As soon as the door opens, a whiff of animal food mixed in with sterilization products and a dash of feces overwhelms your nose. It’s not the greatest scent, but that’s what you sign up for when you work at the Panhandle Humane Society.

The day begins two to three hours before opening time to clean up any messes the animals made overnight, get the dogs outside for a potty break, and clean out the cats’ litterboxes. Laundry and dishes are washed and ready for the day, and paperwork for animals brought in overnight is processed at this time.

Then the doors open for the day — 8 a.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. on weekends.

“Mornings are pretty busy around here,” Executive Director Amy Bartholomew said. “I think there’s a misconception that all we do is play with puppies and kittens all day.”

Bartholomew, who has been with the shelter since August 2016 and had been volunteering there for longer, said that taking care of animals is not all sunshine and rainbows.

“There’s some hard decisions we have to make,” she said, explaining they have to figure out how to deal with animals that have fatal illnesses or injuries. “It’s similar to what nurses go through — compassion fatigue. A lot of the workers in shelters have that too.”

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has not necessarily been easy on the shelter. While the animals are not infected by the disease, they are affected by the restrictions and precautions that had been in place over the last few months.

Bartholomew said they have been following guidelines and recommendations put out by national animal control and welfare organizations. According to the National Animal Care and Control Association (NACA), this included reduced intake of pets unless they were sick, injured or in another type of emergency, the cancellation of adoption events and the limited number of in-person services volunteers can provide.

To comply with these recommendations, the Panhandle Humane Society asked community members to step up and help each other find their lost pets, instead of taking them to the shelter. They also paused all volunteer opportunities and broke the staff up into two alternating teams to protect against the risk of the whole staff getting exposed to the virus.

These measures have been slightly relaxed recently, with volunteers just beginning to help out again as of Monday, July 20. The staff has also merged back together into one team. Masks and signing in on a sheet are still required.

All these restrictions have not slowed adoptions down.

“I think a lot of people being home, for either school or they couldn’t go into work, are adopting dogs and cats. So it’s honestly gone really well for us,” Bartholomew said.

Now that strays are being taken in a little more frequently again, Bartholomew said people should continue to check the shelter for their lost pets, even if they live in the country, since they only have a three-day hold for owners to pick up their pets.

It’s not just runaway pets that come in to the shelter, though. Often the shelter takes in pets that have been neglected or treated poorly. It’s these situations that are the toughest of all to handle, and it’s why part of the humane society’s mission is not just to save animals in need but to educate people about the humane treatment of animals.

“We see animals in some really horrible conditions,” Bartholomew said. “It’s really infuriating, honestly ... we definitely could do a lot better, a lot better by animals.”

The Panhandle Humane Society recently updated their hours. The shelter’s new hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

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