The tiny orange kitten nestled into the blanket as Kathrin Baxter carried it around the offices of Kitty Kottage in Dothan.
The kitten, a female, had recently arrived at the shelter for mother cats and kittens after a motorist rescued her from Ross Clark Circle. The kitten had finally stopped shaking and at times appeared to be on the verge of falling asleep in the safety of the blanket.
With more families staying home these days, it may not be long before the kitten finds a home.
Local animal rescue groups like Kitty Kottage experienced an increase in adoption inquiries during the weeks the coronavirus pandemic forced many of them to close their doors to the public. And since reopening two weeks ago, adoptions have been strong.
“We’ve probably had 20 adoptions already this month,” said Caitlin Melia, adoption coordinator at Kitty Kottage. “It’s picked up quite a bit.”
Most of the local animal shelters reopened when Alabama’s stay-at-home order expired earlier this month and restrictions loosened.
The city-operated Dothan Animal Shelter did not take in any dogs or cats during the time it was closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Rescue groups like Sav-A-Pet and the Wiregrass Humane Society helped by taking dogs and cats prior to closures, lead animal control officer Renee Skipper said. And during the closure, Skipper noticed a trend on animal rescue Facebook groups. With no shelter to take found dogs and cats to, more people took matters into their own hands.
“They actually found owners,” Skipper said. “If somebody found an animal, they actually found the owners. They would post it on Facebook; they would go door-to-door — it was amazing … Or, they fostered it and posted the pictures, and then they found the owners.”
The shelter has taken in about 100 animals since reopening, but adoptions have also been up.
“Since we’ve opened, we’ve had a lot of adoptions, people coming, looking to adopt. We’ve had a lot of phone calls from people wanting to foster,” Skipper said.
Volunteers and staff at local rescues have to adhere to the state’s requirements on sanitizing surfaces. Most shelters already do deep cleanings on a daily basis and have increased the amount of cleanings done during the day. At Kitty Kottage, visitors have always had to spray the bottom of their shoes and wash their hands before entering a kitten room, but the rescue is now spacing adoption appointments every two hours so staff can clean between visitors. The Dothan Animal Shelter had previously bought a Clorox machine that plugs in and sprays a fast-drying mist of cleaner on surfaces. The shelter staff uses it to spray door handles and walls.
At the City of Headland Animal Rescue Mission, or C.H.A.R.M., adoptions are done by appointment, so the rescue volunteers were able to keep doing adoptions during COVID-19 closures.
Jo Geisler of C.H.A.R.M. said adoptions there were up during pandemic shutdowns. The shelter, which only takes in dogs, is small with only 10 kennels.
“Our adoptions have been good because people were at home,” Geisler said. “We went from 14 to four, so we’ve had about 10 adoptions. That’s pretty big for us.”
When the Wiregrass Humane Society reopened, it handled visits by appointment and had about a dozen adoptions in the first week — higher than average for the shelter, said Jacquelyn Dykes, the Wiregrass Humane Society president and shelter director. The Humane Society is still limiting the number of visitors in the shelter at any one time.
The Humane Society relies on donations and proceeds from its thrift store to cover the cost of operations. The thrift store was also closed during the COVID-19 shutdowns. And, Dykes said, the Humane Society had to keep staff at the shelter to care for the dogs and cats. The staff was the main reason the group didn’t do adoptions by appointment — they simply couldn’t afford for staff to get sick.
“That was a real hard hit to have no income at all in the month of April,” she said. “That was very difficult for us, but we made it through and people still donated and that was incredibly kind. We even had a woman who got her stimulus check and sent us some because she said she felt like we needed it. People were so kind and so generous during the time we had to be closed.”
Many of the local animal shelters and rescue groups took to social media to keep the animals in people’s minds. Both the Dothan Animal Shelter and Wiregrass Humane Society use the website Petango.com to showcase the animals up for adoption.
“We had videos on our Facebook, and it showed all of our animals,” said Dykes with the Wiregrass Humane Society. “We’re going to try to continue to still put those out at least one or two a month if we can because it really helps for people to see the animals and see their personalities.”