Chapel Hill: Opinion

Orange County unwanted pet euthanasia hits record low

Last year Orange County Animal Services (OCAS) increased animal placements, while simultaneously reducing intake and the number of animals euthanized. These accomplishments arose in collaboration with partner organizations, our community, and support from our elected officials.

Pet overpopulation is a community, not a shelter, problem. We partner with other organizations to reduce the unneeded pet reproduction that occurs upstream of our own and other community animal shelters.

To provide low-cost options for spaying/neutering, we partner with the Orange County Department of Social Services, AnimalKind (which offers the $20 Fix), and Spay Neuter Assistance Patrol-NC. Targeting pets that otherwise would not be sterilized is basic to the strategic plan for managing pet overpopulation we developed with the Animal Services Advisory Board in 2010.

OCAS now pays as much attention to animal intakes as it does to adoptions and other “live releases.” In 2013, we received 3,207 animals, the lowest total in our history. Intake was down 283 from the average for the three preceding years, and more than 1,100 for the average from the period 2005 to 2009.

At the same time, we had a remarkable year placing animals in new homes. We adopted 1,506 animals, our second highest total since 2005, and we set a record for monthly adoptions (193) during August’s “Back to School” special. As with other adoption events such as “Adopt a Cat Month,” this one entailed reduced adoptions fees previously approved by our county commissioners which we now apply to all available animals during an adoption event.

Our staff and volunteers worked diligently to adopt these animals and to transfer another 310 animals to rescue organizations for their final rehoming. They warmly welcomed guests and provided top-notch service in the context of the state-of-the-art Animal Services Center Orange County had the foresight to open in 2009.

As Humane Society of the United States President Wayne Pacelle observed when visiting a few years ago, the Animal Services Center both embodies and expresses our community’s commitment to animal welfare and protection. Designed as a destination for the public, it attracts and enlivens residents and others in marked contrast to earlier shelters, which many people actually avoided.

A dramatic reduction in the number of euthanized animals – a reduction to a historic low – is the outcome of the combined effect of lowered intake and higher placements. If there is a general lesson from our recent experience, it is that reducing euthanasia is neither to be attributed solely to spay and neuter nor to efforts to boost placements and rescue homeless animals.

Staff did euthanize 847 animals by direct injection last year. But this number was a 25 percent reduction from the previous year; and an overwhelming decrease (1,039 animals / 55 percent) from the average number of euthanized animals (1,886) for the period 2005 to 2009. Decreasing the use of euthanasia as a means of population control is fundamental to Orange County’s effort to manage pet overpopulation.

Together these factors produced a record “live release rate” of 83 percent for the year. As some animals are simply not adoptable, this is the percentage of our placeable intakes that are adopted, transferred to placement partners, or recovered by their owners. Last year’s rate was truly remarkable for an “open admission” shelter, not only in North Carolina, but throughout the U.S.

We are excited by and pleased to share these outcomes of Orange County’s efforts to manage pet overpopulation.

Robert A. Marotto and Drew Brinkley are the director and operations manager, respectively, of the Orange County Animal Services Department.