Raleigh, N.C. — The kill rate at the Wake County Animal Center has soared in recent months, prompting concern among some volunteers.
In January, the Wake County shelter euthanized 131 dogs , or about 18 percent of those brought in. By August, that number had climbed to 327 dogs put down, or nearly 42 percent of the intake.
Euthanizing animals is a fact of life at most government-run shelters to control the pet population, but Wake County shelter volunteers came to WRAL Investigates to report their belief that the shelter now is too quick to kill.
“They're like our kids. I mean, we get attached to them. We go in and look after them,” volunteer Julie Powers said.
“We’re all the animals have,” volunteer Rosalie Nally said, noting that she has shed a lot of tears over the increasing dog deaths.
The Wake County shelter is generally regarded as one of the more compassionate government-run shelters in the state. By comparison, the shelter in Cumberland County euthanized 73 percent of its dogs last year, and the Mecklenburg County shelter put down half of its dogs.
Managers at the Wake County shelter had set goals of moving toward a "no kill" policy, but they said a rising intake and the spread of sickness forced them to moved in the opposite direction.
Andre Pierce, Wake County’s environmental health and safety director, said managers had to make a tough call after a fast-spreading case of endemic pneumonia and distemper went through the shelter in May. Instead of continuing care for the contagious dogs, they euthanized them.
They then then took a harder line, he said, and any dog showing signs of an upper respiratory infection was put down.
“Anytime you have congregating animals or people, you've got an opportunity for disease spread. So, we would love to see rescue partners consider us first,” Pierce said.
The shelter couldn't find foster homes fast enough, however, and its limited isolation space wasn't enough to stop the spread, he said. The shelter’s euthanasia rate for dogs has climbed higher than its overall average last year of the 28 percent.
“We have to change that protocol and go towards a more life-saving mission,” Nally said.
"We really want to come together as a group to figure out ways that we can stop this needless killing of animals," Powers said.
Volunteers say it’s ironic that the kill-rate climbed just months after a Wake County status report on moving toward a no-kill equation.
“There's been a lot of turnover with shelter management and change,” Powers said.
Volunteers said they also worry that ongoing issues with the heating and air conditioning units might contribute to sick animals. Whatever the challenges, volunteers said they want the shelter to work smarter to save animals through treatment, cleaning, organization and foster care.
“Too many of the dogs that we've just taken photos of that seemed healthy are gone,” said volunteer Al Silverstein.
Pierce says the shelter is committed to finding better ways to save the dogs.
“No one wants to euthanize animals. We would much rather them go to a permanent home – a forever home – and go out the front door rather than go out the back door,” he said.
Still, managers and volunteers agree that, until the steady flow of unwanted animals stops, they can't all be saved.
“This is the reality of what happens when you surrender your pet to a shelter,” Nally said.