Animal Shelter of the Week: Episode 49 – Lee County Humane Society

Lee County Humane Society is a 501(c)(3) organization located in Auburn, AL. LCHS is an open-admissions shelter that serves the cities of Auburn and Opelika. The shelter takes in about 3000 animals every year and maintains a 94% live release rate for 2019. Lee County Humane Society is responsible for fundraising about 60% of its annual budget. LCHS offers low-cost spay/neuter programs, a Jog-a-Dog program, a pet food pantry, and a multitude of events for the community throughout the year.

 

Welcome to the ARPA Animal Shelter of the week podcast where we introduce you to incredible organizations around the country that are focused on helping animals. We’re proud to be sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal shelter.

The Lee County Humane Society is a nonprofit organization located in Auburn, Alabama. They are an open admission shelter that serves multiple cities. This shelter takes in about 3,000 animals every year and maintains a 94% life release rate. LCHS offers many different programs, such as low cost spay and neuter services, a Jog-A-Dog Program, a pet food pantry, and a multitude of events for the community throughout the year.

Hi, Sydney. Welcome to the show. Hi, thank you so much for having me. Of course, we’re happy to hear more about your organization and you know a little bit about what you guys do over there at the Lee County Humane Society in Alabama. Sure, no problem. So your role at the organization is the Outreach and Development Coordinator. Can you kind of share with me a little bit over all about your organization about what it is that you do there? The Lee County Humane Society takes in cats and dogs from Auburn and Opelika within the city limits. And then we work in tandem with any of the animal controls and other rescues that would cover outside of city limits, but within Lee County. And so we take in, on average, about 3,000 animals every single year, that numbers always rising. So we operate at maximum capacity pretty much all year round. But one thing that we’re really really proud of is our live release rate. Our live release rate for last month, I believe, was 94% which is really awesome for an open admissions shelter. I think it gets us really close to a no-kill shelter qualification. But even though we’re not technically labeled as a no-kill shelter, so that’s something that we’re really proud of.

We work with a lot of different rescues all over the country to transport animals out of our facility to where they’ll find new homes elsewhere, to make room for all the large influx of animals that we have coming in every single day. We also have a really strong foster support system being in Auburn, Alabama. It’s a pretty big college town, so you have a lot of young adults and people that are really excited about fostering animals, which is great, and it also really helps with our volunteer base. But our mission for Lee County Humane Society it was started in order to–we want to be the leading advocate for companion animals in our community. And one of the things that we really focus on is pet overpopulation and making the community aware of the benefits of spaying and neutering their animals. And how it can affect your community, if we can eliminate that problem. That’s a huge problem have and we hear it quite often, you know, especially from talking to different organizations, that overpopulation is a huge issue, and the funny thing about it is it’s such an easy issue to prevent. It’s all about spaying and neutering your pets and keeping them from reproducing all the time, you know, with such a large litters. So I think it’s great that that’s a focus for you guys and, you know, I want to touch base on that 94% live release rate for your guys’ organization. Because the fact that you guys are an open admission shelter and you guys can still maintain such a high percentage, that’s amazing. So that’s awesome for you guys. Well done. Thank you so much. Of course.

So you had mentioned that you guys transport animals and you kind of touched base a little bit on your community. So I’m kind of curious, what goes on in your community? Do you have a lot of splotchy areas in your community where veterinarian services aren’t available? And kind of, to share with me a little bit about your community. Being in Auburn, at least our facility, being in Auburn and then also providing services to the city of Opelika, there are a lot of veterinarians in those two cities.Whereas in Lee County as a whole, it can get pretty rural. And so some people have to drive 40 minutes to an hour to get to a veterinarian. So it really depends on where you’re living in the county. But we try to provide as many services to people as possible, whether they need help with housing an animal, maybe they don’t want it inside, but they don’t have a dog house, or when it’s cold outside, and you know you’ve got a lot of cats that can happen with the cat population. So providing warm and safe housing for your cat, anything like that. Maybe people just need help with feeding their animals. We have a pet food pantry specifically to help people that, you know, maybe they need help making ends meet that week. So they can contact us, and we’ve got an off site facility where we hold food donations, that maybe we can’t use for our own animals, but other people could use it for theirs, and so we’ll donate and give away that food to people in need. That’s awesome. I mean, like you said, sometimes families have a bad week and they may need help feeding their pet. And ultimately we want to keep those pets in their home and with their families. So that’s an awesome program that you guys offer to your community.

Absolutely anything that we can do to keep that animal in the home rather than being surrendered to the shelter, we’re going to do it. It doesn’t matter if we have to spend a little bit of money. Ultimately, any animal that comes into our shelter, the average number of days that they spend with us is 40 days, and so if you do the math, it comes out to an average of $880 that we spend as a shelter per animal. So it’s kind of funny when you think about going to the shelter to adopt an animal. You might think $125 for that puppy is a lot of money. But if you think in the grand scheme of things with the shelter is paying you here for every single animal in the shelter. It’s really, really cheap. So it’s just something interesting that we like to share with people–was the average number of days that every single animal spends in that shelter, it’s pretty amazing. Since you guys are open admission. You guys stay at maximum capacity all the time. The fact that they can stay there that long in your guy’s care, you know, that’s pretty cool that you guys can keep them for that period of time. Absolutely as many animals as possible that we can get into foster care or even having people come to the shelter.

And we have a Jog-A-Dog Program, where you can check out a dog for a few hours that day and you can take it on a walk. You could take it to Starbucks and get a cappuccino. You can just hang out with it, go play, but it really helps because that dog gets out of the shelter–that really stressful environment for them. But then it also gives us a really great look into that animal’s personality outside of the shelter, and so we can help match it up with a family that is less likely to return it three days later because it’s not a good fit. Yes, that’s an awesome program to offer your community, and especially because it benefits potential adopters for that pet as well as benefiting the dog. They get to get out, they get to play, and you’re absolutely right. Like a an animal, you see him in a shelter, and of course, that is such a stressful environment. So they’re scared and you know, they’re probably in the corner of their kennel, and so the fact that they get to get out and just kind of give that dog day out feel where they get to kind of get the focus, gets new sniffs and everything like that, that’s awesome.

So what’s your process with that? Is that just your volunteers can come in or do it? Can anybody throughout the community come in and participate in this process or, you know, how does that work? In order to participate in the Jog-A-Dog Program, you do have to sign up to be a volunteer, and then you’ll go through an orientation that will take you through how to handle the animal, how to do it safely. So as far as people that have gone through the training, it takes about six hours, but they break it up, so it’s really, really simple and easy. And then, as soon as you’re done, you’re able to check out that dog and take it out as often as you like, whenever we’re open. So it’s a really great option for people that maybe they’re not allowed to have a pet, but maybe they really love dogs. And so just getting that fix or using that as you’re volunteering for us, it’s really, really helpful. It seems really cool because, like you said, people can’t always bring dogs into their home. People can’t always foster. That’s an awesome program to hear. I love that you guys do something like that because it’s beneficial from the animal and from the people and everything like that. So that’s really cool. Yeah, and I think even for families that maybe they’re considering getting an animal. Maybe they’ve got young children or something like that. As long as that parent is signed up as the volunteer, maybe they can see how a dog or how their kids would interact with that animal, using it as an opportunity to teach them about some responsible pet care and pet safety, and seeing it that would be a great next step for their family. That seems like it’s a program that works for volunteers but also for potential adopters, too.

I kind of want to jump back a little bit to your community because you said that’s your guys’ focus. A big focus of your guys is this is overpopulation. So, I’m assuming that that is an issue in your community when it comes to the animals, is that right? Absolutely. What’s funny is there used to be a season for kittens and puppies and you would  expect when you were going to have that influx higher numbers that month for intakes. And really, it’s year round now, especially being in the South, where you don’t have a long period of really, really extreme cold weather. The cats and the dogs, the litters coming in, it’s pretty constant. And so teaching the community about spaying and neutering their animals. It’s not just about pet overpopulation, it’s about being a responsible pet owner. That’s part of it. And so teaching people, that’s something that they need to do, not only for themselves, so that they don’t have too many animals to care for if they can’t find homes for them all. But you’re also going to help us because you’re gonna save the lives of all the animals that your pets won’t be multiplying. And that goes back to what I was saying. It’s such a simple, easy thing to prevent with all the organizations out there in the world today, you know so many of them are offering the low cost spay and neuter. There’s so many ways that you can prevent this.

So I noticed on your website that you guys do offer the low cost spay and  neuter program. So, do you guys do any type of educational programs that kind of go along with that, to educate the people of your community about overpopulation and why it’s important to spay and neuter? Yes. So any time we do an adoption event, maybe we’re at Petco or PetSmart, where we’ll go and do outreach with schools, teaching the kids, so we always want to teach the kids about that. But also, sometimes the focus with them is pet safety. And then we’ll send them home with packets that have information about all the events that we have going on, coming up. But then also those flyers for the spay/neuter for their parents. Maybe they haven’t spayed or neutered their family pet, and so just letting them know that there is a cheap option available to them. Why, that’s so important.

Do you need a simple way to capture video of your animals, your fundraisers and your events? Are you tired of struggling to get videos from your volunteers and staff in one place where you can use them for social media and marketing? Do you need help editing your raw videos into amazing video stories that get animals adopted? Then check out rescueTUBE where we’ve simplified the process of capturing and editing your videos. Here’s how it works. Simply download the Doobert App, type in your code and start recording. The videos and photos automatically upload to your Doobert dashboard, so you can download them on any device. Now, videos from daily walks, training sessions, foster homes, and even adoption days can be easily captured and automatically uploaded in one place. Then you can either edit the videos yourself or send them to the rescueTUBE professionals to curate into amazing video stories. Imagine the awareness and marketing you could bring to your organization. Learn more at rescue.TUBE so you can start collecting videos from everyone.

And that’s great that you guys go out to schools and you do outreach like that because the kids are so important. If we can get them to kind of realized the importance of animal welfare, they have feelings and personalities. They’re our future. So that’s the most important thing for them. Absolutely. So we have two different spay and neuter programs. It’s dependent on your income. So one goes to, I believe, $30,000 then we have another one for a household income of $30,000 to $50,000. So we have a really wide range of programs that would apply, and you can get your animal spayed or neutered for as low as $5. So it’s pretty amazing what you can do, and we work with 15 different veterinarians, tight now. We don’t do any of the spay and neuter surgeries ourselves. So we have a lot of different partners, better, more than willing to help us with this. So that’s pretty awesome as well. Yeah, the fact that there’s 15 of them that you guys work with, that’s amazing. That’s a high number and to have that veterinarian support behind you, that’s awesome that you guys were able to do that. And the fact that you can possibly spay and neuter your pet for $5, I mean, oh my gosh, you cannot beat that.

I kinda wanna pivot because it seems like you guys are very in tune with your community. You guys work with different age range, you know, from kids but you also try to help the adults, and I kind of want to know what is your organization’s biggest challenges? I think one of our biggest challenges would be living in a college town or having your shelter in a college town. It’s a double edged sword because you have a large number of potential volunteers or people that have applied to be a volunteer. But it’s temporary because a lot of them are students, and so you have them for a few years, and then they graduate and they move away. So you’re constantly retraining and having to find new people that are willing to be dedicated volunteers. Our requirement as far as volunteer hours, we’re constantly having to find new volunteers and train new volunteers.

And so one of the things that we do is our requirement, as far as, age is that you have to be 16 years old, which some people would say “that’s too old. Why wouldn’t you allow, you know, a 14 or 15 year old?” Maybe you’re limiting yourself, but you also have to be safe. You have to be able to trust your volunteer and make sure that they understand how to interact with those animals. But then we also require that you volunteer for a minimum of two hours a month, and so we feel like that’s very doable. Yes. Yeah, those are just a few things that I feel like, as far as, not limiting ourselves to just college age students and up so that we do have some high school students involved that will hopefully then stay in the area while they’re in college and continue to volunteer, while they are in school, that’s really great. But then also, when those kids joined groups, maybe they join a fraternity or sorority and so we also continue to have contacts in those groups where we can, then maybe they’ll wanna have a fundraiser for us or a car wash or a dog wash or something like that that keeps it really fun throughout the year, something they always really enjoy. And it could be really beneficial for the shelter as well. You know, I think it’s great that you guys are able to kind of get some fund raising out of that because that’s big for college students, you know. And colleges put on fund raisers all the time, and I want to go back a little bit to how you have touched based about that you guys do 16 years and older. That is pretty standard for organizations from the ones that I’ve talked to every now and then, we’ll get somewhere they allow, like volunteers that are eight years old. Like you said, you have to be able to trust them. And not that we don’t trust eight year olds. It’s just they need a little bit more guidance, and a little bit more direction. So I think it’s great in the fact that you guys bring in 3,000 plus animals a year. You know, you guys kind of have to focus on the older aged people, but it kind of balances out because you guys do outreach at schools, so you’re still getting them in there.

So I’m curious. You have mentioned that you have fosters and volunteers. How many fosters, and how many volunteers would you guys say that you guys have? It really depends on the month, so definitely like I’d say during December. A lot of the volunteers’ hours drop, because of a lot of people go home for the holidays, that sort of thing. But just to put it in perspective, just for January of 2019 through November, we had over 3,000 volunteer hours. We’re not entirely sure how many, I think, we have maybe but 20o to 300 volunteers at any given month. But on average, it all came out to 3,060 hours for the majority of the year. So that’s pretty cool to see what all of them together, can do. It’s just amazing. There’s no way that we would be able to have as great of a live release rate and just overall success rate as we have.

Our volunteers and our Foster’s air just so important. Absolutely, and it seems like you guys have a great abundance of fosters and volunteers. And the fact that they can put in that many hours, that’s truly spectacular. And that’s great that you guys have that type of support. So I wanted to ask, since you guys live in a college town, and a lot of your volunteers, kind of, base from that is that something that, like they get community hours for a class or anything like that? Is there any type of stuff like that, that goes on for them to volunteer with the house? Yes. So any time that we have students that maybe they want to volunteer and put those hours towards service hours, that’s completely doable; very, very simple to do. We also work with the court system to do the court appointed community service. And so we also participate in that as well. That’s an awesome thing to do too because, you know, it really gets people involved because they get that extra little oomph in school. So that’s cool that you guys work those different things to kind of get people to volunteer. Right, and then if there are any people that are very passionate about volunteering, but maybe they don’t meet the age requirements, maybe they can’t commit to two hours, you know, minimum a month. There are a lot of other ways that people can get involved, you could plan a supply drive, like a donation drive, you could do your own little fundraiser. There are lots of different ways that people can make an impact without making such a large commitment. Yeah.

So how can one go about getting in contact with you guys about volunteering or fostering? What’s the best way to get a hold of you? Our website is leecountyhumane.org. We’re also on Facebook and Instagram. The handles would be Lee County Humane Society. And then, if you would like to email us and find more information, you can email us LCHS1140@leecountyhumane.org. Awesome. I always like to kind of throw that in there because I want our listeners, you know, if they’re in your area. If they want to reach out, they wanna get involved with your organization, whether it be for school hours or just, you know, because they love doing that. I mean, I’d love to see a lot more people will do the Jog-A-Dog Program. I find that amazing. And I think it’s super beneficial in so many ways. You know, you shared a lot of programs that you guys offer, but I was drawn to that one. So thank you for sharing that. And I hope we can get more people there. That would be great. We’re always looking for new volunteers, especially that, you know, maybe it goes beyond just needing service hours. Maybe they really do have a passion for it and want to make a difference. So that would be great. Yeah, and I feel like there’s so many people out there that want to get involved, but they don’t know how. And that’s one of the benefits that I love about being able to put on this podcast and being a part of ARPA, is because there’s so many options out there for people. And there’s so much that people can gain from, you know, listening to different organizations, experiences and their troubles and everything like that. So I find it great that we’re able to do this. And I love that you’re being transparent and you’re open with us and you’re letting us know, “Hey, this is what we’re struggling with. But here’s what we offer and look at how great it is for community.” So I love that you’re able to do that.

I’m super happy that you were able to join us today, and I kind of want to ask you a personal question because I can tell that you’re passionate about what you’re doing. You’re passionate about the role you are in with the Lee County Humane Society. Do you have any type of memorable story that you can share with us that either kind of got you into the animal welfare industry or just something that just sticks with you that you’d be willing to share with us? So one thing that I’m really proud of is that our team at Lee County Humane Society is extremely dedicated to saving every animal that comes in our doors, no matter what the circumstances. And an animal that comes to mind is a dog named Jake. So last year he was surrendered to our shelter because he had really serious behavior issues. He had a really high prey drive. He had no manners whatsoever, and he was really selective about the dogs that he could interact with safely. He ended up spending 346 days living at the Humane Society. Oh my goodness. And every single day, a manager would work with him so that he could learn how to walk on a leash, not to jump up on people, interact with other dogs safely, and then eventually, participate in play groups that we do every day, where we let multiple dogs out into the play yard at a time and they are able to run around and play and rough house and get a lot of that anxiety and stress out. And so it makes for normally a much calmer shelter dog. But because of his issues, he was not able to participate in that daily playgroup working with him every single day.

We’re very limited as to how much we can do for the animal so we don’t have the funding or really we don’t have the time as much as we would like and so we put out and ask to our community to say “This is what’s going on, these are the problems that we’re having and this is what we want to do for Jake.” And what we needed to do was send him to a professional dog training facility. He needed round the clock professional training and so they really came through and they sponsored his tuition to go to this new training facility for two weeks. And it wasn’t until he completed that training and almost a year of him living in the shelter that he finally had somebody interested in adopting him. For 300 days, he lived at the shelter. Not a single person was even interested in him. He was a really, really special case for us, and we needed to make sure that potential adopter was willing to do what we asked of him and to make sure that was going to be a right fit. So he needed to meet with our manager. He needed to meet with the trainers from the dog training facility. And then we also asked that rather than just adopting him outright, that he foster Jakwe for a period of time, just to make sure that it was going to be absolutely 100% perfect. And as soon as he was able, he adopted Jake. It was amazing. And so today he has continued the training that Jake went through at the professional facility, and he’s able to go to dog parks. He can run on and off of his leash. He doesn’t show aggression of any kind, and so you know, it really tugs on your heart, and he’s always gonna have a special place in our heart. But I’m just so proud because I think it really shows how invested our team is in all of the animals and how we go above and beyond to find every animal, their perfect home. That is truly amazing.

And I was just gonna point that out because, you know, usually you hear these memorable stories and, you know, they always start off a little sad, but the ending is usually happy. But the fact that your organization worked so hard to make sure that he was trained and his behavior was good and the fact that you guys took the extra steps to have the potential adopter meet with your manager, meet with the trainers and everything like that instead of just saying, “well, he’s had training. We think he’s okay. Here you go”, you guys were like—. Right, “sign this waiver.” Yeah, like “here we’ve been working with him”, but I find it so amazing that you guys took those extra steps. And this is why I love what I’m doing again. Because these memorable stories they really touch your heart. And, you know, I can’t even imagine what it must be like for an animal to spend that amount of time in a shelter environment. But the thing that really stood out to me was how hard you guys worked to ensure that he was going to a good home, That that potential adopter knew everything that was going on while he was in your care. I mean, kudos to you guys. That is awesome that you guys went that extra mile for that awesome dog. Well, thank you. Yes, and thank you for sharing that. I mean, I love hearing these stories and the fact that Jake had such a huge impact on you as well as I’m sure other people that, you know you work with within the shelter. I love hearing them. I know our listeners love hearing them, so thank you for sharing that with us. Yeah, absolutely.

So, Sydney, what does the future look like for your organization? Do you guys have any type of programs that you guys kind of have in the works that you could share a little bit? What are some things that you guys have in your sight for the future? So we touched on volunteer programs a little bit earlier, and something that we’re in the process of developing is a youth leadership program. So that the kids that maybe they aren’t old enough to volunteer and handle the animals, but they’re still very passionate in it, about helping the shelters, that we can get them more involved and so that will focus more on education and outreach and maybe even something as simple as getting the word out for events. Maybe we need help sharing something on social media, or putting out flyers, or going to schools and teaching the kids, so we really want to get the younger kids more involved. So we’re hoping to have this leadership program launched in 2020. So I’m really, really excited about that and then looking even further ahead in the next five years, we would really love to have the funds raised and land acquired so that we can open up a new and upgraded adoption center. Oh wow. So, at the end of the day, we would have to separate buildings. Right now, we operate out of one building that we use for intakes and adoptions, and the problem with that is that the animals are in the same building as the sick animals. So. Oh yeah. Separating the two would allow us to adopt out healthier animals.

We believe that we could take in an estimated of 6,000 animals annually. So basically doubling what we’re doing now and it would really improve the kennel space and quality of life for the animals living under our care. That is an awesome goal you have. Yeah, it’s one thing that we’re really looking ahead to and really talking about. And so really just trying to see, you know, maybe people have lands that they’d like to donate, or resources that they’d like to help with this cause. And so really, just starting that conversation and saying “Where do we want to be and how do we want to improve?” And so that’s definitely something that we’re seriously talking about right now. Yeah, definitely. And I love that you pointed out too, like, the mixture of the sick pets in your care as well as the well. I mean, it’s just not something that pops up when you think of “Oh, those animals are in the shelter.” I mean, I didn’t think about it in the fact that you guys were looking into opening up a new adoption building to separate them a little bit. But the fact that you guys are gonna be able to double the animals that you can take in, that’s awesome. You know, that’ll definitely help. And who knows? Maybe you guys can reach more local communities or something like that to kind of help. But I love the idea of the leadership program as well, because that’s something kids and they’re our future. And, you know, I have two kids of my own, so it’s super important for me and my husband to instill in them the importance of animals. And those are some awesome visions for your guys is future. I would love to touch base with you guys, you know, next year and just kind of see where you guys are at, and how everything’s going. And when I talk to you guys now and when I talk to organizations in the future, you know, so much has changed, and you guys have grown so much so I’d love to connect with you later on down the line next year and see how everything’s going. Absolutely. We’d love that. Great.

So, Sydney, is there anything else that you want to share with us before we wrap things up today? I think I just like, thank you for having me on and for helping to spread our message and we have going on. And then for anybody listening, just know that if you are serious about maybe fostering or obviously adopting, like go and talk to your local animal shelter, they would be more than happy to share with you and try to make that happen as much as possible. But if you’re not able to adopt or even foster, consider volunteering. If you can’t volunteer, please consider donating, there are so many ways that you can help your local animal shelter. So if you’re interested in following Lee County Humane Society on Social Media, you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram, and then you can also go to our website and you can join our monthly E-newsletter. Yes, and I highly recommend that our listeners go and check out your social media and all the great work you guys are doing. You’re very active on there. I love seeing all of your posts, so it kind of keeps us all in tune from afar, even though we can’t be there in Alabama with you guys, that kind of keeps us in tune on what you guys are doing. So thank you so much for joining me today. Sydney. I enjoyed learning about your organization and the great work that you guys are doing. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for you guys. Well, thank you so much.

Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a member, join the ARPA to take advantage of all the resources we have to offer. And don’t forget to sign up with Doobert.com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.

This show is available on