Nonprofits – Despite the pandemic and other obstacles, Animal Protective Foundation carries on strong 90-year tradition

Stephanie Johnson holds a kitten at the Animal Protective Foundation in Glenville
Stephanie Johnson holds a kitten at the Animal Protective Foundation in Glenville

The front door is locked at the Animal Protective Foundation in Glenville — a COVID-related precaution — but the private, nonprofit humane society is open for business and celebrating its 90th year of operation.

Faced with pandemic challenges, leadership transitions, a changing animal population and increasing community need for affordable pet wellness services, APF is transforming its obstacles into strengths in an effort to keep the organization relevant for years to come.

That ongoing endeavor is soon to be spearheaded by a new executive director, Joe Lisella, who will start his job at the end of October. Lisella was previously a member of the executive team at Marin Humane in Novato, California. He will replace Austin Gates, who signed on to lead APF in January but left her post Sept. 30 due to a family emergency. Gates had replaced Deb Balliet, who held the executive director job for more than six years.

Addressing evolving needs
The APF has long been known as a facility that accepts owner-relinquished pets and strays and helps find them new homes, but its services extend well beyond that. The foundation houses a low-cost spay and neuter clinic, performs community outreach, offers dog training classes and has a pet food pantry. Special services are also offered to animals in APF’s care to reduce stress, improve health and ensure a good match once the animals are rehomed.

The success of those programs has resulted in a decline in the number of pets entering APF’s care. In turn, the organization has observed an increase in community demand for affordable behavioral and veterinary services. The foundation has created a five-year strategic plan to address those needs. Initiatives include the expansion of community partnerships, programs and services.

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One facet of that plan is to expand access to APF’s low-cost veterinary services and pet food pantry.

The foundation’s low-cost spay and neuter clinic is a resource for those who could not otherwise afford to have their pets altered. The clinic also supports the work of local organizations that trap, neuter and vaccinate feral cats. APF aims to expand its collaborations with those organizations in an effort to reduce cat overpopulation. In partnership with SCRUFF: Spaying Capital Region Unowned Feral Felines, and Feline Guardian Angels, APF is utilizing a grant from the Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust to alter 425 feral cats in the Capital Region.

The foundation has also begun taking its services on the road. Before COVID hit, in partnership with Banfield Pet Hospital, APF held a grant-funded pet wellness clinic at the Schenectady YWCA.

“We spent the day in the community and we were able to help pets in need, get them flea and tick treatment, get them basic exams and ear cleanings, and it’s definitely one of our goals to continue to offer those on a consistent basis,” said Stephanie Johnson, APF’s director of operations.

The Animal Protective Foundation partners with Schenectady Community Ministries to provide pet food to those who visit SiCM’s food pantry. APF also offers emergency pet food delivery to SiCM patrons in need.

In addition, APF has an arrangement with the YWCA battered women’s shelter.

“If [women] have to go into a shelter environment themselves, we’ll take their animals, and we will house them and take care of them,” explained APF Board President Otto Zamek.

Volunteer driven
The foundation operates with the help of roughly 22 staff members and 122 active volunteers, 70 of whom foster cats and dogs as needed.

“The volunteers are more than just being nice to the animals. They do the laundry, they do the dishes, clean up after the pets, they change the kitties’ litter, they help clean the cages, they sort all of the food that comes in that has been donated. They are integral to us. They basically help us to stay in business,” said Zamek, who began volunteering with the organization in 2016.

COVID-related challenges
Volunteerism slowed when COVID set in. The pandemic has challenged the organization in a number of other ways as well. As a health and safety precaution, APF pivoted to online adoptions, appointment-only visits and curbside pickups. The spay and neuter clinic closed for about a month and a half, but is now back in operation.

Adoptions increase
Homeless animal numbers decreased dramatically at APF and at shelters nationwide during the height of the pandemic, as people sheltering in place adopted pets to keep them company. NBC’s recent Clear the Shelters campaign also assisted APF’s animal rehoming efforts, Johnson said.

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“Recently, we had little Ava in here. She got adopted and she’s in surgery right now,” said Johnson, pointing to an empty kennel during a mid-September tour of the APF facility. The room was filled with 24 dog kennels, most of them uninhabited.

“Sky was here as well. He’s in a foster home. This is little Pumpkin,” she said, pointing to a small, orange-and-brown pitbull mix. “She came in as a stray. She was just spayed. She’s a sweet, sweet girl. No owners came forward for her, so she is just waiting to go up for adoption.”

Otis, another stray, was playing in the shelter’s yard.

In a nearby room, two tiny orange kittens cuddled together under the watchful eye of a veterinary assistant.

Leo the rabbit, just out of surgery, lay wrapped in a fleece blanket on a heated mat in the clinic.

A changing population
The animal population at the foundation is not just diminishing, it’s changing, mirroring a trend observed throughout the U.S., Johnson said.

“The majority of the animals coming in have medical or behavioral concerns, so it’s important for our staff to be trained to navigate these situations,” she explained.

In response, the organization is incorporating additional supports for both staff and animals. Every animal that comes into the foundation receives a comprehensive evaluation.

“They go through a medical analysis but also a kind of psychological analysis, where they determine how they are with other dogs, children, cats, in a crowd, with adults, male or female,” Zamek said.

Staff are trained through Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Pawsitive initiative, which aims to increase feline adoption rates by providing instruction on how to implement positive reinforcement training for cats. Johnson said the training helps staff interact in positive ways with skittish cats. The effort boosts felines’ confidence and gets them used to being petted and having humans in their space.

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The APF’s Delack Feline Care Center has four airy rooms with shelves for cats to perch on and windows that offer views and natural sunlight.

“They put them in a more natural environment and the cats’ stress level goes down, and that makes them more adoptable,” Zamek said.

APF offers special enrichment programs for dogs in its care as well. Dogs are also taken on outings to a park and to Lowe’s.

“It gives us a good idea of how they are in public and the staff are able to observe their behaviors to know if there are any kind of triggers for them, to help reduce stress when they go into a new environment,” Johnson said.

Unrestricted gifts needed
APF relies on grants and donations to operate. Since the onset of COVID, all fundraisers have been virtual. Despite that change, the organization is on pace to meet its fundraising goals, said Cassandra Metke, APF’s leadership gifts officer.
This holiday season, the organization will hold a matching gifts challenge, as well as a holiday auction slated for Nov. 11-18.

The organization is most in need of unrestricted donations.

“They give us the flexibility to use them for anything that we need, whether it’s surgical supplies or prescription pet food,” Johnson explained.

Donations of pet food and supplies are much appreciated as well, she noted. The APF website has a link to an Amazon wish list, through which the public can purchase supplies that are sent directly to the foundation.

Animal Protective Foundation
Year founded: 1931
Mission: The Animal Protective Foundation promotes and protects the human-animal bond by providing resources to our community and humane care to companion animals.
Areas served: Schenectady County and the greater Capital Region
Quote: “We are open. We want the community to come. They’re what keeps us here and keeps us thriving, so the more they come and fall in love with our pets, the more pets we can service in the community.” — Stephanie Johnson, APF’s director of operations

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Categories: Life and Arts, Nonprofits 2021

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