For this week’s segment of Hometown Heroes, AY About You sits down with Julie Austin at the Humane Society of Pulaski County.
Austin was born and raised in Pine Bluff, then raised in Little Rock, graduating from UA Little Rock. Austin had spent her career in sales and marketing but found joy in volunteering for the Humane Society while at a previous job. So when the marketing position opened at the Pulaski County Humane Society, Austin said that it was fate, and says that it has been the best job she’s ever had.
This December will be the Humane Society of Pulaski County’s 75th-anniversary celebration, making the organization the oldest private shelter and the largest private shelter in central Arkansas.
“We’ve been in the building on Colonel Glenn for 20 years, and most people are familiar with our location,” Austin says. “One thing I learned was that before we were digitizing, our secretary kept a lot of documents at home. Unfortunately, she had a house fire, so we lost a lot of our history and documents– even the people here don’t know much of the specifics. One of our projects for this year is to crowdsource our history, in a way, so asking the public if they know a story or have a picture of an event that we did way back in the day. We’re really trying to crowdsource our history. As a private shelter, many people don’t realize that we aren’t the city shelter; we don’t get taxes and depend entirely on donations and grants. We constantly depend on the community to support us, which the community does very well.”
The Humane Society of Pulaski County is a no-kill shelter, meaning that they never euthanize animals to make more space.
“Our mission is to help the homeless dogs and cats of Central Arkansas,” Austin says. “Our ultimate goal is to find them homes. We don’t go out into the community, and we can’t take people’s dogs from them– we have no authority in that. We’re constantly trying to educate folks and give them the right resources. We’re completely independent.”
As with all businesses, the pandemic shaped the Humane Society of Pulaski County’s business model.
“We’re really still learning to this day. Once we shifted to a more virtual experience when everyone else closed, we pivoted to an online-only mode of operation. People would put in applications, and then we’d contact them to set an appointment. Sometimes it was more intensive with staff time, but we could better match people with pets based on their lifestyle. There were a lot more personalized matches. As a result, our adoptions weren’t down much at all for that year, and we had fewer returns of dogs and cats than normal,” Austin shares. “By doing the adoption process the way that we’ve been doing it, it takes the impulse decision out of things. We’ve really been pleased with how we’ve been able to turn it around. At the beginning of the shutdowns, we had a ton of adoptions.”
Austin said that they plan to keep this model once everything goes back to normal, and that priority will go to people who make appointments in advance.
“We’re trying to shift our focus onto adoptions. We really want volunteers and adoptions.”
Austin encourages everyone interested in learning more about the Humane Society of Pulaski County to visit their website. Additionally, AY has interviewed some of the pups who need homes about what makes them a great match! You can meet those doggos here.