10:45 a.m. Friday: Amanda McKee leans over a small incision.
Her patient, a young black-and-white pit bull mix named Bethany, is breathing regularly as she sleeps on the surgery table. Under the green surgical drape, little is visible except for her paws, face, and bright pink and blue collar. McKee pulls out something pink and fleshy.
“There’s her uterus,” she says.
Minutes later, McKee has completed the surgery. She places Bethany back into her cage, where she will stay under the watchful eyes of staff until she wakes up. Across the room, two health technicians prepare a muted tortoiseshell cat for its turn in the operating room.
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McKee is one of the two contracted veterinarians at Orange County Animal Services and regularly performs in-house sterilizations. These surgeries, as well as those through the Spay Neuter Assistance Program of North Carolina or the AnimalKind assistance program, have played a key part in Orange County’s efforts to control the county’s pet overpopulation and euthanasia rates.
In 2008, the county euthanized 2,089 animals; by 2014, that number had dropped to 760.
The percentage of animals released alive from the shelter (excluding animals dead on arrival, feral cats, or requested euthanizations) currently hovers at 86 percent, up a full 27 percentage points from 2008’s live release rate.
11:05 a.m. Friday: In an exam room, Dana Mandel places two chihuahua/dachshund mix puppies on the scale. The first weighs 2.38 pounds; the second, 3.62. They tremble and whimper a little as she checks their eyes, ears, teeth, and bodies for any visible abnormalities.
“We ought to name these two ‘Manuel’ and ‘Miguel,’” Mandel suggests.
Every animal receives a physical examination upon first arrival, another before moving to the adoption floor, and a third before being sterilized.
The right side of the Animal Services building on Eubanks Road is dedicated to animal intake; the left, to adoption and public functions. Animals arrive through Animal Control or individuals who surrender them, sometimes in overnight boxes on the side of the building. They will be examined, vaccinated, and in the case of strays placed into a holding area for a specified number of days for an owner to reclaim them, before becoming legal property of the shelter.
4:05 p.m. Friday: Stephen and Sally West’s daughter, 6-year-old Caroline, is dragged down the shelter hallway behind a still-groggy but very affectionate pit bull mix named Daisy Mae. After meeting her for the first time only a day before, the Wests were smitten. The shelter scheduled her to be spayed the next day so that she could go home with her new family that afternoon.
“We were just window shopping,” Sally says. “But she’s so much like the female boxer we used to have, so cuddly and full of love.”
Animals often find their new homes directly through the shelter, like Daisy Mae. But others are transferred out to volunteers or private rescue groups that work to foster them outside of the shelter until they are placed with new owners. Some take specific breeds; others foster the animals on a case-by-case basis.
In 2014, 1,546 animals were placed in new homes – 132 more adoptions than occurred six years before.
The number of animals being adopted directly from the shelter has increased, as well: in 2008, 342 animals were transferred to foster agencies before being placed in a new home; in 2014, only 174 did so.
Cooperation between local spay/neuter programs and foster agencies has helped Orange County provide higher-quality care for a greater number of animals, but director Robert Marotto said their work will never be done. The project is community-oriented and needs the support of local pet owners and pet agencies to succeed.
If you go
Orange County Animal Services will hold an open house at the shelter from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 6. Tours of the building – including a walk past and look into the surgery room – will begin every hour from 1-3 p.m.