Despite ‘Clear the Shelters’ success, Heritage Humane Society remains full

Heritage Humane Society is facing a capacity crisis, even though the shelter is about to wrap up a successful month-long Clear the Shelters campaign.

Heritage Humane Society (HHS) is one of hundreds of shelters across the nation teaming up with NBCUniversal this year to participate in “Clear the Shelters,” an annual pet adoption initiative to find loving homes for animals in need. But even though the initiative has been a success so far, HHS remains full.

Since the start of the campaign on August 1, a total of 88 pets have been adopted, according to Marketing and Community Engagement Director Jennifer Lafountain. That tally includes 61 cats, 23 dogs, one cockatiel, one ferret, one rat and one guinea pig.

Nonetheless, the total number of pets in the shelter’s care has not dropped since the promotion began.

“On July 31, we had 237 pets in care,” Lafountain said. “As of today, we have 238 pets in our care.”

Heritage Humane Society on Waller Mill Road in Williamsburg. (The Triangle)

The statistics are shedding light on a growing crisis: even when adoption rates are high, more pets are entering shelters than leaving.

The problem is not just local. Across the nation, shelters and rescue organizations are overwhelmed and over capacity. Homeless pets are staying at shelters longer now than at any time in the past four years, and euthanasia rates have increased, according to a recent report by Shelter Animals Count, a national shelter animal database.

Several major factors have exacerbated the crisis. During the first 14 months of the pandemic, nearly one in five American households adopted a cat or dog. But as more people return to the office and inflation continues to take a toll on families, many of those pets are being returned to shelters.

HHS is an open-admission shelter, meaning they must have kennels available day and night for new animals that are brought in. With so many dogs currently living at the shelter, Lafountain said the staff has had to convert offices – and even the building’s classroom – into temporary housing space for pets.

Though the situation has been disheartening for staff, Lafountain said several recent success stories have helped boost morale.

Some of Heritage Humane Society’s longer-resident pets have recently been adopted amid the Clear the Shelters initiative.

A cat named Lucy, who was brought to HHS as a surrender in January, finally found her forever home on August 22. And a dog named Kolt, who was admitted to the shelter over a year ago on August 13, 2022, was also adopted last week.

“Seeing some of our longer resident pets finally find their forever homes has really helped the morale of our staff and volunteers here,” Lafountain said. “They put so much of themselves into these animals, and seeing them get adopted and thrive makes everything worth it.”

Long-term shelter stays can be tremendously tough on dogs and cats. While staff and volunteers invest many hours into providing interactive care, the pets still spend much of their time in kennels, and many struggle to adapt to the stress of the noisy environment.

Lafountain hopes the shelter’s longest-resident pet – an 8-year-old female pit bull terrier mix named Gemma – will also finally find a loving home soon.

Gemma was admitted to HHS over a year ago after her previous owner became ill and could no longer care for her. The pooch is described by volunteers as a “wonderful, sweet companion” who loves naps, leisurely walks and squeaky toys.

An anonymous donor already stepped up to sponsor 100% of Gemma’s adoption fee.

Gemma, a female pit bull terrier mix described as “wonderful” and “sweet,” is the longest-term resident at Heritage Humane Society. (Courtesy of Heritage Humane Society)

Lafountain emphasized that there are many ways the community can help HHS navigate through this challenging time.

One of the most important ways people can help is by adopting a pet, and there is no better time than now.

The Clear the Shelters campaign continues until August 31. As part of the initiative, adopters have a chance to receive 25-50% off the adoption fee through a Spin-the-Wheel promotion. Some adopters may even win the chance to name their own adoption fee.

Profiles of adoptable pets currently available at HHS can be viewed online. Potential adopters can stop by the shelter during adoption hours, which are from 12 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

Lafountain stressed that those who are not currently able to adopt can still make a difference in the lives of the community’s many homeless pets.

A wide variety of volunteer opportunities are available at HHS, and people interested in giving some of their time can get involved in “so many ways,” Lafountain said.

The shelter currently needs people who can foster, walk dogs, clean cat cages and assist with special events or fundraisers.

HHS is a nonprofit organization that relies primarily on friends and supporters to continue providing high-quality care to the many pets at the shelter. Lafountain said the shelter relies on online donations in order to continue its lifesaving mission.

People can also spread the word about the homeless pets in Heritage’s care by following the organization on Facebook and Instagram and sharing their posts.

To learn more about available volunteer opportunities or to donate online, visit

Sweet Caroline, a 2-year-old dilute calico, has “a heart (and eyes) of gold,” according to HHS. (Courtesy of Heritage Humane Society’s website)

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