Raleigh, N.C. — For the first time in eight months, the number of dogs adopted from the Wake County Animal Center is higher than the number killed, officials said Monday.
In the past four weeks, 88 dogs at the county shelter showed symptoms of an upper-respiratory infection. Twenty-seven had to be euthanized because they also had other illnesses or were deemed too aggressive, but the remaining 61 dogs found other homes or remain up for adoption.
The shelter last month suspended its policy of automatically killing dogs showing signs of an upper respiratory infection. The move came one day after Sassy, an 8-month-old Labrador/hound mix, was euthanized within hours of appearing as the "Pet of the Day" for adoption on the WRAL News at Noon.
"It was a little difficult," animal shelter director Dennis McMichael said Monday of the uproar caused by Sassy's death, which occurred on his first week on the job.
The shelter didn't have an area to isolate the sick animals, so officials killed infected dogs to prevent spreading disease to other animals. After suspending the policy, officials created a separate area for sick dogs and now treats them with a 10-day course of antibiotics.
An average of three dogs a day come down with an upper respiratory infection at the shelter.
"What we're keeping an eye on (is), is there any sort of illness spreading into rest of facilities because we're doing that, and we haven't seen that," McMichael said.
Still, he said, treating sick dogs in the shelter isn't an ideal situation.
"I certainly understand the logic behind the (old) policy," he said. "The problem really is keeping the dogs in a facility that doesn't keep them healthier, generally, because they're still stressed. They're being kept with other dogs and aren't feeling well."
The shelter is still studying the effects of suspending the kill policy before deciding whether to make it permanent, he said.
Epidemiologists and veterinarians are being consulted to determine what the euthanasia policy for upper respiratory infections should be, he said. He also plans to form a community task force to look into reducing the thousands of animals that come into the shelter each year.
The animal center came under scrutiny this summer after volunteers complained that the shelter's kill rate 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 fear of spreading sickness pushed up the euthanasia rate.
For the fiscal year that ended in June, the shelter euthanized about 45 percent of the 16,100 animals it took in. Thirty-eight percent were adopted or reclaimed by their owners, and 11 percent were transferred to rescue groups.
The shelter now allows rescue groups to adopt some of the sick animals if they have safe, quarantined areas to treat them.