LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Animal Shelter euthanized the lowest number of dogs and cats in 2020 since 2010, according to animal shelter reports from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
In 2010, the shelter took in a total of 4,515 animals and euthanized 2,073, which is about 46% of that population, according to shelter reports. In 2020, the shelter took in 4,530 and euthanized 2,526, about 56% of that population.
Though the rate of euthanasia is still the highest in the state, there were 1,559 fewer animals put to death in Robeson County in 2020 than the previous year. And the animals euthanized in 2020 accounted for 56% of the total population, while animals put down in 2019 accounted for 77%.
There were multiple factors that contributed to the decrease of euthanasia procedures at the shelter in 2020, including COVID-19, according to Bill Smith, director of the Robeson County Department of Public Health, which manages the shelter.
The pandemic caused less interaction with people and non-restrained dogs and cats, he said. That decrease in interaction led to fewer calls.
“Additionally, we were short animal control staff, so many nuisance calls were bumped by more important calls,” Smith said.
The shelter’s capacity and intake during that time also contributed, he said.
“Animals are euthanized due to space needs or for preventing the spread of disease. As there is a finite number of pens that can have animals rotated through, which is a part of our permit, we have to stay below that number,” Smith said. “We did not have the endless crush of animals in the summer that stretched our capacity.”
Rescue groups are “contacted continuously,” but the total number of rescues the shelter works with has remained “about the same,” Smith said. Most of the rescues are located beyond the county.
The shelter works with about 10 rescue organizations, according to Shelter Director Jason Allison.
Though numbers show small progress, there is still so much more progress to be made.
Allison said shelter workers are doing the best they can. He hopes to continue the downward trend of euthanasia procedures at the shelter by seeing more adoptions by prospective pet owners.
“I would really love to see adoption numbers go up,” he said. “I’d like to see that more as opposed to relying on the rescues.”
Allison said he’d like to see more prospective owners come in, connect with the animals and provide them with a happy, healthy home life.
The shelter director said he knows what that’s like.
“I have three shelter dogs. They’re the best dogs ever,” Allison said.
Members of the public can also find spay and neuter programs to control the animal population, he said. For more information about the N.C. Spay and Neuter Program, visit https://www.ncagr.gov/vet/aws/fix/index.htm.
“Be responsible,” Allison said.
Local animal rescues, like Saving Grace Dog Rescue Robeson County, hope their work continues to save animals from euthanasia this year. The dog rescue, which began operation in Lumberton in March, is an extension of the Wake Forest-based Saving Grace Animals for Adoption that has worked with the Robeson County shelter for about 10 years.
The Lumberton location has rescued more than 250 dogs in Robeson County since March and a total of about 500 this year, according to Molly Goldston, CEO and founder of of the Wake Forest and Lumberton rescue operations.
“The reason we decided to open here is to impact those numbers. When we are able to take the animals before they get to the shelter it is helping their numbers as well,” said Samantha Bennett, director at the Robeson County location.
Goldston said the organization has been rescuing 1,000 dogs from the county each year. All rescues are then spayed or neutered.
“We have built our foster program in Raleigh to accommodate the overwhelming numbers of unwanted animals from Robeson, but we need more local help to have even greater numbers,” Goldston said.
It will take partnerships and collaboration with other animal welfare groups to affect euthanasia numbers in the future, Bennett said.
“Only by all of us in rescue and animal control services working together will we ever get a handle on this. The euthanasia rates will also substantially decrease when there are more diverse low-cost spay/neuter programs, which we intend to implement,” Bennett said.
John Graves, a representative of Best Friends Animal Society, spoke Monday to Robeson County commissioners and said the organization is working with local animal rescues and community partners to help decrease euthanasia at the shelter. He also said he was working to contact shelter representatives.
“We have been working here in Robeson for about two years, mainly in support of different rescue partners,” Graves said.
The nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, wants to eliminate euthanasia, Graves said. Some of the reduction in Robeson County euthanasia numbers was from work with community partners.
“So far, this year we’ve invested around $103,000 into different community partners to get animals out of the shelter and to bring different resources to the community,” he said.
Best Friends Animal Society is looking at bringing more low-cost spay/neuter and vaccination programs to pet owners in the county, which is a high priority because of its euthanasia statistics.
“We know that, you know, your shelter and no shelter wants to euthanize,” Graves told the commissioners.
“So what we are looking (at) also is to connect more directly with leaders across Robeson County so that we can maximize our effort and our impact so that way we’re reaching people that have the greatest need. That’s what we’re here for,” Graves said.
For more information about adopting shelter pets, or to get involved, call the county animal shelter at 910-865-2200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.