How KHS is saving lives one animal at a time
By Elizabeth Scinta
Photos provided by the Kentucky Humane Society
Love can come in all shapes and sizes, but one kind of love that can often be overlooked is the love a human can receive from their animals. During quarantine, my Instagram feed was filled with photos of friends adopting dogs and cats to keep them company during what can be a very lonely time for people. Because of this, it seemed fitting for this issue to have a feature focused on the Kentucky Humane Society and what they’re doing for families and animals in our community. I had the pleasure of interviewing Alisa Gray, the Vice President of Outreach at the KHS, to learn more about them and what they’ve been doing during the pandemic.
Can you tell me a little about the Kentucky Humane Society?
We are the largest animal adoption agency in Kentucky, finding homes for about 6,000 dogs, cats and horses annually. The KHS was founded in 1884, so it is the oldest animal organization in the state. Our mission is to be a champion for companion animals. Through leadership, education and proactive solutions, we are creating more compassionate communities. While we’re based in Louisville, we help overcrowded and overwhelmed rural shelters all across Kentucky. Last year we helped animals from 35 different counties.
How many animals benefit from the work of KHS annually?
The KHS helps approximately 50,000 pets and their families each year through animal adoptions, spay/neuter surgeries and pet retention services that help families keep their animals in their homes and out of shelters. KHS finds homes for about 6,000 shelter animals a year; that’s between 80 to 100 horses per year and the rest are dogs and cats.
We also have a free Pet Help Line, which has seen a dramatic increase in calls during the pandemic. In 2020, the Pet Help Line talked to over 20,000 callers. The Pet Help Line provides free advice and connects pet owners to local resources so they can avoid surrendering their pets to shelters. They also manage our COVID-19 Pet Food Bank and provide behavior or medical vouchers to families struggling to afford services.
We also help pet owners through our full-time public spay/neuter clinic. We usually do about 12,000 surgeries per year at our S.N.I.P. Clinic. That number has been reduced somewhat because of social distancing requirements during the pandemic. Our certified trainers offer dog training classes as well as virtual and private training to help pet owners have great relationships with their dogs. We even offer cat training!
And finally, KHS also runs two Pet Resorts, which provide grooming, daycare and overnight boarding for owned animals. Proceeds from the Pet Resorts help support our mission programs.
How has the pandemic affected adoptions?
We shut down all animal intakes except for emergencies for almost two months, late March through mid-May. When we re-opened for animal surrenders, we found that there were far fewer dogs being surrendered or lost than during a normal year. We think this is because more people are spending time at home with their dogs. At KHS over 65% of our animals come from other shelters when they get overcrowded. But since COVID-19, many of these shelters have also seen fewer intakes and lost animals, resulting in fewer dog transfers to KHS.
At the same time, we’ve seen a lot of cats in need! We think this is because many veterinarians and spay/neuter clinics have had to reduce surgery loads during COVID-19 to meet social distancing recommendations. This is resulting in a boom of kittens being born.
Animal shelters are anticipating that there may be a lot more animal surrenders in 2021 as eviction moratoriums run out and as more people lose their housing. Since COVID-19, we have seen a noticeable increase in people calling the KHS Pet Help Line in need of financial assistance to help keep their pets healthy and in their homes.
What is the adoption process during the pandemic?
Anyone wanting to adopt should visit our website, kyhumane.org, to see which animals are available. Then you make an adoption appointment and fill out the adoption application online before you come in. Due to safety recommendations, we require that all adopters make an appointment first before visiting one of our adoption locations.
Our Adoption Counselors love trying to make a perfect match and are here to help guide interested adopters. We want to create a bond with our adopters that is lifelong. We try to set them up for success and offer additional resources such as behavior training, pet insurance and coupons for everything they might need for their new pet. If a pet struggles to adjust to their new home, we encourage their families to call us so we can provide additional tips and resources. But if the animal is clearly not the right fit, we are happy to take back the animal so they can find the perfect home.
For a person looking to adopt, what should they know that they might not know already?
My advice would be to have an open mind! I think often if you’re looking on the website and see a cute puppy or kitten and think “that’s the pet for me,” you get here and don’t realize that sometimes the animal picks you. You want to find the animal that is going to be the perfect fit for your family, so take the time to do that. Talk to our counselors and get as much information as you can. Be patient. There are so many animals out there and more come to the adoption floor every day. We want to help you find the one you’re looking for.
How can a companion animal help someone, especially during this time?
I think people are taking a tremendous amount of comfort and joy in their companion animals during the pandemic. People are home more, and having a constant companion can help with stress, anxiety, fear, worry and depression. Our animals provide structure, stability, and most importantly, unconditional love. They’re family members. You see them every day. They’re there every day to greet you. They mean the world to us. There are so many emotional and health benefits that go along with having a pet.
What are some long-term goals for KHS?
We have an initiative called Love 120. We hope to positively impact all 120 counties in Kentucky over the next 10 years. Watershed Animal Foundation provided a grant, and we are partnering with select counties that want help improving animal welfare in their communities and reducing the number of animals coming into shelters. That’s one of my favorite things we’ve done since being at KHS. We’re always innovating, we’re always proactive and never stagnant.
Do you have a favorite adoption story?
Elsa is my favorite animal story at KHS right now. A big part of the KHS’s lifesaving work is helping overcrowded and overwhelmed animal shelters. Recently a nearby shelter reached out, desperate for help. Seven dogs had been surrendered that day from the same home, and every single kennel at the shelter was already full. Adding to the challenge was that two of the dogs were heavily pregnant – including Elsa pictured. Many small shelters don’t have the staffing, medical resources or foster volunteers to care for pregnant dogs or young puppies. KHS sent a rescue team to the shelter to pick up the dogs, and less than 24 hours later, Elsa gave birth to five healthy puppies in a foster home. In the last year, KHS assisted over 35 shelters in Kentucky and Southern Indiana by taking in animals when shelters become overcrowded or when animals needed specialized medical care. By working together, shelters are saving lives!
How can The Voice-Tribune readers help support KHS?
Adopt, of course! If you’re looking for a pet, we’re here. Fostering is also a life-changing way to give back. We are grateful for amazing people that open their homes, temporarily, for an animal. This helps us save more lives.
Donate! COVID-19 has impacted us financially in many ways, like having to reduce capacity in some of our revenue-generating programs. We don’t know what the future holds, so anything to help with our regular day-in and day-out operation of feeding and caring for animals is so very appreciated. We want to be here for animals today, tomorrow and however long we’re needed! So donating is very impactful, kyhumane.org. Every dollar makes a difference.
I’m humbled by the amazing people who have stepped up to help KHS! We now have over 400 foster families; a year ago, we had a little over 200. I am in awe of our staff. They’re resilient, compassionate and hardworking. It hasn’t been the easiest year, but they’re here and they’re ready to do whatever they need to do for the animals. I’m also astonished by our supporters! Fundraising is my focus, and the support from people who are stretching and giving a bit more this year has been incredible. I’m so grateful that they choose to support the KHS. We’re changing and saving lives, and I’m very fortunate to do the things that I do and be surrounded by the people I am.
As Gray exemplified in her responses, animals are good for the home and the heart. If you’re interested in adopting, fostering or learning more about KHS and what they do, reach out via phone at 502.366.3355 or fill out the contact form on their website, kyhumane.org/contact, for an email response.
Kentucky Humane Society Main Campus
241 Steedly Drive
Louisville, KY 40214