The Humane Society of West Alabama, located in Tuscaloosa, was established in July 1971 when a group of concerned citizens rallied on behalf of the local animals. Animal control at that time was very rudimentary: the “housing” consisted of a double-tiered row of open cages with no protection from rain, heat, or cold. Dogs were handled with pitchforks and rumor said a bullet to the head ended their lives. There was no provision for cats or other animals. After a public meeting in the auditorium of Alabama Power Company, the new Tuscaloosa County Humane Society formed a board of directors, which promptly gained 501(c)3 status. Through the generosity of Dr. Sarah Rogers, we were soon able to build a shelter on 35th Street with a 100-animal capacity and a small pasture to the side. As is common in many American communities, we became a dual agency when we contracted with the Cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport and Tuscaloosa County to perform animal control and then house the strays—and yet still function as a nonprofit humane society.
For over twenty years, we tried to keep the animals in our care healthy, safe, and happy as we took in strays through our animal-control officers and accepted owner-surrendered family pets at the shelter. We were instrumental in developing local animal ordinances to supplement the weak state laws; in the late eighties, we were able to persuade Tuscaloosa and Northport to pass a leash law—so that many fewer dogs were automobile casualties and many fewer puppies were born from random breeding. Unfortunately, the Humane Society board also spent most of those years trying to increase the dollar amount of the contract to cover the services we were providing. Our costs (and the number of animals) steadily increased, yet the governments wanted to cut our funding and occasionally tried to mount “hostile” takeovers. We found ourselves more and more frequently subsidizing the animal-control program with money donated for our humane work. Negotiations over the contract failed when “politics” came to a head in late 1993. Various local officials believed that the government could perform animal control more cheaply (Tuscaloosa through the Department of Transportation, Northport through the Police Department, and the County through the Sheriff’s Department). For a few months, we functioned as the governmental holding facility but had no field officers. Soon thereafter, amid much controversy and with the presumption of cost-effectiveness, a private individual created the Metro Shelter on Watermelon Road, to be used as the official holding location, and the Humane Society got out of the business of animal control.
Our long-time dependence on the governmental contract made the 1994 transition to being strictly a humane organization rather difficult. One of our first decisions was to become a no-kill shelter with the name Humane Society of West Alabama (reflecting our willingness to help animals anywhere). Our supposed ill fortune got us really focused on our mission to help animals and out of the political struggle to maintain the contract. Financially, we no longer could expect a lump sum of money each month; instead we had to support our shelter through fundraisers and donations (the nationally known humane organizations do not distribute funds at the local level). It soon became obvious that we would also have to “raid” our nest egg (saved toward building a new and larger shelter) for operating expenses. We were inundated with animals almost immediately and needed $7,000 a month for salaries, veterinary care, overhead, etc. We wanted to save as many lives as possible and always kept an increasingly long waiting list. As money became tighter, our building deteriorated and we could afford fewer and fewer employees. When the nest egg had been depleted, we found homes for the last of our dogs and cats and sadly closed the shelter on November 1, 1997.
Through the sale of our building, land, and equipment, we paid our debts and still had enough funds to stay in existence, but not enough to establish another shelter. For three years, we relied on our voicemail system to find homes for animals, learn of cruelty cases, reunite lost pets with their owners, educate the public about proper pet care, treat sick and injured animals, etc. In 1999 the Metro Shelter moved to the site of our old pasture, creating confusion about our separate roles in the community.
In October 2000, the Animal Coalition of Tuscaloosa (ACT)—consisting of the Humane Society, T-Town P.A.W.S., West Alabama Animal Rescue, and Metro—began operating an adoption room at Pet Supplies “Plus.” This cooperative venture resulted in the homing of hundreds of cats and dogs. However, it was an exhausting effort, entailing the scheduling of almost 50 volunteers each week and ensuring that someone would always be on-call for emergencies. It was also an expensive effort, since employees had to be paid for 86 hours a week. One by one, the groups dropped out, until only the Humane Society remained in June 2003. Paying the salaries became prohibitive, so we moved out of Pet Supplies “Plus” on December 24th. In May of 2003 we had formed an auxiliary called Friends of the Humane Society, which would provide enormous aid in our next incarnation.
We decided that it was important to continue to house animals and also be in a central location. We invested in an older home on Veterans Memorial Parkway—prime real estate and yet for a reasonable price. With the help (time and money) of volunteers, we made renovations and converted the kitchen into our office/headquarters; the remainder of the building was home to numerous cats that are free to romp and play—no more cages!
We have since moved our operations into two separate facilities: one for cats and one for dogs. We continue to be cage-free at the Cat Shelter and the dogs enjoy large outdoor dog-runs and a large yard to play. To learn more about our current shelters, please see the "How to Adopt" tab at the top of our website.
In 2019, we joined the Best Friends Partner Network. As a no-kill organization, we are thrilled to have the training and experience offered to us by this national organization that is working toward a goal of "No Kill 2025" in America.
As always, money and space remain our ongoing hurdles to help animals; as always, we are overwhelmed with requests for assistance. The Humane Society of West Alabama has traveled a long and often rocky road, but thousands of animals have benefited from our work—“because we care.”