ALBANY – While Lulu Kaufman has faced a number of challenges over the past three years and the Albany Humane Society has made significant strides under her leadership, her success has not come without a layer of controversy.
Kaufman is currently wearing a number of hats. She joined the board of directors of the AHS in 2017 and currently serves as board president and shelter director.
“There were a lot of rumors that Albany was euthanizing too many animals to count; Albany needed somebody to help the shelter and save (animal) lives,” Kaufman said. “At that time, records indicated that AHS was euthanizing an average of 3,000 animals annually, one of the highest kill rates of any shelter in the state.
“I got on the board and said, ‘We are going to change this and you’re going to watch.’ I changed the direction of the shelter. Some people that had been on the board did not like the changes I was making. They felt we needed to keep our dogs here and let the community adopt them. Well, that’s not been working for 50 years.”
For Kaufman, the solution was finding an alternative to a system that was based solely on local adoption or euthanasia.
“I asked to be on the board because I am the Humane Society of the United States District 2 leader for the state of Georgia,” she said.
The HSUS is a nonprofit organization focused on animal welfare issues, including improving the life of farm animals, stopping puppy mills, ending cosmetic animal testing, and banning trophy hunting. It utilizes strategies that are generally beyond the scope of local organizations. The national organization consistently ranks in the top 200 largest charities in the United States.
HSUS does not operate, control or fund local humane societies. However, it does provide support to them through grants, staff training opportunities, standards of care, and evaluation services.
“We had to turn our shelter into a shelter that is forward-thinking, and I did that,” Kaufman said. “I taught the employees how to do it. I have my own transport coalition. I started it two years ago, working with eight shelters in our region. We work together to get animals out of our region up to other rescue (operations). I worked really hard and made changes that some people may not agree with. But our changes save lives, and our numbers speak for themselves.”
The numbers indicate that, in past years, AHS euthanized more than 3,000 animals annually, compared to the 43 animals euthanized to date this year. Kaufman explained that these animals were euthanized because of medical conditions or because they were considered vicious animals. AHS is no longer euthanizing animals because the shelter is full and there are no other options.
“The way that we see it in the shelter world, when you have to euthanize an animal because you need space, that’s killing an animal,” she said. “If you euthanize the animal because it is sick or vicious, that is humane.”
Currently, there is a three-day stray hold policy at the shelter. Meaning, the owner is given three days to find their animal and reclaim it. After that, it becomes the property of AHS, which then can, at operators’ discretion, decide what to do with the animal. Typically, AHS has three options, ranging from adoption to fostering or, ultimately, euthanasia.
According to Kaufman, fostering is the preferred option when an animal is frightened by the shelter environment. Pregnancy is another reason for fostering, as the shelter is not an ideal birthing setting in regard to exposure to disease and virus prior to age-appropriate vaccination schedules.
Currently, there are 123 animals housed in the AHS shelter with a monthly average generally running at about 220 animals. Kaufman credits the transport system she established as the reason for the lower numbers.
“I want to address the question about how quickly we transport out,” she said. “We have these wonderful rescue partners that are in Atlanta and farther north, in urban areas where they have higher numbers of adoptions. They send their trucks down. We get the animals vetted, give them health certificates, get them vaccinated and we get them on a transport to another rescue shelter.”
This success of AHS’s transfer program has raised some questions in the community, some of which relate to the shelter’s contractual responsibilities to the Animal Control Board. Others see the process leading to a shortage of adoptable dogs of preferred breeds at the local shelter.
“What we are doing at Albany Humane is life-changing for the animals,” Kaufman said. “We have done a remarkable job helping the animals in our community. I would love an opportunity to educate the people in the community as to what we are doing and how we are saving lives. I have had a lot of people in the community complain that these transports don’t leave any cute puppies in the shelter for us to adopt. So, I would love to address that.
“I feel like the problems at the shelter are not shelter problems, they are community problems. These animals are coming in from the community; we are just here to shelter them and do the best by them. We are proud of our numbers and the hard work we are doing in Albany’s name.”