Whithorne, the manager with the League for Animal Welfare, said a year ago, Luke, a two-year-old bobtailed cat, was hardly the affectionate, pet-in-waiting he is now.
“When you would come in the room, he’d hide in the back of his cage,” Whithorne said Thursday from the league’s adoption shelter on Bynum Leatherwood Drive — the only nonprofit, no-kill animal shelter in Calhoun County. “He couldn’t be around the other cats, either.”
The turnaround in Luke, and many of the animals at the league’s shelter, mirrors the turnaround in the structure, organization, philosophy and even the facility under new president Nick Kaufman. Since taking on a leadership role in the league last year, Kaufman said he’s been trying to slowly change the negative perception he said the community began associating with the shelter years ago.
It was less than a year ago, Kaufman said, the shelter was open for two hours a week on Saturdays. Animals could only be adopted by appointment, and potential adopters were rarely let inside the building.
Since taking over as president, Kaufman said, not counting labor, he’s poured more than $3,000 of his own money into updating the shelter, which included buying new cages, building an area for the animals to go outside, and hiring new staff to be at the shelter seven days a week to interact with the animals and the public.
Kaufman calls this a friendlier approach, which leads to friendlier animals, he said.
“They used to have very little interaction with humans or other animals,” Kaufman said about the pets at the shelter. “They’d hide and be scared when people came in. Those aren’t animals you want to take home to your family.”
At the end of last year, the shelter was able to adopt out 99 cats and 67 dogs, a number Kaufman said used to take years to match.
And Kaufman’s work gained the attention of the Calhoun County Commission as well, which appointed him a few months back to serve on the board for the county’s animal shelter. During that time, the county’s shelter was going through its own spell of a negative community image.
“It was obviously an easy choice,” said J.D. Hess, chairman of the commission. “Based on his involvement and care in the league, it was a no-brainer.”
As much as the public criticism harmed the shelter, in some cases, it was preferable to no perception at all from the community. Board member Cliff Black said that for years, his biggest problem with the shelter was how little community involvement there had been.
“Nick has done a good job coming in and changing the habitat at the shelter for the animals,” said Black, who organizes a charity golf tournament for the league every year. “The thing is now, we’re trying to get more members, more volunteers and donations.”
Now that the shelter is running smoothly, and with staff in place, Kaufman said his biggest challenge is getting people to volunteer, donate and above all else, adopt.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Kaufman said.
Residents interested in adopting a pet or volunteering should contact the League for Animal Welfare at 256-283-0380.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.