November 4, 2020

Animal Adoptions are Back to Normal As SAVE Takes on Fundraising Challenges

SWEET SIBLINGS: After a huge jump in adoptions during the first months of the pandemic, things are back to normal at SAVE animal shelter in Skillman. Sugar, right, was recently adopted, but her brother, Cayenne, is still waiting to find his “forever home.”

By Anne Levin

During the first wave of the pandemic, consumer demand for feline and canine companionship boomed to previously unseen levels. Americans stuck at home adopted from shelters in record numbers.

SAVE — A Friend to Homeless Animals was among them. The shelter in Skillman, normally filled to capacity with dogs and cats, was hard pressed to keep up with the demand.

“Between March and May, adoptions were honestly through the roof,” said Executive Director Heather Achenbach. “It was way above normal.”

But by August, the numbers had leveled. In October of 2019, SAVE handled 59 adoptions; in October 2020, there were 60. The organization’s current challenge is to raise needed funds in an environment that makes the usual methods impossible.

SAVE’s biggest moneymaker, the annual Holiday Boutique and Party, will not be held this year.

“We still need to raise money,” said Achenbach. “We have essentially asked people to please donate commensurate as if they are attending the event. And an anonymous patron will match gifts sent by November 21.”

In the meantime, smaller events are planned. A socially distanced shopping event held last month brought in $5,000 and drew 70 visitors over a four-hour period. Similar, small-scale fundraisers are being considered.

“We’ve had to think outside the box and do things kind of quickly,” said Achenbach. “We want to stay top-of-mind with everybody. “It’s the same for all nonprofits. We’re all in the same boat where we can’t have our regular events, but are still providing our services to the community. And we’re so grateful for the way the community has rallied around us.”

Adding to SAVE’s challenges is the fact that the shelter cannot be open to the public in the way it was before COVID-19. Instead of visiting the facility and interacting with the dogs and cats, prospective adopters can only visit the website ( and then arrive by appointment, once their applications have been approved.

For the animals, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “As far as the pets are concerned, this has actually been really nice for them,” said Achenbach. “It has allowed us to focus on each adoption more closely. In the past, we could have had three or four happening at the same time. But with the limit on foot traffic in the shelter, it’s different.”

While most people assume that animals in the shelter like the attention of visitors, that isn’t quite true. “Especially for our cats, it has really decreased the stress level,” said Achenbach. “So from that perspective, they’re doing just fine.”

One adoption that was particularly rewarding to Achenbach was a female Belgian Malinois puppy who was found wandering the streets in South Brunswick and is now being trained by the West Windsor Police Department to help look for missing persons.

“I got in touch with Chief [Robert] Garafalo, and one of their canine handlers came over and evaluated her,” said Achenbach. “She fit all the traits they were looking for. They wanted a friendly, very sociable dog to be out in public, not for patrol or aggression. So she basically went from a homeless dog to a dog with purpose.”

On average, SAVE’s adoption process takes a day or two, depending on the volume of applications. “We streamline as best as we can,” said Achenbach. “We want the animals in the shelter as little as possible.  We want them to find a home.”