Pictured above, Etowah County Animal Shelter resident Rosie waits for the perfect family to welcome her to a new loving home.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
During a time when presents with wagging tails wriggle with excitement under trees, Etowah County Animal Shelter Director Lori Howell is sharing how the community can reciprocate the love animals feel for their families and provide man’s best friend with the best gift of all.
While the holidays are a popular time of the year to welcome the extraordinary gift of a new furry friend to homes nationwide, Howell revealed that the holiday season often contributes to an influx of surrenders at the shelter. During 2020, Howell said that the combined closure of the Gadsden Goodyear plant and the COVID-19 pandemic created financial stress for numerous families, resulting in situations where pet owners could not financially provide for their animals any longer.
Howell offered some insight into how pet owners throughout the community can assist with this predicament.
Howell expressed the importance of spaying and neutering animals as an essential factor in aiding with the growing rate of stray animals throughout the county. A self-proclaimed ‘numbers person,’ she provided statistical information that painted an accurate portrait of its significance.
Howell noted that a loose cat roaming its neighborhood can produce an average of three litters per year and a maximum of five litters per year. She said that female cats do not undergo menopause and reproduce throughout their lifetime, with the typical cat living an average of 15 years. If one cat produces three litters per year, with an average of four kittens per litter, and lives fifteen years, that single cat can mother 180 kittens.
Similarly, female dogs do not undergo menopause either, with wandering dogs mothering a maximum of three litters per year. With the continuous additions of litters, these mother dogs often become pregnant before their body recuperates and heals, leaving them with puppies who receive all their nutrients and result in their own health decline. Likewise, spaying female dogs and cats proves beneficial in maintaining the animal’s health, eliminating the possibility of uterine or ovarian cancer, and reducing the chances of breast cancer in both.
Interested adopters visiting the shelter begin their worthwhile journey by filling out an adoption application and participating in an interview process. Howell and her staff listen diligently to the future pet-owners, learning about them and taking into consideration aspects of their lives like if they currently own other pets, if those pets are up-to-date on their vaccinations and spayed or neutered, or if they have children in their home. Howell often couples potential adopters with animals she considers ideal for their individualized situation, introducing cats and dogs whose personalities blend seamlessly with their human acquaintances to create lifelong pairs.
Adoption fees are $50 for both cats and dogs, with fees including the animals’ first shots, first round of wormer, spay or neuter treatment and rabies vaccination. The shelter also microchips pets for an additional fee. For those currently unable to adopt, the shelter accepts adoption sponsorships, where generous individuals can contribute to finding an animal a forever home.
Howell herself became affiliated with the shelter following a career in retail management and loss prevention for 25 years. When former ECAS Director Belinda Childress visited Howell’s previous workplace one day and discussed the shelter, a lightbulb sparkled in Howell’s mind. She reflected on a dream she treasured since her youth – her desire to own a rescue – and felt a drive to pursue a new calling in life. After volunteering at the shelter to gain more experience, Howell knew that a permanent position at the ECAS was the perfect change for her.
Although Howell frequently deals with difficult situations at the shelter, the wisdom she gained from her previous profession filters into the knowledge she acquired during Childress’ mentorship and her own volunteer time at the shelter. She learned a better way to communicate with the public to achieve the shelter’s ultimate goal of placing the animals in wonderful forever homes, while maintaining its daily mission of ensuring each animals’ happiness and health until that moment arrives.
“You have to have tact with dealing with people in difficult situations,” said Howell. “Some of the situations you get into, you want to get mad, but that doesn’t solve the problem. You’re trying to diffuse the situation, not escalate it. Sometimes, you just have to have compassion for these people.”
Due to the shelter’s distant location (at 12071 U.S. Hwy 278 East), the shelter relies on rescues to bridge the gap. The rescues that partner with the shelter are all 501 (c)(3) organizations who provide vetting, fosters and adopters for the animals before they leave the ECAS. After the animals leave the shelter, Howell receives updates on their status, with the rescues sending videos and photos demonstrating a new joyful chapter in their lives.
“It’s not just about adoption,” said Howell. “It’s about the best thing for the dog or the cat.”
Howell noted that while she rarely forgets adoptions, one instance stuck out in her memory. An almost feral cat named Phoenix lived at the shelter for months, gradually growing fond of the workers but still possessing a weariness of strangers that prompted her to dart and hide. A woman visited the shelter one day, looking for another cat to accompany her furry friend at home. When the woman saw Phoenix, she asked to meet her, which led to her fostering Phoenix – which led to an adoption. Phoenix’s story proves that all animals have a chance to grow, with the right person to help in an environment that nurtures contentment and peace.
During this holiday season, Howell and the ECAS give the gift of hope. Howell’s passion and determination to discover loving and safe homes for every animal that rests within the shelter emerges as a beacon of optimism for the lives she holds so dear. Howell strives to create the best possible outcome for all animals at the shelter year-round, forging strong partnerships with rescues and local individuals who recognize reality, without losing sight of a brighter future that awaits with each new possibility.
“Adopt responsibly,” said Howell. “If you’re not ready for the responsibility, buy a stuffed animal. When people adopt most of these dogs, they’re like toddlers – they have to be socialized, you have to spend time with them, you have to train them. It’s an investment in a life. You’re investing your time, money and love into a living thing. Sometimes people need to hear it or read it the way it is…some things don’t need to be sugarcoated, and lives are one of them.”
The following are among the animals available for adoption at the ECAS.
Rosie (above) is among the pets available for adoption currently. A 12 year old spayed female, Rosie gets along with other dogs and loves people. Since she is a senior dog, she has some hearing and sight loss, along with teeth issues so she has to eat canned food. She is heartworm positive.
Max is a 2.5 year old unaltered male husky mix who heartworm negative and loves to run and play outside. Max likes people, and will sit and lay down when you tell him to if he’s not too distracted by his surroundings. Max does not like other dogs so he would need a home without any other dog siblings.
Girl is a three-year old spayed female available for adoption at the ECAS. She is up to date on her annual booster as well as her rabies vaccine. She loves people, but is not a fan of other dogs so she needs a home without four-legged brothers and sisters. She also loves to run around and play outside. Girl is light heartworm positive and her previous owner sent her with two months of heartworm preventative.
The ECAS is open Monday Tuesday and Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. For more information on these animals and others available for adoption, contact the Etowah County Animal Shelter at 256-494-5422.