are not counted against the shelter because we did everything we could,” Rowley said.
NEW LEADER, NEW CHANGES
Rowley took over as director of operations at Shelby Humane in November. He and his wife, Rebecca, own Ingadi Flower Farm in Chelsea and oversee a university they started in Brazil.
While Rowley doesn’t have an animal welfare background, he has experience in nonprofits and management. He has spent time visiting other humane societies around the country to learn best practices for a roadmap to make Shelby Humane a better organization.
“There were a lot of things that needed to be done as far as immediate changes,” Rowley said. “Probably the biggest change within the organization was work on improving communication and having weekly staff meetings. We have made some key hires, including an experienced medical manager.”
Alabama is the only state in the country that does not allow a veterinarian to be hired in the shelter. That presents some challenges, including not being able to administer rabies vaccinations, offer on-site spay and neutering services or emergency surgeries for animals brought in by animal control officers. Shelby Humane partners with veterinarians for those tasks. The medical manager oversees daily medications, checks on the overall health of the animals and works with the local vet partners.
One of the things Rowley said Shelby Humane has recently accomplished is being able to get all animals in its care fully vaccinated, spayed and neutered within a maximum of two weeks.
“About once a week, we have a vet on site doing vaccinations,” Rowley said. “For spay and neuters, we work with nonprofit Alabama Spay and Neuter in Irondale. We do a phenomenal amount of spay and neutering of animals every month, usually around 200 a month.”
Shelby Humane currently has 43 employees, but Rowley said that number changes regularly.
“We definitely could use more employees, but as a nonprofit, sometimes the constraint for us is not the availability in the job market,” he said.
Contracted with Shelby County, Shelby Humane provides animal shelter service for its animal control offices. That money accounts for about one-third of the budget. The remaining amount for operations comes from individual donors, some foundations and grants.
“They are a contractor for us for animal control and to take strays in for residents of the county,” Shelby County Manager Chad Scroggins said. “We provide them with some financial assistance via the contract, and they are housed in a county-owned building. We have been working with them in partnership for years, and the live release rates and spay/neuter program have provided a significant amount of improvement of numbers in our county.”
► Spay and Neuter: Shelby Humane offers spay and neuter services for privately owned pets. Pick up is available at Shelby Humane in Columbiana every Monday and Wednesday and from Winn-Dixie in Chelsea and Old Town Pottery in Pelham every other Thursday. Neutering dogs costs $75, while spaying dogs costs $60. Spaying or neutering cats costs $45.
► SafePet: Since 2018, Shelby Humane has offered SafePet, a no-cost program that provides pet lodging and veterinary care for pets of domestic violence survivors who are fleeing their situations. It is the only shelter in the state that offers this program and provides the services to seven counties in Alabama.
In these situations, Shelby Humane works with different counties to bring dogs or cats into their program. They are then kept in a kennel or with a foster family to ensure they are safe. In addition to housing, SafePet can also provide veterinary care for pets with injuries and other health conditions due to abuse, forensic vet examinations to document abuse, preventative care as needed for boarding, and supplies that include pet food, crates, leashes and cat litter . SafePet can also assist with payment of pet deposits when the pet is reunited with the family.
Rowley said, statistically, if domestic violence victims are reunited with their family pet, they have a much higher recovery rate and are less likely to fall victim to domestic violence again.
► Assisted living outreach: During the pandemic, employees and volunteers at Shelby Humane started this outreach initiative to give much-needed care and comfort to residents or to Shelby County assisted living homes. These included Premier Assisted Living in Columbia and Maplewood Lane Assisted Living in Helena.
“It’s a win-win,” Rowley said. “The animals get to get out of their cages and be able to have some enrichment, and the residents can walk them and love them. We have regulars who look forward to the animals coming and are excited about it. For an hour or two, they can entertain and play with the dogs and cats and enrich their lives without responsibility for caring for them long term. Some also post about the dogs on social media to help get them adopted.
WAYS TO HELP
► Adoption Ambassador program (fostering): The Adoption Ambassador program is a portion of the foster program that encourages foster families to house adoptable animals and help them find forever homes.
Rowley said the shelter has about 310 spots for animals, and it is typically running well over 100% in animal care because of their foster care program. In February, the program had more than 80 foster pets living with families until they get a permanent home.
Different types of fostering include neonate (take care of puppies and kittens until they are old enough for adoption); medical foster (short-term medical care when an animal is recovering from surgery); behavior fosters (assist in modifying dog behaviors so they can become adoptable).
In 2021, the foster program placed 1,419 animals in temporary private homes.
► Transportation Program: One of the reasons Shelby Humane was able to achieve no-kill status was because it is able to transport animals to northern states for adoption. Several states have strict spay and neuter laws, so there are no adoptable animals. This program helps reduce the number of animals in care, while also helping them find a forever home.
Shelby Humane’s transport program found forever homes for 400 pets last year. Most of them were adopted by local families, but many were transported to shelter partners in the Northeast.
Partners include Animal Humane Societies in Wisconsin and Animal Welfare Societies in New Jersey and Maryland. Rowley said the shelter is currently looking to expand to other states. Driver volunteers are also needed for this program, as three to four trips are made each month with travel expenses covered.
► Best Friends of Shelby Humane: This group of volunteers works to make a difference in the lives of homeless pets in Shelby County by providing financial support through the planning and execution of special events and fundraisers. It is a sister organization to the Animal Rescue League of Birmingham.
► Donations: Rowley said the shelter goes through a large amount of dog treats, cleaning supplies and dish soap.
There is an Amazon wishlist of items on the Shelby Humane website, along with an updated list of items that donors can purchase and drop off at the shelter.
► Events: Several events have already taken place this year with more to come. On March 6, Shelby Humane had a Crawfish Boil & Adoption event at Pub 261. There was a Pelham Paws in the Park Adoption vaccine clinic on March 20. In April, it hosted pet photos with the Easter bunny, and Designer Bag Bingo was scheduled at The Club on May 4.
For more information about Shelby Humane and ways to help, visit shelbyhumane.org. Donations can be made by texting SHELBY to 26989.