Since being selected as manager of the Henry County Animal Shelter in July, Allie Keatts has already met with some success.
“Our biggest success is that we started doing adoptions directly from our facility in August,” Keatts said. Before that, “we were having to really just rely on other facilities to pull (animals) from us. If they didn’t pull from us, then these animals just sat here until their time was up,” she said.
“Now, we’re nearing 100 adoptions since August, and that’s awesome. That’s almost 100 lives that were saved straight from our facility,” Keatts said, adding that she also takes every opportunity to promote animals in the shelter.
For instance, “I manage our Facebook page,” Keatts said, adding that social media is a key to helping reunite pets with their families or find new homes.
Keatts said she posts photos and information about animals coming into the shelter as strays “in an attempt to find their previous owners or their current owners. If nobody comes forward” to claim them, “then I advertise them as available for adoption.
“I also complete adoptions, I assist the animal control officers with their paperwork and cruelty cases” and perform other tasks, she said.
There also are a few issues plaguing the shelter that Keatts hopes to address. Among the most prominent are public education and overpopulation in the shelter.
In the last few months, the shelter has posted a few ‘code red’ alerts on its social media page to try and adopt animals due to the high numbers of cats and dogs.
“We have a pretty good success rate with having other facilities pull cats, so we don’t stress as much when it comes to being full on cats,” Keatts said. “However, dogs are a little bit harder to rehome, just because they are definitely more personable animals.”
She added that meet and greets are required before dogs can be adopted to make sure the new home will be a good fit for both the dog and its potential new family. Those meetings include children in the home as well as other animals in the household.
Because of that, “it is a little bit harder to get the dogs out” of the shelter, she said. Additionally, “we get more dogs in as strays than we do cats as well. Most cats are owner surrendered, people overpopulating and not controlling colonies and stuff like that.”
In those cases, “they continue to reproduce and before you know it, someone is bringing in 27 cats at a time because they can’t handle 27 cats,” she said.
The shelter encourages owners to spay/neuter their pets to help slow the overpopulation affecting all shelters in the community and even nationwide.
Keatts said another issue is the lack of proper identification on family pets, which makes locating owners difficult when a beloved pet becomes lost and winds up in the shelter.
“Something like a microchip that we can just type that number into a database and the owner’s information comes up, that would help a lot,” she said. Or “having collars on that just have the five dollar tags you can get at Walmart that just have the owner’s name and telephone number on it, that helps us 100 percent get animals back home to their families. Just little stuff like that would help tremendously, and just getting the community to realize that taking those extra steps would help a lot.”
Keatts’ background in animal care, which stretches back to her graduation from high school and has included different forms throughout her career, laid the foundation for her current post.
“I started right out of high school in 2013 working for the Martinsville-Henry County SPCA. I worked there for two and a half years doing rescue work,” she said. “Then I moved to Boyce-Holland Veterinary Services in Stuart, and I was a vet assistant there for eight years.”
That solid footing helped prepare Keatts for the various roles of her current position.
“Where I started working for the SPCA, being there, I was able to learn the shelter environment and the intaking, the adoptions and trying to find rescues and stuff like that for the animals that were in the facility. And then when I went to vet med. I got a lot of background with animal care, sickness, diseases, and learning how to help control them,” she said.
Keatts’ experience at the veterinarian’s office also extends to her current position in other helpful ways, such as supplying her with resources and connections to help facilitate operations at the shelter.
“Also working in vet med, the vet’s office that I worked with also worked very closely with a lot of other facilities as in rescues and other animal control offices” the like, she said.
“So, I was able to kind of learn some of the background that way, as well as gain relationships with some of those other facilities that we had as clients at the time,” Keatts said.
But she is quick to note that without the help of the other animal shelter and animal control staff, none of the shelter’s accomplishments would have been possible.
“We have two new animal control officers who are absolutely awesome,” Keatts said. “They stay so busy all day, every day.
“I also have a rescue coordinator. She is amazing, I could not do my job without her. She helps a lot with trying to reach out to some of these rescues and getting them to come in and kind of evaluate some of our dogs and cats,” Keatts said.
“She was able to get 16 out at one time, so she’s pretty great. Then of course my cleaners,” she said. “There’s no way in the world that we could do what we do if we were back there having to clean all day.”
In addition to continuing adoptions from the facility, Keatts said she hopes to create and implement a foster program to help animals in the shelter, which “would help a lot with when we get more overly full, if we had a foster who could pull somebody for the weekend while we made space, that would help tremendously.”
Along with that, Keatts wants to begin a volunteer program that would allow volunteers to visit the shelter and help get the pets outside more often. That would be helpful to the animals in several ways, from providing them with more exercise to helping get them more socialized and acquainted with people.
“We don’t currently allow volunteers. There is some paperwork that we have to get figured out on what we’re allowed to do,” she said. But “I’d really like to start a volunteer program where we can get people down here and walk some of these dogs and get them out more and socializing, because we get a lot of feral animals.”
Now that it is adopting animals out of the facility, the shelter also is considering holding adoption events to help get shelter pets into new homes.
“We’ve got several different parades going on around us,” Keatts said. “We don’t have any commitments” currently, but “we have been looking into it. We are going to start doing things like that.”