Pandemic Puppies: Animal welfare group copes with crisis

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Humane Tomorrow Executive Director Stacy Smith, with her adopted rescue dog Breezy, at the organization’s new pet adoption, rehabilitation and education center. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

After finally celebrating the grand opening of its new facility in February following months of weather and construction delays, the volunteers at Humane Tomorrow were excited to get to know their new building and start helping more needy dogs and cats.

The organization led by co-founder and Executive Director Stacy Smith hosted a puppy adoption play date, a Meet the Legislators Day through the Texas Humane Legislation Network and a new volunteer orientation for partner organization Animal Investigation and Response (AIR). They even hosted 50 dogs through AIR from a hoarding eviction in Denton.

“We spent six weeks on enrichment and gaining the dogs’ trust to get ready for the next part of their journey,” Smith said.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everything changed fast. They quickly arranged for many of the dogs to go to a shelter in Minnesota and some to foster homes in North Texas.

“We probably could have placed all of the dogs in foster care here if we had another two weeks but we were just so running out of time with the pandemic that we couldn’t let them sit here,” she said. “I contacted a friend who works with the ASPCA that runs a transport program and she was able to get an ASPCA truck that was able to take most of the dogs to Minnesota.”

Throughout late March and all of April, the Glenn & Shirley Hulcher Family Community Center for Animals on East Hickory Hill Road near Lantana sat mostly idle while Smith and her team figured out what was happening. While animal rescue centers were included among the essential businesses that could remain open, Smith closed Humane Tomorrow for the safety of the volunteers.

“We just didn’t think there was a safe way to do it,” she said. “But we couldn’t completely stop. The animals still needed us so we’ve just had to figure out ways to do it safely.”

By early May, Smith and a few volunteers returned to pulling animals from shelters but in quite different ways than before.

“Now when we go to a shelter to pull an animal we’ll open up the hatch and the shelter puts the animal in like with groceries,” Smith said. “It’s just new ways of doing things. Instead of holding our board meetings here we are holding them on Zoom.”

Booster vaccines are now given in peoples’ garages and when multiple people are in the facility, they wear masks and use hand sanitizer.

While the cat team is now working out of the new facility, the dog team remains at Dr. O.J. Shaffer’s Flower Mound Vet Hospital. Eventually Dr. Shaffer plans to begin making house calls to the new facility that can host up to 100 animals for short-term stays before moving to foster homes or other facilities. It also is intended as a site for pet rehabilitation and education.

The pandemic did hinder fundraising efforts for Phase 2 which will feature a second building, walking trails and a memorial garden for owners to spread the ashes of their beloved pets. Smith had to cancel the organization’s two biggest fundraisers of the year – a fun run with Flower Mound’s Wellington community and the Tuxes and Tails annual gala. Fortunately, the organization had money in reserve to keep afloat during the initial lockdown period.

“We’re surviving and probably better off than some groups are,” said Smith, a technical writer for Mr. Cooper Mortgage. “We had about $90,000 in the bank in January and it’s about $40,000 now because the vet bills keep piling up. But we had a great special North Texas Giving Day in early May where we raised about $20,000 so that helps. We’re having to be very careful.”

The Hulcher family originally donated $2 million to help purchase and landscape the property and construct the 5,000 square-foot building. Smith hopes to raise another $3.4 million over the next several years to make Phase 2 a reality. It also would feature a patio and larger rooms to conduct bigger events plus a kitchen, adoption rooms and offices while Phase 3 would extend the current building.

As people learn more about what can safely be done during the pandemic, Smith hopes to soon conduct wildlife seminars. She also plans to work with area Girl Scouts and Eagle Scouts to clear out the overgrown landscaping and renovate an old treehouse that came with the property.

“We can’t all be inside here working but there’s things we can do outside, small projects to keep people involved,” she said.

It conducted its first puppy class in mid-May where people learned how to train their puppies while maintaining social distancing. Smith hopes to eventually host children’s birthday parties, wildlife seminars and nature trail walks. In the meantime, the adoption team is conducting Zoom meet and greets with the animals and potential owners.

The Love on Wheels dog relocation program, where local dogs are sent to New York where there’s a shortage of adoptable animals, will restart this month.

Smith said with so many people staying at home, more people want to adopt animals.

“That’s been a surprising benefit of this whole situation,” she said. “A lot of people really want a dog or cat in their lives and we’re starting to be able to help them. I’m excited to be able to do these things here again.”

Learn more at www.humanetomorrow.org.

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