With the whole world shutting down temporarily in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stories of human goodness circulated widely. One such story was animal shelters running out of animals due to higher adoption and foster rates. Even this January, the Washington Post reported statistics from a national database “Shelter Animals Count” that showed 26,000 more pet adoptions in 2020 than in 2019.
The Greater Birmingham Humane Society, or GBHS, was no different. Director of Marketing Lindsey Mays said that after being deemed a nonessential business by the City of Birmingham, GBHS started furloughing employees and prioritizing its operations. They would only take in critical strays and ran the facility primarily as a pet food pantry.
Through a partnership with philanthropic organization Greater Good, GBHS said that it’s pet pantry was able to help 1,402 pet owners, feed 5,347 animals, deliver 300k lbs of pet food and serve 37 animal rescue groups all within 25 days of distribution with just 10 staff members.
“Services are a huge part of our mission, a backbone, so being able to kind of extend those services… that was the biggest pivotal thing we did here,” Mays said. “We were able to serve tons and tons of pet food. Literally I think it was over 2 tons of pet food to people in Birmingham. And not just in Birmingham, like people were coming from the region to come here. Then when a lot of the storms started happening, because, of course, all of the hurricanes hit, so we were able to use a lot of those resources too and help people on the coast.”
The organization knew that in order to devote all of its staff’s time to the pet pantry, the animals that were in the shelter needed to be in homes somehow.
This is where the Birmingham community stepped up.
“We basically put out a call for help and hundreds of families in Birmingham as well as our current foster base stepped up and all of the animals that were here went to foster homes in a matter of two days,” Mays said.
She estimates between 150 and 200 animals were fostered out to clear the shelter.
Even better, Mays said, “a lot of people foster failed,” which means they adopted their foster pets.
“We had a lot of families who were like ‘hey, our kids are out of school,” Mays said. “We’re not going to work. Let’s foster this animal, and a lot of those [families] ended up adopting. It was really cool to see all of these families being made in such a weird crisis moment. I mean what better time to adopt a new pet… you’re home all of the time, you literally can’t go anywhere, you’re about to binge watch a bunch of shows, so if you [and a pet] can spend time together, you know, it’s perfect.
Shelter Animals Count shows that intake for animal shelters tapers off to a more expected range around May 2020. This mirrors what occurred at GBHS.
When asked when she thought circumstances returned to a more normal condition and a full shelter, Mays said they should be back to normal in the summer.
“Starting late May, early June is when we start doing adoptions by appointments,” Mays said.
Laura MacDonald is a nursing student at Samford University in her junior year. She and her roommates adopted a kitten named Orange Juice, known by them as Juice at the GBHS in the middle of August 2020.
“My roommate really loves her cats at home and we figured it would be better for her mental health if she had a cat, and for all of our mental healths if we didn’t have to listen to her talk about a cat all of the time,” MacDonald said.
“Having Juice in the pandemic has been super awesome. Honestly since we’ve had him it doesn’t really feel like we’re in a pandemic, but when we were all in quarantined when we actually had COVID, it was so fun to have a cat and not just be the three of us staring at the same walls”
They adopted him on a special cat adoption day, which GBHS put on due to a high volume of cats. His adoption fee was $10- “a pretty good deal,” MacDonald quipped. This included his shots, being fixed and various other basic veterinary services.
“We do have a full shelter, which is a good thing and also can be kind of hard because we rely especially on the spring and summer for events and having a lot of people in the building,” Mays said. “Adoption numbers aren’t that far off, but it would be more if we could do events. We’re still having to do adoptions by appointment, to keep the separation.”
Even though the rest of the world may have endured extreme change this past year, animals, no matter the outside circumstances, will always need help.
“Overall, I think as far as the animals go, nothing changed for them. They were still here. They’re still coming in. They’re still out there,” Mays said. “That’s kind of the hitch in the whole system… just because the world shut down, didn’t mean the thousands of animals that need help or homeless animals or abused animals just stopped being… they’re still there. They still need help.”
If you want to get involved with GBHS or donate, visit www.gbhs.org.