Raleigh, N.C. — The Wake County Animal Center announced Thursday that it will temporarily stop killing dogs that show symptoms of upper respiratory infections. The change comes one day after WRAL News reported that the shelter killed an 8-month-old dog named Sassy, hours after she appeared on Tuesday's noon news as the "Pet of the Day."
Calling Sassy's death an "indefensible mistake," Wake County Deputy Manager Joe Durham said the shelter is taking immediate steps to give sick dogs antibiotics and place them in a new quarantine area.
The shelter will also now allow rescue groups to adopt some of the sick animals, if they have safe, quarantined areas to treat them. The deputy county manager says they'll take about 30 days to discuss changes to the euthanasia policy and get input from animal rescue groups.
So far this year, the Wake County Animal Center said it has euthanized 878 dogs.
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.
About five hours later, a kennel technician reported Sassy was demonstrating a "honking cough and green nasal discharge," according to Durham.
"At that time, Sassy was identified as a dog that needed to be euthanized, based on her demonstrated symptoms," he said Wednesday.
Members of the public flooded the animal center's Facebook page, as well as WRAL's, with comments Wednesday, expressing their anger about Sassy's death.
"I'm sorry hundreds of dogs have lost their lives as a result but Sassy’s legacy will live on," Wake County SPCA Executive Director Hope Hancock said.
Kim Parker, of the advocacy group Wake Voice for Animals, said she is happy the county has suspended the policy, calling it the "right thing" to do.
"When this policy took effect, we were all pretty much astounded, and so we are pleased that they have decided this is not a good policy," Parker said.
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.
Shelter makes more changes
Durham, the county's deputy manager, 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.