Animal shelters in Blount County are reporting a large influx of kittens, but the COVID-19 pandemic has provided unprecedented challenges to getting the cats permanent homes.

“It definitely is kitten season right now,” Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation board member Pam Ragon said. “We are getting new kittens in every day. It’s starting to boom.”

SMACF works in conjunction with the Blount County Animal Center, located at 233 Currie Ave. in Maryville. The foundation employs a veterinarian and vet technicians; the county, under which BCAC is run, provides the building and other staff members.

Ragon sits on the SMACF board and volunteers at the center. She reported that BCAC currently has 75-80 cats in the shelter and 30 in foster care — a large amount, she said, but not the most she’s seen.

“It’s kind of normal honestly,” Ragon said, adding that adoptions this year have been high, which she attributes to people being home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the coronavirus forced a statewide quarantine, BCAC adjusted its adoption tactics. Now the adoptions can take place only by appointment and after choosing on the BCAC’s website a specific animal to meet before visiting the center.

This method proved successful for BCAC. Director Jim Naelitz told The Daily Times in April that adoptions had increased at the start of the pandemic.

“We’ve been having pretty steady adoptions through the shutdown, which has been great,” Ragon said. “I think people being off with COVID has helped us because it seems like they’ve had time to spend with animals. That’s kind of helped us as far as adoptions go, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Despite the high number of adoptions, Ragon said the COVID-19 pandemic also has presented new challenges for the animal center.

During kitten seasons in previous years, BCAC would send the animals to other states for adoption in an effort to ease crowding.

But this year, Ragon said, that hasn’t been an option because of COVID-19 — forcing all cats and kittens to live in the shelter or in foster care.

The coronavirus also has affected the amount of people who are able to enter the building to visit and potentially adopt the cats. Adoptions at BCAC are by appointment only Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays.

Judy Huffstetler, BCAC cattery operations manager, mentioned another pandemic setback — the number of volunteers allowed in the building is limited.

“Volunteers are in the shelter on a limited basis,” she said. “The bulk of it is falling on the staff.”

While COVID-19 has presented hardships for the animal center, BCAC officials still are determined to get the cats in permanent homes.

“If somebody is interested in a kitten, this is the place to come,” Ragon said.

Also dealing with limited adoption windows during kitten season is the Maryville Alcoa Animal Rescue Center.

“We have at least three litters of kittens, on top of six or seven adult cats,” MAARC volunteer Kerrie DeFalle said. “So kitten season is definitely in full swing. It still happens no matter whatever else is going on in the world.”

MAARC recently moved from 426 Home Ave. to 410 Home Ave.

MAARC volunteers are looking to host an adoption event in July that will be COVID-safe while also allowing people to meet the cats before they take them home.

“It’s always our hope to get these kittens adopted as quickly as possible,” DeFalle said.

Follow @sshreports on Twitter for more from county government reporter

Shelby Harris.

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