Category Archives: Critters

Abandoned in the Flood

October 06, 2005

Timmy DeRusha is Loretta Lynn’s tour manager. With a week off the road from a current performance trek, DeRusha didn’t lounge around his Tennessee home resting up for the next round of concerts. Instead, he spent the time in flood-ravaged New Orleans rescuing dogs and cats left behind when their owners fled the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Katrina.

Along with his father-in-law and brother-in-law, DeRusha loaded a pickup truck and cargo van with medical supplies and food donated by Nashville-area veterinarians, then headed to New Orleans. “The smell of that city . . . You could smell it from miles away, driving in over the bridge,” DeRusha recalled in a recent telephone conversation. With signs reading “Disaster Response Animal Rescue” posted on their vehicles, DeRusha’s group was escorted by a local fisherman who had previously supplied boats to various animal rescuers as needed. Guards posted outside the city allowed the group in after recognizing the fisherman. “We were armed, because [the guards] said that we might run across someone who wasn’t supposed to be in [New Orleans],” said DeRusha.

At some homes, DeRusha’s crew brought out dogs and cats while National Guard troops removed dead humans from the house next door. “People that left had spray-painted ‘PETS INSIDE’ or ‘DOG NEEDS RESCUED’ on plywood-covered windows in hopes that somebody would be coming along to get them,” said DeRusha. “But some of the animals had gotten stuck on balconies or rooftops and weren’t able to get down.” He said most of the animals were not vicious. “Most were traumatized, because they hadn’t had food or fresh water for two weeks,” DeRusha explained. “After we gave them dog treats and water and they realized that we were there to help them, then it was no problem at all. A lot of them were just really, really scared because all of a sudden the person that had been there taking care of them, in their mind, had deserted them. Then all this stuff happened that they had never seen happen before, with all the water coming in. The animals were survivors. Unfortunately, there were a lot of animals that we were too late for.”

An animal rescue volunteer coaxes a dog to safety. (click for larger version)


DeRusha and his crew used poles with nooses to catch dogs. “If they were too vicious, we just left fresh food and water. I’d say that nearly half the animals that we rescued were pit bulls. We were working in the inner-city area, mostly. That’s obviously what they do there, they raise dogs to fight. Some of the dogs needed rescuing whether there was a hurricane or not. They weren’t being taken care of . . . One was a three-month old pit bull pup. He tried to act like the most vicious of all, but when we gave him some food he began acting like a typical puppy.” 

Other scenarios were simply horrifying. A pair of pit bulls were discovered in one abandoned home. The female was emaciated, though it was obvious she had delivered a litter days earlier. DeRusha could not locate the litter and surmised that the male, who appeared well-fed, had cannibalized it.

Rescued animals were crated, with the address of recovery marked on the crate so pets could possibly be reunited with owners. For five days straight, DeRusha hauled approximately 30 dogs and cats each day to Tylertown, Mississippi, where a temporary animal sanctuary had been erected on five acres of farmland. 

The Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) brought more than 300 rescued animals back to Birmingham from Tylertown, Hattiesburg, and Jackson, Mississippi, where animals had been sheltered prior to rescue groups such as GBHS arriving. GBHS director Jacque Meyer was impressed by the number of people who came from across the country to help in the animal rescue effort. “It’s been very, very sad, but I am amazed at the number of people in the United States that have made an effort, using vacation time and their own money, to rescue these animals.” Meyer said that an abandoned warehouse in the Gonzalez area of New Orleans sat on higher ground that had stayed relatively dry. Abandoned animals migrated to the warehouse area, though some people were observed dumping off animals at the site. Food and water were supplied to the homeless animals at the site by the few officials allowed into New Orleans until the animals could be taken away.

Approximately 75 percent of the animals that Jacque Meyer brought to Birmingham were dogs, the rest being cats, along with an occasional goat or pig. They were medically treated at GBHS until the North Shore Animal League, an organization that finds homes for more than 30,000 animals yearly, took them to its New York state headquarters where they will be housed until either the owners find their animals through the web site, or until the animals can be adopted.

“People that left had spray-painted ‘PETS INSIDE’ or ‘DOG NEEDS RESCUED’ on plywood-covered windows in hopes that somebody would be coming along to get them.” Meyer said the trauma endured by abandoned animals continued to affect many even weeks after being rescued. “Some wouldn’t sleep lying down because they were so used to standing up so they could survive,” she explained, adding that some rescued dogs kept trying to swim each time they were lifted up into the arms of shelter workers, even though they had been away from flood waters for days. &

Ghost Dogs Update

Ghost Dogs Update

The stray dogs who make Oak Hill Cemetery their home are finding more permanent dwellings.



May 12, 2011

It’s been nearly a year since an eight-year-old girl named Mina Oates sent Black & White a story that she had written about the homeless dogs that roam Oak Hill Cemetery downtown where her father, Stuart Oates, is executive director. Her story was included in a July 8, 2010, Black & White feature about what Mina had dubbed the “graveyard dogs.” Last October, self-proclaimed dog lover Ellen Chisholm organized an effort to find homes for the stray and abandoned creatures haunting the grounds of Oak Hill.

“It’s a group of approximately 10 or 15 people. We got together last fall and had a meeting to try and help these particular dogs,” Chisholm says. “We started talking with Stuart Oates to see how we could help. Our group just stays in contact by emails and stuff like that; we don’t have an actual name. All of us are volunteers who are animal lovers.”

Baby Doll serves as the Ghost Dogs’ unofficial mascot. (Photo: David Young.) (click for larger version)



Chisholm’s efforts caught the interest of Birmingham’s Animal Adoption and Rescue Center (BAARC), which has donated time and effort to care for the dogs until homes can be found, as well as having the animals spayed or neutered, usually at the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic.

“BAARC Rescue is helping us with housing and socializing some of the dogs, as is a local company called Creative Dog Training,” Chisholm explains. “And there are several vets in the area that have been helping us out, either with medications or with actual visits that the dogs have needed for one medical reason or another.”

The group has rescued five dogs from the cemetery and the surrounding area in the past six months, and found homes for two of them. Three others await adoption. “We’re doing everything we can to give them fresh lives, and try and help with the local stray population as well,” Chisholm says. “It took us a while to get different organizations who would be willing to help. Everybody is basically doing it on a pro bono basis. We’ve found some great organizations. But we’re limited, so we can’t take in too many dogs at one time.” According to Chisholm, their efforts appear to be paying off. “We really have not had a whole lot of dogs come through the cemetery recently,” she says. “Now it’s just an occasional dog that runs through there. So we’re doing pretty good so far, getting things under control. But there are always going to be strays.”

Seger was a homeless dog rescued from the Oak Hill Cemetery. (Photo: David Young.) (click for larger version)



The group catches the strays thanks to a dog trap contributed by local animal-advocacy organization Friends of Cats and Dogs Foundation. “We don’t set the trap up on bad weather days,” Chisholm explains. “During the wintertime . . . we had to be really careful so that we didn’t have a dog trapped in there during a super cold day.” Once a dog is caught, it’s usually taken to BAARC’s no-kill facility in Irondale.

“My greatest relief is that we haven’t really had to have animal control come in to deal with situations, so far,” says the cemetery’s director Stuart Oates. “The only time we would have animal control come in is if we get an aggressive animal that was imposing a danger on other animals or people in here.”

Oates says he has noticed fewer stray dogs at the cemetery in recent months. “I can’t really say what accounts for that because, generally, what I would observe is when you’ve dealt with one pack of animals that would come in and you got rid of them, another pack would move in within a short time. And we really haven’t seen that. Our only constant out here has been Baby Doll, who is also called Wrinkles or whatever . . . she’s got a million names. I think she should be the poster child of this whole thing.”

Lump was the name given to this water-loving Ghost Dog. (Photo: Melanie Tumlin.) (click for larger version)

Oates says he has been impressed with Chisholm’s dedication in spearheading the effort to find homes for the “ghost dogs.”

“She’s doing a magnificent job of communicating and getting other people organized. That’s what it takes. You’ve got something to inspire somebody to take a step in a certain direction. That’s the beautiful thing—you never know what the consequence of any of your actions is going to be. It can sometimes be a casual comment or a little essay by an eight-year-old girl that inspires people.” &

For information on adopting one of the Ghost Dogs, go to or contact

Flying First Class

Flying First Class

Piloting private planes, volunteers deliver precious live cargo in the form of pets.


May 12, 2011

Since February 2008, dogs and cats in desperate need of homes have received aid from Pilots N Paws, a nonprofit organization that is a network of pilots who donate their time and resources to flying abandoned pets—often doomed to euthanasia in animal shelters—to new homes across the United States. Based in South Carolina, the association has participated in the rescue of hundreds of animals through the efforts of volunteers, via the Pilots N Paws website, It is described as “a meeting place for those who rescue, shelter or foster animals, and pilots and plane owners willing to assist with the transportation of animals.”

Debi Boies, a retired nurse living in South Carolina, is the co-founder of Pilots N Paws. “I’ve been doing Doberman rescue for a number of years. And when we lost our 12-year-old Dobie to cancer, I adopted a rescue dog that was in Florida,” says Boies. “You have to kind of search for a rescue dog that might fit your home, and rescue [organizations] are very good about doing that. The problem always is that if they are a fair distance away from you, how do you get them? Either you have to drive there or meet someone (volunteer couriers involved in dog transport). I put a little e-mail out to several of our friends who travel in [RV-style] motor coaches and asked, ‘Hey! If any of you are coming through Florida and heading to the Carolinas, would you think about bringing my rescue dog on board with you?’ Jon Wehrenberg, my cofounder, said, ‘How about if I pick up your [rescue dog] by flying down there?’ So I said, ‘Wow! That is so extremely generous!’ And he said, ‘Oh Debi, pilots love to fly. Just let me do this for you.’”

After Boies shared with Wehrenberg that thousands of animals face euthanasia in regions of the country where spay and neuter laws and practices are often lax, the pair started Pilots N Paws.

Angel is one of the thousands of animals flown by pilots donating their time to transport them to adoptive homes around the country. (click for larger version)


“We started a [website] place where general aviation and volunteer pilots could connect with [animal] shelters and help each other out. We basically just created a meeting place for them [online],” Boies explains. Dog rescuers post requests for homeless pets in need of transportation on the online bulletin boards. Pilots available to fly a dog or cat contact the person seeking help. “Everything is in their hands, the pilot has control over the date, the time, the location, and the rescues do their best to abide by that because pilots are controlled by weather and distance,” Boies says. Those piloting volunteer flights cannot accept money for their efforts, as FAA regulations forbid noncommercial pilots from receiving compensation. However, because Pilots N Paws is a 501(c)(3) organization, pilots can write flight expenses off on their income taxes.

The average distance for a Pilots N Paws rescue flight is 300 nautical (straight-line) miles. It’s not unusual for airplanes to relay an animal to a destination where another volunteer then continues the creature’s journey to a new home. The organization has transported thousands of animals over the past three years. There are more than 1,500 pilots currently signed on for rescue flights, as well as more than 4,000 animal shelters and other volunteers registered with the program. The group also transports cats and kittens, and some flights have carried snakes and lizards to wildlife rescue habitats. One pilot flew a pot-bellied pig and a baby chick on the same plane (in separate crates). Navy SEALs rescued an Afghan eagle during the war there and brought it back to the United States, where Pilots N Paws volunteers flew it on to a rehab center, the Berkshire Bird Sanctuary in New York. There, the rescued bird chose an American eagle as its companion.

“We did a huge rescue out of New Orleans where we transported 171 dogs. There were 54 planes, and the pilots involved in that rescue flew out in three different directions,” explains Boies. “Many of these animals had been displaced from the oil spill—their owners could no longer afford them—and the shelters are still overrun. I was on a plane that had 31 dogs on the way to Washington, D.C., and they all fell asleep, [we] didn’t hear a peep out of them.”

Pilots N Paws depends on the generosity of sponsors for funding. The organization’s primary partners are Subaru and the pet products company Petmate, which designed the first pet carrier approved for air travel in 1964. Petmate supplies the crates for all Pilots N Paws transports. For the recent New Orleans rescue effort, Subaru arranged for ground transportation, and provided hotel rooms and meals for volunteers.

Pilots N Paws has assisted with dogs that U.S. soldiers have adopted and brought back from Afghanistan or Iraq. “When they get back to the States . . . then our pilots step up and offer to fly them on to the soldiers’ homes,” Boies says. The families of soldiers are the official adopters, as it is against the military’s policy for soldiers to take in dogs while serving. “There have been cases where some of these dogs have been honored because they have saved soldiers’ lives,” Boies says. “One story that was in the news was about five dogs within a base camp in Afghanistan that soldiers had befriended, and a suicide bomber was sneaking up to the camp and the dogs alerted the soldiers. I think there were only about five injuries, none life-threatening. One dog lost her life doing it and the rest of the dogs were brought back to this country. . . . The dogs are usually mixed breeds, but there are also Afghan hounds and a couple of other breeds that are specific to Afghanistan and Iraq.” Dogs are reportedly very mistreated in those countries, often stoned or burned to death, with feral dogs running amuck, according to Boies.

Another war dog story involves a canine named Molly who appeared one day at an American army base in Afghanistan. Since military personnel are not allowed to keep pets, Molly was given to a child in a nearby village. However, the dog preferred the soldiers’ company and walked back to the base, some 20 miles from the village. A Pilots N Paws rescue volunteer, Joanne Kubacki, arranged for foster homes and flights for Molly so that she could come to Kentucky, where she was adopted by the parents of a soldier who doted on Molly while she hung around the army base in Afghanistan.

Don Hull is a 62-year-old aerospace engineer who lives in Decatur, Alabama, where he and his wife have a pecan- selling business. After undergoing heart surgery, Hull eventually regained medical clearance from the FAA to fly again (all pilots, commercial and private, are required to pass medical exams, according to FAA regulations). A dog lover who has a terrier that loves to fly, Hull was so grateful for the opportunity to once again pilot a plane that he felt compelled to get involved in charitable flights.

“I noticed on the Internet that there were people from north Alabama—a couple of them that I knew—that were flying with Pilots N Paws,” Hull says. “My first flight was to Kentucky to pick up a Boston terrier that somebody decided they didn’t want any more and that the shelter there was going to put to sleep. That’s what I really like to do, to help dogs that are going to be put down, to give them another chance. It’s a very rewarding experience.” Hull began to get pilot friends involved in the rescue program. “It’s amazing, this network of people that gets together to make Pilots N Paws work.”

Hull always transports dogs in a crate, though he has seen pilots who allow dogs to either be tethered in the rear seat or to lie in a pilot’s lap. “The dogs put their heads in their laps and go to sleep while they are flying,” he says, laughing. “I could comfortably put five dogs in my plane. I fly dogs in crates in my plane’s backseat, and we attach a cord to the seatbelt to secure the crate. Every dog I’ve transported has been so good and calm, they just go to sleep back there.” &

No Dogs Allowed

No Dogs Allowed

Puppies not welcome at Homewood’s Patriot Park.

March 03, 2011

Since 2009, Bark for a Park(, a local nonprofit group that advocates fenced-in parks where dogs are allowed to run without leashes, has been trying to secure an area for a dog park in Homewood. The organization was instrumental in opening a similar park in Birmingham in October 2009 at George Ward Park on Green Springs Highway. Another facility opened in Hoover in 2010 at 3437 Loch Haven Drive, thanks to Bark for a Park’s efforts. The desired location is Patriot Park in the west Homewood area, but the organization appears to be running into roadblocks from the facilities committee, which falls under the auspices of the Homewood Parks and Recreation Department.

A February 22 town hall meeting at the Homewood Public Library drew approximately 30 people seeking an update from Bark for a Park board member Erik Henninger. The group had two facility designs for Patriot Park on display at the meeting, including separate areas for large and small dogs, respectively. However, two days later at its February 24 meeting, the facilities committee rejected any notions of a dog park at Patriot Park. Lack of adequate parking and the possible future expansion of the Homewood Senior Center adjacent to Patriot Park were the primary reasons cited for refusing to designate a dog park there. Bark for a Park will continue to pursue the issue, however.

Illustration courtesy Bark for a Park. (click for larger version)


“We’ve got plans that include more parking,” explains Henninger. “In the rare case that the Senior Center does expand in that direction—which, if you look at the site plans doesn’t make any sense, as there are other obvious options for them to expand—we would be out there helping to pull up the [dog park] fence,” he said. “The bone that they threw us is in West Homewood Park, which is probably half the size of what we were looking at. But there’s not much point in doing a half-acre park.” (The total proposed area in West Homewood would be one acre, with only half an acre each for large and small dogs, respectively.) “So it appears that they came to the meeting saying no to Patriot Park . . . Even though they did not say they were against a dog park, they weren’t helping us move in the right direction. They were just being obstructionist, is how I felt.”

The dog park in Birmingham is two-and-a-half acres, which is the approximate size of the area proposed for the Patriot Park facility. Henninger added, “The reason Patriot Park is such a good space is because it’s got not only a hill but is also secluded from the other two-thirds of the park by a ditch.” The Homewood Parks and Recreation Board will meet on Thursday, March 3, at 5:30 p.m. at the Homewood Recreation Center. Henninger urges all who want a dog park in Homewood to appear to show support. &


Out of Control

Out of Control

A recent report raises questions about the conditions at the animal control facility used by Jefferson County and the City of Birmingham.

April 30, 2009

Since 1997, Jefferson County and the City of Birmingham have outsourced the task of capturing stray dogs and cats to a for-profit company called BJC Animal Control Services. Although the city pays the majority of the cost, the county has traditionally dictated the terms of the contracts. Over the years, various Birmingham city councilors have complained that the company’s services rendered within the city limits have been less than adequate. A recent unannounced visit to BJC Animal Control by representatives of Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Carns’ office has critics once again complaining about the local animal control provider.

The first high-profile criticism of the facility surfaced in 2001, when the BJC Animal Control facility was inspected by the National Animal Control Association (NACA), an organization that provides guidelines and training for member agencies on how to humanely capture and house stray animals. The report cited several violations of NACA protocol, the most notable being impounded animals that lacked medical attention; dead animals left in cages; “very poor” sanitation of feline living quarters; animals being euthanized with intercardiac (directly into the heart) injections without first being sedated; and cages being cleaned without dogs being removed first—even when bleach and chemicals were being used. NACA also discovered that animals had been euthanized in the presence of other animals (and in view of visitors on at least one occasion). BJC Animal Control had also failed to verify that euthanized animals were actually dead, according to the report. Shortly after the report was published, BJC Animal Control director Steve Smith claimed that he had implemented new procedures to address the problems.

Critics of the current animal control facility feel that Jefferson County and the City of Birmingham should demand better conditions for animals housed there. (click for larger version)


The NACA report received attention from city councilors who had already begun to question both the shared funding arrangement with the county as well as a lack of any independent audit of BJC. City Councilor Valerie Abbott became an early and vocal critic of the BJC contract. “We have no way of knowing how much of the money [BJC] gets is profit, and how much actually goes to providing animal control,” Abbott told Black & White in March of 2004. “We’ve never had a central audit. We’ve asked for one, and what we got was a budget.” Critics fear that by its nature, a for-profit operation would be tempted to put financial gain ahead of animal welfare.

In the past, BJC has been awarded multi-year contracts that stipulated annual payments in the neighborhood of 1 million dollars. Since September of 2007, when the last contract with BJC expired, BJC’s services have been retained on a month-to-month basis while the city and county attempt to reach an agreement on new contract specifications. Such requirements would allow the contract to be bid on by other companies in addition to BJC, as occurred when the contract came up for renewal in 2004. Aside from a few officials such as Councilor Abbott and Commissioner Carns, neither the city nor the county has ever shown much interest in seeking competitive bids or enticing other companies to compete for the contract. To interested observers, the issue has never appeared to be a priority.



In May of 2004, Black & White spoke with Jefferson County Commissioner (now County Commission President) Bettye Fine Collins about NACA’s claim that BJC Animal Control had not been properly audited by an independent agency. According to Collins, “If you give a person a contract, I’m not too sure that it’s our role to audit the operation. He’s an independent contractor, and he contracts to us for a service. I don’t really know if it’s a matter to be audited. I would think that the Office of Public Examiners would require us to do that. All I can do is evaluate their performance. How the monies are spent to provide that service would not be mine to judge, I would think.”

Collins noted at the time that she had not voted to approve BJC Animal Control as the service provider, and that she believes a Humane Society would be better suited to do the job. Many humane societies, however, do not accept animals that aren’t surrendered by their owners—preventing such agencies from picking up stray animals.

Unpleasant Discoveries
In response to complaints from constituents, on January 21, 2009, Sharon Evans and Jeanette Brabston, both employed by Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Carns’ office, made an unannounced visit to the BJC Animal Control facility. Their account of what they observed was included in a February 3, 2009, press release intended to highlight what they considered to be unacceptable conditions at the facility.

Regarding the room where dogs are held as evidence in animal cruelty cases, they reported: Some of the dogs had been held there for up to a year. There were no windows—it was completely enclosed. The stench was bad. There was an exhaust unit there, but it was not turned on. Many of the dogs looked malnourished. Cages were very dirty and scattered with dried excrement. One cage had a dog that had been hit by a car. There were a few pools of blood and dried vomit in the cage.

We never saw [BJC veterinarian] Dr. Shaw tend to this dog. More than half the floor of the cage was smeared in blood. We were told that she was given painkillers and that the vet would be checking on her later. The dog did not move the whole time we were there. We asked Shelley [a BJC Animal Control employee] if the dog was OK and if they were going to treat it. Sharon [Evans] asked, “What decision will the vet make after he checks on the dog?” Shelley said that if the dog’s wounds are major, then the dog would be put down and if there were only minor treatments needed, they would put the dog up for adoption and hope that whoever would adopt the dog would take the dog to the veterinarian for the needed care.

Evans and Brabston’s report on the “Male Dog Room” reads: The dogs are never allowed out of their kennels. [When] asked how [often] the room was cleaned. Janie [a BJC employee] said that it was cleaned 2-3 times a day. With the thick, pungent smell that infused the room, it appeared the place had not been cleaned in a while. The room was extremely stuffy and hot. The smell was unbearable, and made us both extremely nauseous. There were exhaust fans identical to those in the “female” room. However, these were not on. Sharon pointed to them and asked Shelley what they were. Shelley said they were heaters, trying to explain the heat in the room. Sharon asked again “So they are both heaters?” to which Shelley replied “yes.” Sharon asked if there was any ventilation in the room. Shelley pointed to dark recesses in the ceiling and said that was the “ventilation.” There was no light coming from the recesses.

We walked around and saw a lot of malnourished dogs. Sharon saw a standing fan in the corner of the room, but it was not on.

As we were leaving, we saw two signs posted on the wall. One said “Do Not Use Hot Water” and the other said “Do Not Use Exhaust Fans.” Sharon pointed to the “Do Not Use Hot Water” sign and asked Shelley what that meant—why they did not use hot water. She replied: “We don’t want to burn the dogs,” and laughed. Sharon asked “Don’t you remove the dogs from the pen before cleaning? How would they get burned?” Shelley did not have an answer. She said, “We use bleach and cold water because it’s ‘cost-effective.’” (This is a term that we [heard] multiple times on the tour in answer to questions regarding flea treatments, antibiotics, immunizations, and basic care.) Sharon pointed to the “Do Not Use Exhaust Fans” sign and asked why they do not use the exhaust fans. Shelley said, “If we did, the dogs would get cold.” Sharon said, “I thought these were heaters,” to which Shelley said, “We run the exhaust fans in the summer.”

Regarding the “Cat Room,” Evans and Brabston wrote: When they showed us this room, they opened the door and the lights were off. There was not a window in the room. The cages were small, making it impossible for any exercise or very much movement. We asked about flea treatment for dogs and cats. They said that they provided flea treatment for dogs that were infested but if they had just a few fleas, they would bypass the flea treatment altogether. Again, she said this was “cost-effective.” We also asked about flea dipping. She said they did not do that anymore because they did not want to spread possible diseases such as mange. She explained that if one dog was dipped in the same flea bath as the previous dog, the chances for spreading disease were high.

Their report concluded with the following: When we returned to the office, we sent a picture [of the wounded dog] to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society with questions as to the normal procedure for dealing with injured animals. They were appalled and said this was not up to industry standards. The dog should have never been left alone or with other dogs because of the profuse bleeding and possible contamination. The dog should have either been euthanized immediately or isolated and treated for recovery. The picture serves as solid evidence of abuse/neglect taking place at the facility.

A Rebuttal
When contacted for comment, BJC Animal Control president Steve Smith said that he had not seen the February 2009 report from Carns’ office but that he is familiar with it. Regarding the “cruelty room” (where dogs are kept as evidence in animal cruelty cases), Smith explained, “That’s more specifically our ‘animal isolation room.’” As for the bleeding dog they photographed in a cage with vomit and dried blood, Smith said, “Let me tell you the real story. This dog was causing an imminent threat to the public. This particular dog charged the police. They shot him. The dog was brought in and examined by the veterinarian. The animal was given whatever treatment could be given to stabilize it and make it comfortable. The dog was being constantly monitored by the staff and vet. The reason the dog was being held was we were trying to find out if there was an owner involved that wanted to come in and get this animal to save its life. So that’s where we were with this and I think we were doing the prudent thing by trying to give the owner an opportunity before the animal was destroyed. When the owner indicated that they were not willing to do anything to save it, the animal was euthanized.” Smith added that the dog was euthanized later that afternoon after Evans and Brabston visited the facility.

Regarding the “Do Not Use Hot Water” and “Do Not Use Exhaust Fans” signs, Smith explained, “We clean in the mornings, [and] the odors will be unpleasant until we can clean. [Evans and Brabston claim their visit occurred around midday.] When you have this many animals confined in this small a space, you’re going to have unpleasant odors. Any shelter you go into, you’re going to have to deal with those same issues.” As far as complaints about ventilation, Smith said, “If I have done anything as the operator of this facility, I have done what I could to improve the ventilation. As you know, this is not my facility. [The building is owned by the City of Birmingham.] There is an escrow account that has approximately $150,000 to be used by the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County to make whatever improvements and do whatever maintenance to this facility that they deem to be necessary. I have made several requests to the city and to the county to look into things like improving the ventilation and to do things like painting and replacing doors that have rusted, to improve security at the facility.” (Smith stated that the facility has been the target of four armed robberies.) He also noted that the facility was built in the late 1970s and agrees that ventilation problems need to be addressed. “We have gas heat. These roof ventilations have to stay closed because you can’t maintain a comfortable temperature for the animals if you’re blowing all your heat out the roof. So, you’ve got to do a balancing act between finding a comfortable temperature for the animals and decreasing the odors and improving the ventilation. As far as the hot water goes, we have hot water for hygienic purposes and other purposes that necessitate hot water. But the chemicals that we use do not require hot water,” Smith said. “Now, periodically, we’re going to get in there with hot water or extra chemicals and do a more thorough cleaning, but as far as cleaning the kennels, the disinfecting and cleaning agents that we use do not require hot water.”

In response to Evans and Brabston’s observations of cats being confined to small cages and not allowed any exercise, Smith said that the cat cages at the facility are not small. “These are cat cages that are sold by very reputable vendors. They’re very adequate-sized cages, and most of the times the cats are penned individually. They’re fed and watered everyday, their cages cleaned out. Most of these cats are here for just seven days until an owner can come in and claim that animal. To assume that we have a responsibility to take these cats out of the cages and exercise them isn’t reasonable and feasible,” said Smith, citing a danger of employees being injured while handling animals.

“I’ll put this facility and the company’s operation against any other animal control operation in the state, be it ‘for profit,’ ‘not for profit,’ ‘nonprofit.’ Don’t make any difference. To me, what’s important is the job that’s performed. It’s doesn’t matter what type of corporation it is. Everybody has an opportunity to bid on [the animal control contract]. I think it’s important that everybody really understands [the function of animal control]. There are statutory responsibilities that determine what an animal control program should do. It’s up to a community to assess what they want. But it needs to be an informed opinion. These people need to see what other shelters are doing. And I dare anybody to prove that this operation does not meet or exceed its contractual obligations or does not do as good or better a job as any other animal control operation in the state.”

Smith said that most people do not know the difference between a humane society and an animal control organization. “There are problems that are inherent with a humane society trying to perform animal control work, because it goes against their mission,” he explained. “The goal of the humane society is to find these animals a home. When a humane society takes in unwanted animals, they can euthanize these animals immediately. They’re not going to spend their resources on animals they can’t place. We’re required by law to hold these animals for seven days. Sometimes I’m kind of thought of as a heartless individual that doesn’t care about animals and this sort of thing. But I’m a biology major. I have an appreciation for all life.” &

The Professional Scoop on Poop

The Professional Scoop on Poop

It’s a dirty job, but . . .

April 30, 2009

Four years ago, Stanley Shafferman told his wife that he was going to start a new business called Poop Be Gone that would offer the removal of pet excrement from lawns and other areas. “I refer to myself as an ‘entremanure’ instead of an entrepreneur,” he says with a laugh. Shafferman, who opened Cosmo’s Pizza in Five Points South in 1986 and later worked at O.T.’s Grill in the Lakeview district, admits that he grew weary of the food business. “I had been in the restaurant industry for 20 to 25 years, and I was getting very tired of employees and bad work ethics,” he says. “And I was looking for something to do that did not require employees.”

Shafferman began submitting résumés as he contemplated what to do with his life. His wife, Peggy, a nurse at UAB, is active in the dog show world. (The couple raises a breed known as Havanese, which is Cuba’s only native breed.) “One afternoon I was reading one of the dog show magazines and I got to the classifieds,” he recalls. “I saw under ‘business opportunities’ two companies selling franchises for removing pet waste. I didn’t buy a franchise, but I immediately went to my computer and typed ‘pooper scoopers’ and found companies across the country.” After speaking with a few professional dog waste removers, he decided to go into business for himself. There is a national organization called aPAWS (Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists), which he soon joined.

Shafferman advertises the service with magnetic signs attached to his truck, fliers in vets’ offices, and word of mouth. Poop Be Gone has weekly, twice weekly, and twice monthly customers. Shafferman’s tools include a long-handled dust pan, a 13-gallon garbage bag, and a shrub rake that he uses to pop the poop into the dustpan. The bag is attached to the pan, then removed and tied shut once its been filled after a yard is finished. “My hands are not touching the poop,” he notes. (Shafferman disinfects his tools and shoes between yards to avoid spreading any germs from home to home.)

As for vicious dogs in yards, Shafferman has his own approach to winning over any snarling beasts he encounters. “One yard had a small mixed-breed dog and an American bulldog. The small dog liked me—I always carry treats in my pocket—and he took the treat. The bulldog did not like me. He was not interested in treats,” he recalls. Shafferman swears that all he had to do was begin singing and the bulldog immediately retreated to the other side of the yard.

Shafferman readily admits that he often talks to dogs to soothe any canine animosity. “I tell all new clients, if you hear me talking to your dogs, do not pay attention because a lot of the times it’s just gibberish,” he says. “It’s just the sound of my voice that calms the dogs down. They don’t really know what you’re saying anyway. I talk to dogs all day long.”

Where does all the recovered poop end up after it has been bagged up and loaded onto Shafferman’s truck? “When I first started, it ended up in my trash can at home. I soon outgrew that and I now have a dumpster,” he says, although he will not reveal its location. “The poop all finally winds up at the landfill next to the dirty diapers.” &

Poop Be Gone can be reached at or 968-0980. Prices range from $14.50 to $23 per cleaning, depending on the frequency. One-time yard cleanings cost $30.

Budget Cuts

Budget Cuts

Low-cost pet sterilization now available locally.

June 26, 2008

A new non-profit facility is offering low-cost spaying and neutering procedures for dogs and cats, the goal being to reduce the number of stray and abandoned animals by means other than euthanasia. The Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic in Irondale will provide services to animal rescue organizations and shelters as well as individual pet owners. It is not a full-service veterinary facility; sterilization and any necessary rabies vaccinations are the only services offered. Though a permanent, 8,500-square-foot building with four surgical rooms is under construction, services are now available in two temporary operating rooms inside the clinic’s double-wide trailer.

“We are in the high-volume spay/neuter business,” explains clinic director Mark Nelson. “The only way we can ever hope to come close to adopting out all the healthy animals that are coming into shelters is to drastically reduce the number of animals coming into shelters. Right now, about one out of ten healthy animals are adopted out. There are just not enough homes . . . The only way you can stop the overflow in shelters and the subsequent euthanasia of healthy animals is through an aggressive, high-volume spay/neutering program, and the only way you can do that is by having very aggressive pricing.”

The clinic currently has one full-time medical team that can perform 30 surgeries per day. The facility is open Monday through Friday, and appointments are requested. It is modeled on services offered by the Humane Alliance based in Asheville, North Carolina, which has spayed or neutered more than 200,000 animals since 1994. “The Humane Alliance is the best that I’ve seen at doing this,” says Nelson. “They have something called the ‘national spay/neuter response team,’ kind of a wing of Humane Alliance. They actually go in and help train veterinary teams in other clinics on the best, most current procedures for doing high-volume spay/neuters. The Humane Alliance helps nurture organizations such as ours. They’ve helped open between 30 and 40 spay/neuter clinics around the country the last three years . . . They’re a non-profit as well, but for lack of a better description, it’s almost like a franchise.”

The Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic will make available pediatric spay/neutering procedures, with a minimum weight and age requirement of two pounds and two months for healthy animals. Though some veterinarians may disagree with the practice of sterilizing very young animals, Nelson says that doing so significantly decreases the chances of having certain types of cancers in a pet. “Say a female dog never has a litter of puppies, her chances of having breast cancer is almost zero,” Nelson explains. “If they have one litter of puppies, it increases maybe twofold. After two litters, it really doesn’t matter. The same with male dogs with testicular cancer.”

The Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) also practices pediatric spay/neutering. “Until we don’t have any unwanted animals, I can’t think of a better way to do it,” says Jacque Meyer, the GBHS executive director. “And the mortality rate is very, very low with pubescent spays and neuters.”

Meyer is excited about the clinic. “I think it’s the greatest thing to hit Jefferson County. We need one in every city. They need to put me out of business.” &

The Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, 956-0012,, is located at 2721 Crestwood Boulevard, across the street from the Irondale Post Office.


City Hall — Council Debates a Bright Future



Council Debates a Bright Future

The Council clashes on the merits of digital billboards.


May 17, 2007

At the May 1 City Council meeting, Councilor Valerie Abbott, chair of the planning and zoning committee, sought a temporary moratorium on LED digital billboards and other outdoor electric business signs. “Our city sign ordinance is very old,” explained Abbott, concerning the need for a moratorium until city codes can be updated to address digital sign technology. The councilor said that the ordinances regulating outdoor advertising in Birmingham were written before electronic billboards existed. Currently, two digital LED billboards operate in Birmingham’s city limits, according to the councilor.

Discussion of the resolution for the proposed moratorium included a public hearing, allowing local residents to address the issue. Surprisingly, few opponents of digital billboards spoke, whereas several advocates expressed approval of the technology. Local radio personality and one-time mayoral candidate Frank Matthews claimed that more advertising generates more revenue for businesses. “When you look at the digital billboards, it gives somewhat of a twenty-first-century perspective to Birmingham overall. . . . I am sick of seeing antiquated ugly signs. I like that newness,” said Matthews. He then accused Abbott of bringing up the issue because she is reportedly running for mayor.

Chris Dehaven of Pelham sign company Dixie LED was present to defend the LED signs. He pointed to the billboard’s efficient use of electricity. “It is the emerging sign art, there’s no doubt about it,” Dehaven told the council. “Almost half of all the signs that we do are for cities, parks, schools, and churches. Only about half of them are actually used by business owners. Unfortunately, a lot of business owners would like to have it, but they don’t have the funds [that are] available in the public sector.”

“There’s a giant TV screen on the side of the road and you’ve got to make sure that these aren’t going to hurt somebody.” —Lisa Harris, executive director of Scenic Alabama

LED billboards change messages every six to eight seconds, and their intense brightness (which can be controlled) and high resolution are transforming outdoor advertising. Instead of buying space, advertisers can buy time on LED billboards. The billboards also give advertisers the ability to frequently and easily modify their ads.

Reverend Wanda Radford of the organization Mothers Who Want the Violence to Stop (Radford’s son was killed in August 2006 in a random shooting) praised Lamar Advertising for donating billboards that feature images of slain children and the promotion of cash rewards for information leading to solving the crimes. “If we had the money to put up electronic billboards, we would do so,” said Radford, who challenged the city to use digital billboards to assist in searching for homicide suspects.

A DVD presentation by Tom Traylor of Lamar Advertising touted the efficiency and impact of LED digital billboards. “Unlike other elements a driver encounters, digital billboards do not flash nor do they feature animation, motion video, or intermittent light,” according to the video. The billboards’ ability to flash Amber Alert notifications were also praised as a benefit.

Councilor Steven Hoyt is opposed to any moratorium. “There’s not been a moratorium on all these junkyards that appear in the community. Neither has there been one on the beer and wine licenses that we hand out every week, and we’re still trying to rewrite those ordinances and zoning issues. And I’m just not inclined to impede a business that is thriving. Aesthetically, it looks good.” Hoyt continued, “I’m distracted by all this grass that the state department doesn’t cut, going down the freeway . . . I really want to commend Lamar for stepping up their game, and it sets a precedent for others who want to get into the business.”

City attorney Lawrence Cooper, however, warned that the law could be lagging behind technology, and that safety and brightness issues could be distracting to motorists. “If we allow these billboards to continue to go up right now, they may be grandfathered in with some type of technology that is not useful,” said Cooper. “So please be aware of the law trying to play catch-up with issues that we’re presented with.”

A current Federal Highway Administration study has not been completed, which is the reason the planning and zoning committee suggested a moratorium until potential LED sign distractions and subsequent dangers are determined, according to Abbott. The councilor explained that the committee wants to study whether LED digital signs should be allowed at certain intersections where there is a lot of dangerous traffic—such as Malfunction Junction—or if they should be allowed near residential areas. “We’re not saying, ‘Ban the signs.’ We’re saying, ‘Let’s stop and look at the issue and make sure we’re doing the intelligent thing in our city.’ Other cities have banned them completely, [or] they’ve put restrictions on them,” said Abbott. “So that is the reason for asking for the moratorium, so that we have time to look at the issue before we have a whole city full of signs and can’t do anything about them because we’ve already allowed them.”

Vestavia Hills revoked a permit for a digital billboard last year after it was determined that the sign failed to comply with the city’s sign ordinance. Lamar Advertising has filed an appeal to have the sign reinstated.

“It was in a pretty bad location on Rocky Ridge Road,” said Rebecca Leavings, acting city clerk for the city of Vestavia Hills. “It’s in litigation right now . . . Our sign ordinance says no changing images or animation or flashing—or something like that. So it comes down to what’s going to be an interpretation by the courts as to whether or not that’s what was [in violation]. But it was in a poor location. Also, it was right down on the road.”

Digital billboards are prohibited in Hoover, according to Stan Benton, assistant director of building inspections services for the city. Signs with electronically changeable messages, flashing lights, and reader boards (except for public service, time and temperature signs, and scoreboards at athletic facilities) are prohibited, as are any new locations of billboards of any type.

“The point is that the city council is responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the general public,” said Lisa Harris, executive director of Scenic Alabama, in a telephone interview. “It is vital to the traveling public, to our residents and our citizens that nothing hazardous is going to happen [as a result of] those [LED billboards]. We have trucks [dropping] steel coils, we lost an overpass from a crash of a tanker, we have trucks coming through there. [The council] needs to at least know what the safety issues are and make a decision based on that, not just based on ‘aren’t these things wonderful and flashy!’ You need to make sure that no one is going to have a wreck looking at them before you allow them to go in. . . . There’s a giant TV screen on the side of the road and you’ve got to say, if you’re a responsible elected official, ‘Let’s make sure that these aren’t going to hurt somebody.’”

Lamar Advertising has requested permits for two more LED billboards. The Birmingham City Council approved a two-week delay. At press time, the moratorium was scheduled for a vote at the May 15 council meeting. &