Animal Shelter of the Week: Episode 38 – Shelby Humane Society

The Shelby Humane is a non-profit organization founded in 1977 with the mission of rescuing and rehoming the neglected and homeless pets of Shelby County. They house 200-350 adoptable pets at any given time in the shelter but also have other adoptable pets that need extra support and care in the shelter’s foster care program. They are continually striving to grow the services they provide and rescue as many adoptable pets as possible.


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 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 Shelby Humane Society is a non-profit organization founded in 1977 with the mission of rescuing and re-homing the neglected and homeless pets of Shelby County. They provide care to over 5,000 dogs and cats each year and that number continues to grow. A big accomplishment for this shelter is the important service expansion they started since the founding.  The low-cost spay and neuter program provides spay and neuter services to more than 2,300 pets per year.

Hey, Cassidy, welcome to the show. Hey, so you are the External Relations Manager at the Shelby Humane Society in Alabama, and if you could just get us started and tell us a little bit about your organization and how you got started. Sure. So Shelby Humane Society was established way back when in 1977. We were the only open-admission shelter in Shelby County. Back then, we were seen as more of a—we were just the dog pound where strays were brought when animal control would bring them into us. But since then we have grown exponentially. We see ourselves as more of a community organization. We are very people-focused and recognize that the animal overpopulation issue in our state or anywhere, really is really a people problem. Right. And so, yes, we care for the animals. Yes, we love the animals, but we wanted to turn our focus to the community because they are who, saved the animals. There are our adopters, our donors, pet owners. And so we wanted to focus on the people aspect of animal welfare and not just taking care of dogs and cats and finding them homes.

Yeah, I love that you said that because, like you said, I don’t think everyone realizes that people are such a huge part of animal rescue and helping the animals, and it’s important that we focus on them as well. Right, you know, a common saying in animal welfare is “you know I do this because I’m not a people person.” That’s a silly thing to say because, like I said, the people are how we’re gonna make this better.

And so how did you get started with the organization? I actually got started in animal welfare in high school. I got a pretty typical kennel job when I was about 16. I thought it’d be cool to do something like that. Plus, it got me out of high school for half of my senior year. So, yeah, I started working at a local animal shelter back then, and just over the years it became evident to me that animal welfare nonprofit was where my passion was. I did some sales in between just some boring sales jobs that I was successful at, but was just bored to death. And so one day I get on, and I knew there weren’t many animal welfare organizations in my area. But I typed in, you know, ‘nonprofit jobs in the area,’ and Shelby Humane Society popped up and I didn’t know much about them at the time. But I looked at their website and all of the things that they were doing just blew me away. And it was an organization that I definitely wanted to be a part of. And so about six years ago, I joined the team as an Adoption Counselor. Since then, I’ve been doing grants, transporting, fostering, and now I’m leading the programs there. Wow, It sounds like you kind of done a little bit of everything there. Yes. I have. Jack of all trades. Yeah, that’s great.

So why don’t you tell us a little bit about what the community is like in your area? So you’re in Alabama? Yeah. Yeah, and are there any particular challenges for the animals in your community? Or just, kind of, what does that look like? So Alabama struggles in the animal welfare field in a lot of ways. You know, a lot of places in the Northeast and the Midwest, you know, they have laws in place that support the animal on pet population in their areas. Alabama’s kind of fallen behind there. We’ve tried to do a lot of good things in the last few years. You know, as far as puppy mills go and maintaining, you know, spay and neuter and vaccination laws. And it’s just something that we’ve always kind of struggled with.

The culture here is a little difficult as well. Alabama’s very rural in a lot of places and so pets are property, and you know, a lot of the old culture from the past still kind of ekes in, you know, dogs roaming free, dogs being chained up, things like that. And spay and neuter, it’s gotten a lot better in the state of the last, probably 10 to 15 years. It’s gotten a lot better, actually, but that’s something we still struggle with on a regular basis.

So how do you guys kind of combat those issues? Like, I know you said, there’s a lot of dogs roaming free. What you guys kind of do to help those issues? Outreach and education. That’s all we can do, really. As a private nonprofit, we do have a contract with the county, so we take in strays from the county, whether it’s from animal control or public citizens. But most of our outreach, because we are in a rural area, happens at our doors. You know, we try to do a lot of public promotion and outreach programs, but oftentimes the educating the public happens when they come to adopt a cat and say “I want to declaw it,” the education happens there. Or “why can’t I have a dog chained up outside all the time?” We know most of those people’s intentions are good, and judging them for those decisions aren’t gonna make them change their minds. So we think that educating them about why those things are bad ideas, you know, not spaying, not vaccinating, not tying your dog up. We think that education is key. It’s the most important thing that we can do. Yes, I think everyone—well, most people—have the best intentions for their pets, and the education is such an important piece because maybe they just don’t know, like why chaining a dog up isn’t great.

So what are some of the programs that your organization offers? So, of course, we do pet adoptions. We have a foster program and a volunteer program. Some of the programs we’re most proud of effectively help the community basically to help prevent pets from having to come into our shelter. One in particular program I’m really proud of is our pet retention program through grants and another—another means of getting the funding. When people come to our doors and say “I have to surrender my dog because I can’t afford this vet bill.” We would rather them keep that pet, that pet not come into the shelter and then us be able to support them financially for those minor things that they think they have to give up their pet for. Pet deposits, things like that. And it’s a popular program that’s growing across the country, thanks to folks that the SPCA and PetSmart charities for funding those things. It’s one program that has limited the number of pets in our shelter and has kept pets safe and happy with their family. We’re really super proud of that one.

We’re also really proud of our new safe pet program that was launched in May of last year. We recognize that there are so many victims of domestic violence who refused to seek help because they don’t know where to take their pet. And as far as Alabama goes, there are no domestic violence shelter programs that will let a victim bring their pet with them and most of the time, the pet become the victim, which hinders the victim from leaving the abusive home. And so last year, we developed Shelby SafePet that works with volunteers, veterinarians and domestic violence shelters in every county of our state. Our Area Coordinator Perry Trice, I want to give him a huge shout out, has done an incredible job building on this network of vets and fosters and shelters to help these victims of domestic violence. And as of last week, we have helped 45 animals since May of last year. It’s a pretty amazing program and it’s growing, and I can’t wait to see what all we can do with it. That sounds pretty amazing.

So if somebody wanted to become part of this program, would they reach out to you through your website or phone, or how to somebody who’s in a situation like that become part of the program? Sure, so Shelby SafePet has its separate website from our website that That website has all the information anyone would need. It even includes a quick site escape button. If you are a victim and you’re worried about your abusive partner seeing you research this, there is a quick side escape button that you can click to safely remove yourself from that web page. But, yeah, there’s an inquiry form you can fill out. A lot of people don’t know about the website, so they will contact us directly, and then we can give them information on how to seek help as well. I think that’s a really cool future that you guys have that quick, safe exit button because—. Yeah, that was really important for us when we created the website. Yeah, like I wouldn’t have thought about that. But, you know, hearing the detail, what the program is and what some of the struggles are, like, that sounds really important. So that’s a cool feature.

So we talked about the SafePet program. Let’s talk a little bit about your spay and neuter program that you guys have. Sure. ‘Cause I know that that’s pretty important at your shelter. Yes, it actually defined, you know, when we first started going out into the community, we knew that spay and neuter was the first step to lower pet overpopulation. So in 2008, we started Quick Fix, which is now Shelby Spay Neuter. But in 2008 our shelter was seeing close to 8,500 animals a year and the number wasn’t going down. Once Quick Fix had begun, we were spaying and neutering close to 2,000 pets a year. We saw a significant decrease in our stray animal intake. It’s been an incredible, incredible program. We now see less than 5,000 animals a year, and we directly correlate that to the spay and neuter program. Yeah, that’s a pretty significant difference from where you guys started, so that’s great. Right? Yeah. I think that also kind of goes into the education piece as well. Most, certainly. Now, I don’t think everyone understands, you know, the importance of spaying and neutering and how it can really prevent a lot of overpopulation and crowding issues.

So do you have any major challenges? I know you kind of talked about the community aspect and how there’s no really laws in place that are helping animals. But do you have any other big challenges in your organization? As far as our organization goes, I think one of the biggest challenges we have right now is a good and a bad is our growth. The last couple years, maybe two or three years, our adoption numbers increased 15% in 2017. Our volunteer numbers are going up, our programs are growing. And so, as the organization grows, were struggling with that growth and trying to deal with—pretty much were getting too big for our britches. And we have to figure out ways whether that’s funding or had to increase our space capacity for what we want to do. That’s probably the biggest challenge right now. So funding and our growth is probably where we struggle with the most. Our overall budget is about 1.5 million a year. 85 to 90% of that comes from individual donations and fundraisers and things like that. And so it’s something that we and I think any nonprofit struggles with.

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Yeah, definitely. So it sounds like you rely a lot on fundraising and donations, like you said. Do you guys, have any fundraising events that you put on? Or just like local events that you guys have? All throughout the year, we do several fundraisers. One of our biggest fundraisers is our Annual Bark & Wine Gala. It’s put on by our Board of Directors every summer. It’s a live and silent auction fundraiser, and it brings us probably close to $30,000 to $40,000 each time. Wow. Which is very important to us. We do little, smaller fundraising events throughout the year. You know we recently put on a Kentucky Derby Party for the City of Birmingham, something that we’re trying to grow in order to get more funding for the organization. I know we also do a lot of grants, but like I said, most of our funding is from individual donations.

And I think I saw on your website that you guys have some events coming up this month. It looks like you had something called Boos, Brews, and 4 Legs Too? Yeah, so that’s a new event. Our volunteer auxiliary board. They’re a group of amazing ladies who primarily focus on small fundraising events. And yeah, they’ve recently coordinated this event for a pet costume contest and pet adoptions at a local brewery in Birmingham. Oh that’s awesome. So that’s gonna be really exciting. And I see the feedback online, and I think it’s gonna be really popular. Can anyone join or is it like invitation only? Yeah, anybody can come. It’s $10 to enter your pet into the costume contest. We’ve got a prize wheel. We’ve got gift cards from all over the area for our winners. And of course, the proceeds benefit the shelter. Awesome. That sounds like so much fun.

And then I saw you also have something called K9 Nose Work, Can you kind of talk about that a little bit? Sure. So our volunteer program. That’s one of the programs that starting to grow because, I also wanna give a shout out to our volunteer coordinator, Meredith Dempsey, her passion is dog training. And she saw that a lot of our shelter dogs. We may have over 150 dogs in our shelter at any time. And she saw that a lot of them were lacking enrichment and structure. And so she developed the K9 Nose Work Program to give the dogs something cool to do. And it brings volunteers out and trains the dogs to search for treats and toys in hidden areas. And it works their brains, and it gives them something to do besides sit in a kennel all day.

So can people bring their dogs in to participate as well? Or is this something that’s just exclusively for the dogs that are currently in your shelter? It’s just for shelter dogs, however, the same with—I don’t know if you saw—we also have a Woof Pack program and that teaches our dogs basic obedience that and the K9 Nose Work program. We encourage people to take these skills, you know, we teach them basic obedience and and the tricks and stuff. And then we encourage them to take those lessons back to their own dogs and so they can show their dogs some basic obedience tricks at home. That sounds like a really cool program, both of those do.

So let’s have a little bit about volunteers. What does that program look like? Do you have, like, an application that people fill out? An orientation or what’s the process like for volunteering? Anybody can sign up to volunteer. They can fill out an application on our website at or they can come in, in person and complete an application. We do ask them to attend an orientation, and in that orientation they can find out what areas of the organization they want to focus on. So some people, you know, they wanna walk dogs or they want to do medical stuff. Some people, the more left brainy kind of volunteers, may want to help us enter in data, or search for grants that are available for us as well, and so after that orientation they can decide where they want to focus on. And then we train them in those certain areas, depending on what they want to do.

Do you have certain days that people can volunteer? or is it up to as many as they want? Any time we’re open, so that’s six days a week. Any volunteer can just walk in and be like, “hey, I want to volunteer today.” Some of our volunteer tasks require some scheduling, so it would just depend on what you want to help out with today. So we may need an adoption counselor at an offsite event that has to be scheduled. We may need you to come bathe dogs for a transport. You know, that’s got to be scheduled as well. But for the most part, it’s pretty fluid.

We talked a little bit about the adoptions, but can you kind of detail the adoption process if somebody is interested in bringing home an animal from your shelter? Sure. I think I also saw on your website that people can bring in one of their current pets while they’re looking for a new pet? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, so at Shelby Humane, we’re proud to practice open adoption. You know, we, we don’t want to put more barriers up for people to go and buy a pet, you know, out of the WalMart parking lot, or at a pet store. And so, you know, with open adoption, there is as little judgment as possible. They come in, fill out an application if a pet they’re interested in is the one for them after they’ve met with them, we do require they meet with a pet before they adopt it, and if the animal is fully vetted at the time, it’s picked, then it can go home the same day. But we do require that all pets are spayed and neutered prior to leaving our facility.

So sometimes a pet maybe a new arrival may not be vetted yet, a pet can be picked for adoption and then go home a few days later. The Meet and Greet Program, we do have people that say, “I want to see if my resident dog gets along with, you know, one of your dogs.” We do require they schedule that. It’s because we have limited staff and resources, but we do encourage anyone who wants to bring their pet in for a Meet and Greet, please do. Yeah, I think that’s a really cool feature that you guys have at your shelter because some pets might not get along together. Right. And it’s important to make sure that they meet each other, and then it’s gonna be a good fit. Right. And anything that gives the adopter peace of mind is what’s important to us. Sometimes we feel like we can counsel the introduction like, “okay, you don’t have to bring your pet in,” but people who insist on it we really respect that because you know they’re wanting to do their homework.

Well, this is one of my favorite parts of the podcast, but do you have any memorable stories that you would like to share? Yes, there’s one story that’s been on my mind since it happened. It was probably earlier this summer. It was through our Pet Retention Program. We had a gentleman come in through our intake door, very large gentleman, and I don’t mean large like girth. He’s just a big guy, right? And I think you know, he had tats all over his arms and he just looked like a big macho guy. And he walks in with two cat carriers and we ask how we can help him. And he immediately breaks down and says that he was recently evicted from his home and he had to give up his cats that he’s had for eight years.

I am a cat person. I have three of myself and seeing this big macho guy have such an emotional moment with a bunch of girls he never met before. Right. Really spoke to me when our intake staff looked at him and said, “well, hold up. What if we can pay your new pet deposit for you?” And he says “it’s $500.” And so at that point, I walk up and I explain our Pet Retention Program, how it’s funded and that we can do this for him if he’ll just take his cat’s back home. And he was—he then started crying because he was happy. It was so heartwarming and to know that those cats did not have to come into a confusing place, a stressful place for no reason, really. It warmed our hearts and gave us even more reason to continue the program. Even after the funding is gone. Something that we’re gonna try to continue because we see the impact it has on people and the pets that they love. So, you know, we loved being able to do that for him. We mailed the apartment complex a check for the deposit, and that was it. That is so amazing. And that’s such a great story because I’m a cat person myself, too. And there are some people where you’re—you know, you see, like you said this big macho guy with tattoos and you would never expect that emotional response. Right. But, you know, sometimes you just you fall in love with your animals, and that’s so amazing that you guys were able to help him in that way.

So what does the future look like for your organization? Do you guys have any upcoming events or programs? You know, you kind of talked about some upcoming events that you guys have. Our vision for the organization. We want to provide a safe and healthy world through leadership and impactful work in animal welfare. We hope to be a leader in animal welfare in Alabama in the future. We’re trying to focus on, you know, like with SafePet, it’s a statewide program, you know, it’s not just for Shelby County. And we’re trying to expand our reach, not just in our little hole of Alabama. We’re trying to really make strides throughout the entire state and maybe even region.

Two things that we’re working on currently that we hope in the future will bring about some major change. We’re wanting to create a program called Shelby Connect. It’s a resource, whether we’re still in the early stages, it might be a website, it might be a phone line. Anyone can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether there are rescue or just a pet owner who maybe needs some resources that aren’t readily available. So we often get calls, “I just lost my job. Where can I get some pet food at a discount?” You know, “where can I get my pet vaccinated at a low cost?” We want to be the one-stop shop for anyone who needs that resource.

We’re also in—partnering with the Red Cross. We’re developing a statewide disaster plan for folks who you know, might be fleeing disaster, and what do they do with their pets and you know, how do they afford boarding and things like that? So those are some pretty big things that we see coming in the future that we hope will make some big change for us. Yeah, those sound like some really important and great programs that you guys have coming up.

So how can people get in touch with your organization? Can you please share your website or phone number, the best way that people can engage with you? So, first and foremost, is the place to go for just about anything you may need to know about us. There’s also a way to contact us there. But if you would like to email us directly, you can contact us at Our phone number is 205-669-3916. Perfect. Thank you so much.

And is there anything else that you would like to share before we wrap things up today? Well, I’d like to thank you for having me. This was pretty cool. And I know that Shelby Humane needs the publicity. And, you know, no one can say too much about us or talk too much about us. So, you know, share what you’ve learned. And if you do feel so inclined, please consider donating. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I had a great time. No problem. I had a great time talking with you and I learned so much. And I really appreciate your time. No problem. Thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed it.

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