The Jasper Animal Shelter is under new management, and talks are continuing to open a new shelter in the coming months, possibly with help from the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS).Jesika …
The Jasper Animal Shelter is under new management, and talks are continuing to open a new shelter in the coming months, possibly with help from the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS).
Jesika Pilgrim started her first day as the city animal shelter's new manager on April 2. She has been with the shelter since Jan. 31 as a kennel tech and has replaced former shelter manager Debra Nix.
Pilgrim is a native of Bremen in Cullman County, and she said a love for animals has always been in her blood.
"I grew up with a lot of animals. My grandma raised me, and ever since I was a little kid, people liked to dump off animals at our house. We pretty much took all of them in," Pilgrim said. "I think that's where my love for animals stems from."
Pilgrim has previously worked for two animal shelters in Texas, and she is also actively involved in animal rescue work. She said she came back to Alabama for a fresh start.
The city shelter does not euthanize animals except in extreme medical situations and was at capacity last week, but Pilgrim has been actively working with the GBHS and other animal rescues to help find homes for the dogs and cats in their care. Pilgrim estimated they were caring for 60 dogs last Wednesday, along with three cats.
GBHS pulled nine dogs from the city shelter recently to help them find homes, and a rescue group in Connecticut took in eight dogs.
"We don't get a high amount of adoptions. We have dogs that have been here since 2016," Pilgrim said, adding the shelter averages less than five adoptions each week. She said many of the animals show more signs of distress the longer they are in shelter and some stop eating.
Male dogs are $95 to adopt and $115 for females. Cats are $40 to adopt. All animals adopted have been vetted, vaccinated and spayed or neutered.
In addition to Pilgrim's mission to get more animals adopted, she is also hopeful that the city will soon receive a new animal shelter.
"It's very desperately needed," she said.
Currently the shelter is limited in space and the building is in need of repairs. Some dogs are in crates instead of larger caged areas, due to overcrowding. In addition, some dogs and cats are crated separately in the same room.
Pilgrim said she would love to have more space and adoptions so their dogs don't have to be crated and can be in larger spaces.
Jasper Mayor David O'Mary has been working with Pilgrim to answer any questions she and other employees may have, and he's been responsive to the shelter's needs.
"My observation since coming to office is that the animal shelter has been way down the priority list, from an operational perspective. There's plenty of evidence of that when you go there," O'Mary said. "We've been talking about this for some time and how we make improvements. We've reached out to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, and we're in discussions now where there may be some sort of joint venture or merger of our operations with Greater Birmingham."
O'Mary said he and other city officials plan to have a formal meeting with GBHS soon to discuss the possibility of a new city animal shelter. He said even if they can't come to an agreement with GBHS, he still wants to move forward with opening a new shelter.
"We've identified property and a structure we might use if we know that GBHS can't help us, and we're going to ratchet it up from a funding perspective to try to have an animal shelter that this city can be proud of," he said.
By law, the city must have an animal shelter, and O'Mary said he wants Jasper's shelter to continue the process of vetting and altering to help control the dog and cat population. He is hopeful the city will have a firm plan in place for the shelter's future within the next 90 days.
Pilgrim said she is grateful for the team she has working with her at the shelter, and she said they never lose sight of their mission.
"The number one thing here is the animals. We're here for them. That's the only reason we're here," she said. "We're not here for anything else. We're here to help them and to get them homes, and to make sure they're healthy."
She added, "I have a lot of hope for the shelter. ... I think only good things are to come, and it's only going to get better."
The animal shelter is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 to 11 a.m. It is currently located at 2302 Birmingham Ave. in Jasper.