Cumberland County Animal Services can house as many as 300 animals at a time. The shelter hit that capacity in September, forcing the department to waive adoption fees for all cats and large dogs over 60 pounds.
Animal Services Director Elaine Smith said the move to waive fees for a week last month helped lessen the number of animals at the shelter, but only temporarily. The shelter now has 197 animals at its facility, with even more in foster that are too young or sick to be adopted out.
Overcrowding at municipal shelters is a problem across the country, and North Carolina has the second-highest animal shelter kill rates in the nation, at 14.3%, according to a recent analysis by Veterinarians.org. In comparison, the national average is 5%.
At Cumberland County Animal Services, staff members say euthanasia is most often due to space concerns. Smith says that the influx of animals to the shelter can be partly attributed to owners not wanting to spay their pets, resulting in accidental litters.
“I have heard everything from, ‘It's against my religion,’ to ‘I want my dog to have the joy of birth and motherhood,’” Smith said, about excuses given for not spaying or neutering of pets.
Almost all pets that enter the shelter are required to be spayed or neutered before leaving. A one-time exception is in place for purebred animals with pedigree papers and a current rabies vaccine, which are labeled as “high value” pets for shows or breeding, Smith said. If the animal ends up at the shelter again, however, it will be spayed or neutered.
Another issue when it comes to spaying and neutering can be the cost: a routine spay or neuter can be upward of $200, Smith said. In Cumberland County, the Spay Neuter Veterinary Clinic of Fayetteville offers discounts to families on financial assistance to get their pets neutered. Cumberland County Animal Services is also working on other programs to help with the costs of spay-neuter services.
Many of the shelter’s adult animals are strays or pets that got out. All pets brought in as non-surrenders will be put on a stray hold, meaning owners of these pets have three days to come pick up their pets before they will be put up for adoption.
According to Smith, about 20% of all stray dogs nationwide are reunited with their families, while the rate for cats is far lower, at just 2%. She said this disparity is due in part to the prevalence of outdoor cats.
“Most owners who do let their cats roam don't necessarily panic if they don't show up for a day or two,” Smith said. “People don't come and look at the shelter for their cat that's gone missing.”
This leads to a greater number of cats and kittens being picked up by well-meaning people, when the animals were likely better off where they were before, she said.
“People think that the shelter is the safest place for an animal,” Smith said. “And in some circumstances it is — but in some circumstances it isn't.”
The animal services director advised families to have a plan in place in case they need to rehome their pets.
“Have some sort of safety net for your pet, just like you would for the rest of your family,” she said.
This safety net includes having family or friends that can take care of a pet if necessary and reaching out to rehoming social media groups and sites such as Petfinder and Dogs on Deployment, which helps service members keep their pets while being deployed.
The shelter also has resources, such as free crates and pet food, that can help people overcome financial and behavioral issues to keep their pets.
“If it keeps their pet in their home, we will help them as much as we can,” Smith said.
Contact Char Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org.