Raleigh, N.C. — The Wake County Animal Center is planning changes after an 8-month-old dog named Sassy was killed there hours after she appeared on WRAL's noon news Tuesday to be adopted.
After a meeting at the shelter on Wednesday, Wake County Deputy Manager Joe Durham said a decision was made to allow rescue groups to adopt sick animals, if they have a safe, quarantined area to treat them.
Wake County officials said some animals could be treated with antibiotics and saved, but the shelter doesn't have a quarantine area to treat them. SPCA officials say Wake County does have a quarantine and isolation area.
Durham released a statement on Wednesday saying that "it was a mistake" for Sassy to appear on TV as an adoptable dog.
"Sassy appeared to be healthy when she left the center. That evening, a kennel technician reported Sassy was demonstrating a 'honking cough and green nasal discharge,'" Durham wrote. "At that time, Sassy was identified as a dog that needed to be euthanized, based on her demonstrated symptoms."
Sassy, a Labrador/hound mix, appeared to be in good health Tuesday afternoon when she and a shelter staff member appeared on WRAL's noon news.
"She’s already spayed. We went ahead and did it earlier, so we can go ahead and send her home today," the woman said.
Shelter volunteers told WRAL News that someone saw Sassy on TV and wanted to adopt her, but she was put down around 5:30 p.m.
"She was such a great dog and very adoptable, and it's just sad that this is her outcome," said volunteer Julie Powers.
On Tuesday, the animal center posted Sassy's TV appearance on its Facebook page, writing: "Check out Miss Sassy on WRAL! She is sweet as sugar and all ready to go. :)"
Their Facebook page, as well as WRAL's, was inundated with comments Wednesday from people who were upset to learn about Sassy's death.
Center comes under fire
The animal center has come under scrutiny in recent months after volunteers complained that the shelter's kill rate has soared.
In January, the Wake 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.
The center had set goals of moving toward a policy of increased adoptions, officials said, but a flood of incoming animals and the spread of sickness pushed up the euthanasia rate in recent months.
"I don't understand how Sassy, this lab/hound mix, can be 'Pet of the Day' on WRAL at noon and then dead by suppertime," said Hope Hancock, executive director of the SPCA.
Shelter makes more changes
Durham said a third party veterinarian was brought in two weeks ago to review their policies. The vet will remain there for the next 45 days.
Durham said that the shelter has also amended its policy about euthanizing puppies and kittens that bite and scratch. In the past, any dog or cat that scratched or bit a worker or animal control officer was put on standard 10 day rabies watch and then euthanized. A new state statute requires that those animals be evaluated to see if it was a fear bite or aggression.
In the past two weeks, Durham said the decision was made to amend the policy concerning young animals. It was unclear how this policy would affect older animals.
Animal Shelter Director Dennis McMichael, who started the job Monday, was scheduled to do an interview with WRAL News Wednesday to talk about Sassy's death. When a reporter and photographer showed up, managers at the center said "things came up" and that they would not answer any questions.
WRAL tracked down McMichael, who said he was looking in to the issue. He declined to comment any further.