Though she has only been the Huntington Human Society Board President since May of this year, Katy Hudson has “big plans” for what she would like to see happen for the animal services in this community.
All of those goals, however, are reliant on increased support from Huntington County leadership and residents alike.
Currently, the Humane Society is funded by a $70,000 contract with the city and a $40,000 contract with the county. Unfortunately, those monies are spent quickly between medical needs for animals, upkeep of the building and employee salaries.
“What we’re hoping to do is to increase some funding from our city and county contracts, so that we can start offering even more programs,” Hudson said.
One of the programs Hudson is looking into is called Trap, Neuter, Return Program, which is also referred to as a Community Cat Program.
This program is set up so that animal control officers set up humane traps to catch cats. Once they are caught, they are taken to a veterinarian to get a rabies vaccination, checked for any major illnesses and either neutered or spayed. The cat is also ear tipped, so it is easy to identify as a community cat that is supposed to live outside. After 48 hours to rest, the cat is then put back in “their established territory.”
“It’s not immediate effects that you see, but you see the long-term effects,” Hudson said.
For example, the community cats wouldn’t be able to reproduce and they would establish territories so new cats wouldn’t come in.
“Naturally we’ll start seeing the populations decrease, but right now the populations are severely out of control and we have been at capacity with cats for the past probably three to four months,” Hudson
As of Wednesday, Aug. 25, the Humane Society has 30 cages for cats and at the time of the interview, they had 67 cats in house. They have a “Purvana” room where some cats are allowed to roam free and kittens stay with their siblings in the cages.
“It’s not ideal from a safety standpoint, from a sanitation standpoint (or) disease mitigation standpoint to have this many animals in this close of proximity to each other, but it’s just not slowing down,” Hudson said.
Fort Wayne has one of the best Trap, Neuter, Return programs in the nation, so Hudson said they have used the program as inspiration.
“We have mimicked a lot of their ordinances to hopefully adopt those into our ordinances,” Hudson said. “Right now there’s just some terminology in our current ordinances that doesn’t necessarily prohibit a Community Cat Program, but it makes some gray areas. So from an enforcement standpoint, it’s just a little more challenging.”
One example Hudson gave was that one of their ordinances states that “you are technically an owner or harborer of an animal if you keep it more than three days.”
In city limits, residents are only allowed a certain amount of animals, so there is a gray area when there are community cats. There is the question of whether or not residents could then have pets in their homes if there are community cats on their property. Hudson also said it would be difficult to enforce the number of animals on a property.
“We have some tweaks to our current ordinances and then we have some program structure and definitions that we’ve submitted to the mayor that have to be reviewed by legal council, of course, and then agreed upon by the town council before they can fully enforced,” Hudson said. “So that process is midway, but the reality is that this is going to cost a lot of money to do this.”
Hudson says that another concern they have is that they’ve notified the health department of an influx of feline panleukopenia virus in kittens and in older cats with compromised immune systems. The virus is fatal in most cases.
“We’ve brought in a couple of cats and they don’t show a lot of symptoms at first, but once they do, it’s nearly night and day,” Hudson said. “They can be perfectly fine, then 12 hours later, they can die.”
Unfortunately, this virus is very contagious. The Humane Society has had two bouts of it in the last nine months. The first time they lost 35 cats in-house. The second time they lost 67 cats.
“It’s devastating. All our staff love animals,” Hudson said. “This is why we choose to be here, so it’s heartbreaking.”
This is part of the reason the Humane Society would like to see a Trap, Neuter, Return Program because they would be able to screen for that virus and make sure they are vaccinating appropriately so that the cats had a “fighting chance.”
Another reason the Humane Society is asking for more funds is because the animal control cases are going up, along with the severity of the cases.
“I had always watched TLC and you watch the ‘Pit Bulls & Parolees’ and you think ‘Oh, that happens in Detroit. That happens in Chicago. That doesn’t happen here.’ But it does and it’s awful,” Hudson said. “We have a dog right now that was 50 pounds under weight.”
The Humane Society also had a case recently where a dog named “Duck” was forced to live in a cage for four months “covered in feces, covered in urine burns and severely underweight.”
“There are those pretty severe instances where we’re looking at a long medical road of recovery or prosecuting and that takes a lot of time, a lot of investigation, a lot of work from our animal control officers…” Hudson said.
“There’s only six full-time employees here, so taking care of 82 animals right now and having those severe situations happen… it is quite literally a 24/7 job.”
Hudson says there are many ways that the community could help the Humane Society grow and thrive despite the hardships they are facing.
The first is that residents could become animals fosters.
“Living a life in a shelter is not ideal for these animals, so the more they are able to get exposed to kids, to other dogs, to other cats, the more adoptable they are and just the more well-rounded they get to be and then they are easier to place in homes,” Hudson explained.
Hudson says they’ve had a dog named “Karma” in the shelter for six months.
“That is mentally really tough for a dog. And then they start deteriorating and then they become less and less adoptable, so the more that we can get fosters involved, the overall better the quality of lives these animals will have,” Hudson said. “Also our ability to then help will increase because we will have some more space and more ability to bring in those severely neglected animals or those medical cases that need extra time and attention.”
Individuals interested in fostering could fill out an application at the Humane Society or online at huntingtonhumane.org.
Hudson says that they like to have a conversation with perspective volunteers to see what they are interested in and what their schedule looks like.
“We want to make sure it is a right opportunity for you and a good fit because what we don’t want is someone coming in with a desire to do one thing and we assign them on something else and then kind of burn them out,” Hudson said.
The Humane Society has a list of dogs and cats that they think will be suitable fosters.
“We don’t want to bring someone in and set them up for failure by giving them an animal that doesn’t fit their lifestyle or needs,” Hudson said.
There are multiple employees at the shelter that can help fosters with animal introductions and what to do when medical situations come up.
“We have staff that are willing to be on call 24/7 if anything should happen,” Hudson explained.
Residents can also help the shelter by giving supplies. Hudson says they are always in need of cat food and litter. Other supplies they could use are wet cat and dog food, Rescue Disinfectants, paper towels and blankets, towels and pillowcases for bedding.
Monetary gifts are also accepted on the website, by mail or by calling to process it over the phone.
Individuals can also sponsor pets through a monetary donation.
“They may not be able to adopt, but they may come in and fall in love with this cat and they can pay upfront for that person’s adoption fee for that animal. And then whoever comes in gets the added benefit of that they get to take home a friend for free,” Hudson said. “That generally helps to get these animals out into homes faster.”
Finally, residents can help the Humane Society by being advocates for them in the community.
“I think the last thing that any of us want is to have to turn people away because they’re out of options. They are coming to us because we are their last resort, but we just need the resources and we need the ability to provide the assistance,” Hudson said. “We’ve got big plans, really big goals. We just need some help in getting there, so the more support we can get—whether that’s donations, fosters, just advocates in the community—the better off all these animals are going to be.”
Though it is a job that takes a lot of hard work and long hours, Hudson says, “it’s worth it.”
“You see these animals like ‘Duck’ that were in such horrible conditions and then they find a home and you get all these pictures of them laying on the couch and laying in bed and being cuddled by the kids,” Hudson said. “It’s just amazing. It’s like validation that what you’re doing is working and it’s worth it and it keeps you energized to keep going forward.”