WRAL Investigates

New Wake animal shelter director might ease tensions with SPCA

Posted October 19, 2011 6:25 p.m. EDT

— Wake County on Wednesday hired a new director for its animal center, which could help thaw its relationship with the SPCA of Wake County, which has grown frosty in recent months over the center's euthanasia policy.

Dennis McMichael, the director of operations at the SPCA in Chester County, Pa., will take over as director of the Wake County Animal Center on Nov. 7.

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.

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. The shelter could be held liable if it adopts out animals that are sick or potentially ill, Pierce said.

The rate at which dogs were killed at the county shelter rose from 18 percent in January to 42 percent in August. In September, 281 dogs, or 40 percent of those that came in, were killed.

"The community expects us to do the best we can by animals, and we're letting the community down," said Hope Hancock, executive director of the SPCA.

Hancock attributed the increased use of euthanasia to "a void of leadership" at the animal center, which has been without a director since May. She and other officials with the nonprofit also the county shelter also lacks communication and common sense.

McMichael said he has watched WRAL Investigates stories about the center, which included shelter volunteers concerned about the increasing kill rate.

"I understand the concern over the hard-line policy," he said, adding that he plans to review it.

He comes from a shelter with a more flexible euthanasia protocol. He believes reducing Wake County's high intake – it's more than 16,000 animals a year – presents the biggest challenge.

McMichael also said he wants to "enhance the relationships with area rescue groups." Local SPCA officials quickly applauded his hiring.

After months of debate, county officials said they hope to refocus attention on animals instead of protocols.

"As we move through this process and look at amending or examining our protocols, we look for the SPCA to remain significant partner for us," Assistant County Manager Joe Durham said.

Durham said the county also plans to bring in outside experts to review policies at the animal center.