Change a Pet’s Life Day: Huntsville adopters say their lives have changed for the better


Dr. Karen Sheppard is a woman on a never-ending mission. As director of Huntsville Animal Servicesshe works tirelessly to find a home for every animal that comes through her doors.

Along with her day-to-day administrative duties, helping animals find loving homes feels like a second full-time job. In many ways, it’s a race against time. The longer an animal stays at the shelter, the more anxious and stressed it becomes.

Huntsville Animal Services Director Dr. Karen Sheppard, accompanied by an adorable puppy, speaks at a 2018 event at the shelter as Mayor Tommy Battle looks on.

Luckily for Sheppard, the wins outweigh the losses. In 2021, the HAS had a savings rate of 95.65%. This is well above the national average of 83%, according to bestfriends.orga national advocacy group.

Another figure that should catch the eye is 2,966, the number of pets adopted in 2021 – 1,737 dogs and 1,229 cats. This number does not include rabbits, guinea pigs and other domestic animals that come to HAS.

“We desperately need to find more homes for our animals,” Sheppard said. “We have so many wonderful animals that have so much love to give.”

Like other animal groups, HAS will celebrate last year’s victories on Monday as part of Change an animal’s day of life. The event is meant to inspire people to adopt, foster, donate, volunteer, or just champion local animal causes.

Three Huntsville pet owners have changed the lives of three pets by adopting them. Their lives were also changed by opening their hearts to a new furry friend.

Eddie and Clopton

Edie Hartley and her husband, Chad, already had three small dogs in their home, but there was just something about the big dog with the funny name – Clopton.

A big dog wears a red hat next to some pumpkins.

The sight of Clopton, a half-breed, in a hat was enough to make Edie Hartley want to take him home.

“I don’t know why they named it that,” Edie Hartley said. “I think it may have been found on Clopton Street, but it seems to suit him.”

It was love at first sight. The first time she saw Clopton on the HAS website, he was wearing a hat.

“He just had the cutest, sweetest face,” she said. “I kept coming back to him and saying to my husband, ‘I do.’ I’d see another picture of Clopton and say, “I want it now and I’m not kidding.”

Clopton was in foster care before the Hartley family adopted him in November 2020. The 9-year-old mixed racer was not without health issues, however. He was blind in one eye and had heartworm. They took him home anyway.

A man in a gray sweatshirt holds a dog on a leash in the lobby of Huntsville Animal Services.

Clopton and owner Chad Hartley visit Huntsville Animal Services.

“Huntsville Animal Services provided the first round of medication and then we brought him back for injections,” Edie said. “You have to give them medication for the first three months and then keep them on heartworm preventive medication. Now he is heartworm negative.

Since his adoption, Clopton has been just another member of the family. He is going to camp with them. He goes on fishing trips with Chad.

“It’s like he’s always been there,” Edie said. “We’re kind of a lazy family and he matches our energy.”

When asked what she would tell people about adopting HAS, she offered a ringing endorsement.

“You can find almost any type of dog there,” she said. “They are also there to help you if there are any issues with them.”

Karen and Jolene

Karen Paulukaitis adopted Jolene, a rat-terrier mix, in August 2020. She had two miniature schnauzers, but one died of Cushing’s disease. Her remaining dog, Buddy, needed companionship and she started looking for animals on the HAS website.

A rat terrier mix takes a nap on a gray blanket.

Jolene is taking a nap on a blanket. “I just wanted a calm dog,” says owner Karen Paulukaitis. “I thought she would fit in well.”

“There were two rat terrier mixes, one of which was Jolene,” Karen said. “I emailed Dr. Sheppard, and she responded right away. We met and I knew it was her.

Like Clopton, Jolene was an older dog between 7 and 9 years old. She saw that as a plus, though.

“I just wanted a calm dog,” Karen said. “I thought she would fit in well.”

Once in her new home, it took Jolene some time to adjust. Karen thinks Jolene may have been an outdoor dog at one point because she’s afraid of storms. She would also keep herself.

“Now she comes and lies next to me on the couch, but it took her a good six months to do that,” Karen said.

There were also a few medical issues to overcome, including a breast tumor that needed to be removed, sterilization surgery, and teeth cleaning. Once these were resolved, Karen said Jolene was like a new dog.

Two dogs stand on the back of a sofa.  One of them barks.

Jolene, a rat terrier mix, stands on the back of Karen Paulukaitis’ couch with her brother, Buddy, a miniature schnauzer.

“It’s amazing the difference in his behavior (after resolving his health issues),” Karen said. “I knew I should take care of these things, but she was worth every penny.”

Karen is smitten with Jolene, who never fails to find a way to entertain her, whether it’s scratching the floor with her back feet or standing on the back of the sofa barking at passers-by.

In addition to Buddy and Jolene, Karen encourages Kevin, another rat terrier mix. She hopes someone will give her a loving home.

“I may fail in foster care, but I would prefer him to be with someone who can give him more time,” she said.

Allie and Billy

Allie Mitchell adopted her dog, Billy, in December 2020. She found the 35-pound half-breed on the HAS website and then went to meet him.

Asked about his health at the time of the adoption, Allie said Billy was a healthy boy. He is also full of love and energy.

A young woman poses for a photo next to a black and white face dog.  The dog's tongue is out.

Allie Mitchell adopted Billy, a mongrel, from Huntsville Animal Services in 2020. “He has definitely made my life better,” she says.

“He loves running at top speed and jumping on me,” she said. “He loves to stand behind me and bark while I cook.”

Like many shelter-adopted dogs, getting used to new surroundings and new people can take a bit of time. Allie said Billy was slowly learning to trust others.

“He’s made my life so much happier and more entertaining,” she said of her pup. “He definitely made my life better.”

Click on here to learn more about Huntsville Animal Services or visit the shelter Facebook page.


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