by Walker County News Today staff
With the issue of animal control back in the local headlines, several of our readers had questions about how the Rita B Huff Humane Society had fared since their parting with the City of Huntsville. We sat down with Misty Harrelson, current chair of the organization’s board of directors. Harrelson has served on the board since she was first appointed in by 2015 by County Judge Danny Pierce. Here are the questions we had for her and the answers she gave:
What animals are accepted at Rita B Huff? The facility is primarily geared for housing dogs and cats; however, other animals have been accepted including reptiles, birds, and guinea pigs.
How many animals are being housed at the facility? On an average day there are about 33 dogs and 15 cats being housed at the facility. In addition to those in the shelter, there are approximately 45 in foster care at any given time. The current foster care system, which consists of 34 foster households, is in place to accommodate puppies and kittens too young to live in the shelter, animals that are awaiting kennel space in the shelter, those that have been adopted and are waiting transport to their new homes, those receiving socialization training, and other special cases.
How many animals are being adopted each month? Harrelson says that they are encouraged by the increasing number of adoptions. Adoption numbers for the most recent months are:
- May – 46
- June – 66
- July – 52
- August – 71
- September – 81
Harrelson believes that the increase in adoption numbers is a result of increased public awareness through social media and with community outreach at various local events.
What happened to the low-cost spay/neuter program? The shelter has been without a staff veterinarian for several months. The board of directors is currently searching for a new staff vet. Until a new vet is on staff, the only spay/neuters being performed will be on animals housed at the shelter; these are performed by a vet in Willis. Funding from Walker County for a low-cost spay/neuter program is still available; Harrelson hopes that a new vet can be found quickly so that they can resume providing the service to low-income residents of Walker County.
What was the reason behind the Rita B Huff’s decision to convert to a “no kill” shelter? Harrelson says that the term “no kill” is a bit misleading; they do have to euthanize at least a few of the animals that come into the shelter. Animals that are beyond medical help or that are very aggressive and pose a threat to staff and/or the public have been euthanized since the change. She says that the goal of everyone at Huff is to do everything they can to give the animals a chance at finding a loving home and a chance for a happy, healthy life.
She says that the inspiration for the change to “no kill” came about after looking at the past euthanasia rates at Rita B Huff. The 2014-2015 year saw 2,463 animals brought into the shelter; records show that 1,402 of those were euthanized with just 600 adoptions. The remaining animals were transferred to other rescue organizations. With more than half of the animals coming in being euthanized, Harrelson says the board decided that a change had to be made: “This organization was not started to be the slaughterhouse it turned into. It started as a rescue group and we wanted to get back to saving animals.” It is her opinion that, prior to the change, the volume of animals coming into the shelter was so overwhelming that everyone just “looked away”; no one wanted to see or talk about the sheer number of animals being euthanized on a regular basis.
How is the organization funded? In addition to the stipend that Rita B Huff receives from their contract with Walker County, funding is primarily through donations and bequests. There are also fundraisers at various times of the year. The current fundraising project is a pet-centric 2018 wall calendar that offers an opportunity for local businesses and individuals to sponsor a specific month; they can submit a photo of their own pet or can use a photo of a current shelter pet. Those will be selling for about $5 each and are scheduled to arrive just before Christmas.
What are the biggest challenges facing the Rita B Huff now? Like all non-profits, fundraising is an ongoing effort. There is always the challenge of placing the incoming animals when the shelter is at capacity. Steady volunteers of various talents and skill sets are also needed for everything from answering phones to working with the animals.
Throughout the county, people find strays and call to ask if Rita B Huff can take them. Commonly, callers are asked to temporarily care for the animal until space is available. With the increase in adoption rates, shelter staffers are beginning the process of clearing the backlog of those animals awaiting space in the shelter. With only 18 indoor and 18 outdoor kennels, there is always an issue of space for incoming pets.
What is the average length of time dogs and cats spend at Rita B Huff? The shortest stay was 1 day; the longest Harrelson remembers is about a year and half. Currently, the average is about 2 weeks.
What does the future hold for Rita B Huff? The Second Chances Shelter Dogs program, a joint effort between Rita B Huff and TDCJ, is an 8-week program utilizing inmates to help train shelter dogs that is planned to continue. Most of those pets that complete the program are adopted by fans of that program’s Facebook page.
Harrelson gets animated as she talks about the plans that were just approved for a new shelter. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2018. Plans are for the new shelter to more than double the capacity of the current shelter, to offer a better facility for cats, to offer a larger surgical/medical area for the vet and medical staff, and to be in a more convenient location.
The calendar fundraiser may become an annual event so they are working hard to make sure the 2018 edition is a success.
If someone wants to donate or volunteer, what do they need to know? Donations are always appreciated. Items needed on an ongoing basis include: Dog food, cat food, laundry detergent, bleach, leashes, collars, and office supplies. Money is always needed; Harrelson says they spend about $7500 per month on medical bills for vet visits, spays/neuters, medications. Anyone wanting to volunteer, donate, or participate in the current calendar fundraiser is encouraged to contact the Rita B Huff Humane Society at 936-295-4666 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.