Raleigh, N.C. — For years, the public Wake County Animal Center and private SPCA of Wake County have partnered to save abandoned animals. However, the county animal center's soaring kill rate has driven a wedge through that bond.
In January, the county animal center euthanized 131 dogs, or about 18 percent of those brought in. By August, that number climbed to 327 dogs put down, or nearly 42 percent of the intake. Just-released September numbers show 281 dogs euthanized, 40 percent of intake.
"I would use the word 'tragic' for what's happening," said Lisa Kroll, the SPCA's associate executive director.
Hope Hancock, executive director of the SPCA, says she attributes the increased euthanizations to "a void of leadership" at the animal center.
Managers at the animal center set goals of moving toward a policy of increased adoptions, but said rising intake and the spread of sickness pushed up the euthanasia rate in recent months.
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 took a harder line, he said, and any dog showing signs of an upper respiratory infection was put down.
"There's always a tension between public health and animal rights," Pierce said. "Our main concern is that infectious animals don't present their symptoms to other animals."
The shelter can also be held liable if it adopts out animals that are sick or potentially, he said.
Wake Animal Center volunteers reached out to WRAL Investigates in September because of growing concerns that the shelter was too quick to kill.
The center is different than the SPCA, because as a public shelter, it cannot turn away any animal brought in the door.
When WRAL asked if the Wake County shelter should turn to rescue groups to take treatable dogs instead of putting them down, Pierce said the center is looking for ways to find foster homes faster.
However, SPCA leaders argue the Wake Animal Center often lacks communication and common sense. The county still considers four kittens being fostered at the SPCA as "unadoptable biters."
Hancock said the SPCA would not consider euthanizing those cats. "That doesn't make sense to me," she said.
Managers of both shelters say they're open to continuing their long-standing relationship. The SPCA offered to share health management best practices with Wake County. Pierce agreed to consider easing adoption policies on animals that bite or scratch.
Kroll said it's time for the county to change it's "quick trigger" euthanasia policy. "When you're in the business of animal sheltering, you learn how to deal with that sort of thing in a reasonable way."