Area animal shelter officials say what's usually the start to a busy adoption season has become a lagging, slow time in moving animals due to changes brought on by the pandemic.

The start of summer usually signals an increase in pet adoptions as children are at home for the summer and families seek a dog or cat.

That hasn't been the case this year, according to Cheryl Jones, the director of Florence-Lauderdale Animal Services, though it's due partly to changes in shelter operations during the COVID-19 crisis.

"Originally we asked people to hold off surrendering animals but that's back up now and adoptions are down because we're still limiting people in the building," Jones said, adding that an adoption event is now underway with a sponsor, whereby the fees have been cut to $25.

"On a slow day we'd ordinarily having 100 people come through here, but we were having problems since March with people not abiding by social distancing guidelines," she said. "So we continue to be open to the public by appointment only and it's been difficult to manage."

Jones said she has limited the appointments to two people every half hour, with one visitor in the cat side and one on the dog side of the building. 

"We have maybe 20 per day," she said. "We'd love to have more people foster these animals. We've had several rescue partners who've reach out so that's really saved us and we're below our number (of animals) from this time last year. Our highest number has been 250."

The scenario is much the same in Colbert County, where the rescues have increased.

Judy Nichols, director of Colbert County Animal Control, said adoptions are still happening but the pandemic has affected both adoptions and intakes.

The Colbert shelter has been closed to the public since March 22, during which time renovations have been done. Beginning Tuesday, the shelter will begin booking appointments, up to 12 a day. 

"We're at our capacity with animals but we have some going to rescue so we're breaking even and maintaining," Nichols said. "Dogs right now are more plentiful, which is the opposite of how it usually is. People just aren't getting out that much. We're usually overrun with cats and kittens."

Both shelters have programs in place to provide food for pet owners who are out of work and having difficulty feeding their animals.

"If we help enable the pets to stay in homes, that's for the best so we're offering short term help or longer as people need assistance," she said. "It's sometimes just a matter of someone being off work for a while and needing some help until they can get back to their job."

Neither shelter has had volunteers on their premises since the shutdowns and Nichols said she doesn't know when they'll return. As helpful as the volunteers are, Nichols said they'll only return when it's determined to be safe and when they're comfortable doing so.

As for summer adoptions picking up, Jones said she's hopeful. She said she's had about 50 adoptions since mid-March when ordinarily there can be 50 in a week.

"The cats are our big focus now because they get stressed more easily than dogs and we have to keep them healthy," she said. "We're certainly hoping that adoptions get back on track this summer."

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