This August, the Forsyth County Animal Shelter will celebrate four years in the community, and according to shelter manager Cindy Iacopella, tails are wagging for the programs and specials recently going on at the busy shelter.
She said that despite summer being their busiest season, adoptions are steady, families are happy and at the shelter, animals can just be their natural selves.
To Iacopella, that “natural self” isn’t just a byproduct when animals are well cared for but is a goal that they strive for in every animal that comes through their doors.
“We want to maximize the comfort for animals while they are here,” she said. “Because for any animal, the shelter is a foreign concept, so having them have the ability to get fresh air and sunlight is an enriching environment.”
In order to maximize animals’ comfort while they are waiting for a forever home, shelter employees adhere to the five freedoms: freedom from hunger, discomfort, pain, fear and to express normal behavior. She said that by doing this, animals stay healthier both physically and mentally.
“It’s a way for each animal to express their natural behavior and have enrichment while they are here,” she said. “We have to provide them the best care that we possibly can.”
And each animal having the space to express natural behavior can get tricky with more than 100 animals in a finite space, as adoptions and seasons go up and down.
“We are doing well here and this is our busy time of year,” Iacopella said with a laugh, walking through the rows of kennels full with cats and huddles of fluffy kittens. “Now we are getting flooded with kittens.”
According to her, this time of year is considered “kitten season” with dozens of litters of stray kittens and their mothers brought into the shelter as the weather warms.
“Sometimes animals get here, and it’s like they can finally take a breath and can rest a minute,” she said, petting a mother cat, sitting in a kennel with one of its kittens. “They aren’t just struggling to stay alive and find food every minute.”
The annual “kitten season” is what Iacopella considers the biggest problem facing the shelter currently. Each year, she said, stray and feral cats give birth to hundreds of kittens that the shelter has to find loving homes for in the community.
To combat that, the county is moving forward with a program called TNR (trap, neuter, return) where they will bring in stray and feral cats from the community, spay and neuter them, and release them back out into the community.
“It’s the only scientifically proven program to reduce or eliminate overpopulation of cats,” she said.
Even though they have a large number of cats, Iacopella said that they rotate cats in and out of large windowed rooms they call “condos” so each animal can move about unconfined and be on display to visitors.
As she walks from condo to condo in the front hall, she is shadowed closely by a tan cat named Wilcox. She said by letting the cats out to roam on a rotating schedule, it allows them to express natural behavior and puts them in contact with people visiting the shelter.
On the dog side of the shelter, visitors are greeted by a chorus of barking puppies and adult dogs in kennels designed so that each animal can get private inside and outside time.
Beyond their indoor and outdoor kennels, the dogs at the shelter have a massive backyard space, with toys, shady awnings and daily visits from staff, volunteers and members of the public.
With this time of year being so busy, she said that they partner with other organizations, like rescue groups, to create space and get animals adopted.
Right now, they are in the midst of their Summer of Love Adoption special. All adoption fees have been waived for all the animals. This promotion runs through Sept. 1 and includes microchipping, altering and age appropriate vaccinations.
“We want to get animals out of the building into forever homes, so this is our way of incentivizing people to coming here and adopt,” she said.
Depending on how those events go, she said they might even waive adoption fees for a period of time.
But even in slow seasons, Iacopella said they constantly need volunteers year-round to play with the animals and lend a hand.
“We are trying to create a shelter that is community-based, so we have community groups come in trying to teach young people about sheltering and about the homeless animal population,” she said.
She said that they want to teach the community that they will work with anyone to adopt out kittens and puppies and work with them to pick out an animal that fits their family.
“Someone might see a particular dog on the website … but then when they come here they might notice that the dog is really active and that might not work for them,” she said. “So we will work to help them find the right one. It is a member of your family, so you want to adopt what works for your lifestyle.”
For more information on the shelter and its programs, call (678) 965-7185 or visit www.forsythco.com/animalshelter. Residents may also connect with the shelter on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/forsythcountyanimalshelter.
The Forsyth County Animal Shelter, 4065 County Way, provides animal adoptions from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.