RALEIGH — The young man reached past the sign that warned “We are FULL” and opened the door to the Wake County Animal Center to let in a skinny mama dog on the end of a ragged leash.
“I found her in the road,” he said. “I was going to keep her, but I already have two dogs, and I can’t have another one.”
The county’s only animal shelter has more than 200 dogs in its kennels right now – and more in the homes of its volunteers who act as foster families. But a worker came from behind the counter, hand-fed the frightened, starving pooch a fistful of kibble and said, “It’s OK. We’ll take her.”
The shelter takes every animal that comes here: the skittery strays collected by animal control officers throughout the county, the ones rounded up by sympathetic residents and the confused pets surrendered by owners who can’t keep them anymore. This year, the center is on track to take in 16,000 dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, hamsters and other creatures, nearly half of which will likely be euthanized because a new home for them can’t be found.
This weekend, center employees and volunteers hope more animals will go out than come in.
The county hopes to adopt out 100 cats and dogs Saturday and Sunday during National Adoption Weekend at the PetSmart store at Capital Boulevard and East Millbrook Road in Raleigh. Shelter workers and volunteers, as well as those who foster animals for the county or house them through animal rescue operations, will have dozens of potential best friends at the event. Other animal rescue groups also will be on hand with animals ready to go to new homes.
“It’s marketing,” said Jennifer Federico, who became director of the animal center last year.
Though the shelter is open to the public for adoptions every day except holidays from noon to 6 p.m., it can be difficult to get a good sense of a pet’s personality while it’s in a kennel in a room full of other critters, many of them barking and jumping, or yowling.
“You get them out there where people can see them, interact with them, cuddle them, see them play,” Federico said. “They can ask questions about them. It really helps get them adopted.”
Many can’t escape euthanasia
The number of animals coming in to the shelter each year has dropped since 2011, when it hit 16,141. In fiscal year 2012, it was down to 15,513. In fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30, it was 13,805.
That could be because the economy has improved and fewer people are abandoning their pets because of the cost of keeping them or because they aren’t allowed in smaller apartments or rental homes.
It also could be because of the sign on the door that tells people the truth about an animal’s chances; when the shelter is full, the likelihood of euthanasia is high. One-fourth to one-third of the dogs that are brought to the shelter are euthanized each year, along with about two-thirds of the cats.
People considering surrendering an animal are asked to take it back home if they can.
Those animals that stay at the shelter will get better care than the facility has been able to afford in the past. Federico persuaded the county to increase the center’s budget this year to about $2.9 million, adding three positions, including a full-time veterinarian who started work this month.
Like other government organizations, the Wake County Animal Center also relies heavily on volunteers, whose contributions make up the equivalent of more than six full-time employees.
Those who foster animals are especially helpful, Federico said, because they save two animals: the one they foster and the one they make room for at the shelter.
Foster volunteers help socialize animals, making them more adoptable, and they act as promoters for those individual pets. One group, she said, takes their foster dogs on regular group walks at Raleigh’s Shelley Lake Park, where they introduce them to people who might want to take them in.
Finding friends and companions
Kim Millinder didn’t want to wait for this weekend’s adoption event. She came to the shelter on Thursday to search for a pet for her elderly great-aunt, whose longtime canine companion recently died. She wanted another little lapdog, but not a puppy, Millinder said.
“My aunt believes older people need older dogs,” she said.
Millinder found a brown and white male Chihuahua that seemed just perfect. He’ll get neutered this weekend – all cats and dogs that leave the shelter have to be spayed or neutered – and she’ll pick him up Monday.
Shelley Wilson of Raleigh is a repeat customer at the shelter. Wilson adopted a 3-month-old puppy from Wake County 13 years ago. She died in December, and recently Wilson felt it was time to take a friend for her 12-year-old shepherd mix.
At the shelter, she found another shepherd mix, a fluffy, dark-haired 9-year-old female with one eye.
Wilson would have taken the dog home earlier, but her owner was in jail and he asked the county to hold her until he got out. The county complied, but he never came.
Wilson signed the papers, paid the $45 adoption fee and took home the dog that shelter workers have been calling Casey. She was just in time.
Casey would likely have been euthanized within a day.