I have described Debbie Heller as a Mother Earth figure because what she does is so positive and bountiful it its generosity.
I guess she is just an ‘ordinary’ woman but she is also special and by no means unique. I am sure that there are very many ladies like her doing their bit to save the lives of cats at animal shelters.
Debbie Heller has been a volunteer at the Little Rock Animal Village for eight and a half years. Judging by her story on nwaonline.com she has made a huge impact. She coordinates the cat programs and has increased cat adoptions and radically reduced kill rates through innovative methods.
She said that when she started the shelter kill rate for the cats was 4 out of five. That’s an 80% kill rate or one in five made it out alive. Now the statistics have been turned on their head. Four out of five are adopted.
Debbie’s manager supports her so it looks like they are a good team.
Debbie has devised many schemes (programs) to increase adoption rates with the support of work colleagues. Here they are:
- Kittens are a major issue. She says that many shelters euthanise kittens because they take up too much space, time and energy. Debbie’s shelter don’t euthanise kittens. They work with an active group of foster carers to whom the kittens are outsourced where they can be cared for intensively. Once they are old enough they can be adopted.
- Feral cats are also a problem area. As they can’t be adopted the shelter started a program to home the feral cats at local farms where they become barn cats. This is the Barn Cat Program which was started in 2016. They are free adoptions. In the past year we are told that 200 feral cats have found homes in this way.
- They also have an active relocation program sponsored by the ASPCA which was started in 2010, for dogs, and which was extended to cats last year. Some of their cats are sent to Dallas and Kansas City, Mo. They relocate around 1,250 cats annually.
- They also promote adoptions by placing cats in stores such as PetSmart and Petco where there is a high footfall.
- The shelter also uses the internet to match adopters to the cats. In addition they are working on other programs to increase adoptions such as a “Joey’s Playroom” a recent addition to the suite of programs, which is an open area where cats and kitten can play freely.
In a hint at the difficulties of assessing a cat’s character, Debbie says that when cats first come to the shelter they are terrified and can be aggressive. She uses her extensive skills to calm them down using treats, petting and reassurance.
Want to help?
Debbie says they always need fosters.
For more information, call (501) 376-3067 or (501) 725-0250 or visit friendsoftheanimalvillage.org. Inquiries about animals: Contact Little Rock Animal Village: 4500 Kramer Street, Little Rock, AR 72204. Open Tuesday – Saturday, 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM