Bobby is an energetic, friendly male shepherd with a beautiful black coat. He’s just over 2 years old, 60 pounds, smart, playful and potty-trained. A perfect dog for a loving pet.
He’s also one of more than 80 dogs currently on the adoption floor at the Wake County Animal Center. The center strives for an ideal maximum population of 60 dogs on its floor, and has a hard capacity of 120.
But with an influx of dogs coming in, from strays and lost pets to owner-surrenders — and adoption rates lagging behind — the shelter anticipates hitting that hard maximum soon. After that, it will need to euthanize dogs to make space.
As a government-run open intake animal shelter—the only one of its kind in Wake County—the center is legally obligated to accept every small domestic animal brought to its doorstep. But with space running low, the shelter is asking community members for help by adopting a pet. You can also employ other strategies to reduce the shelter’s current intake.
Dogs who are up for adoption can be found online at www.pets.wakegov.com, and potential adopters can visit the adoption floor every day from noon to 6 pm
Those who cannot adopt are encouraged to share the profiles of dogs and the center’s call for help on social media.
‘Why animals are coming to us’
The last time the center put out a call for help was in January, when it was seeing similar levels of overflow, according to Meagan Thomas, the center’s volunteer and outreach coordinator.
Owner-surrendered pets — encompassing both cats and dogs — make up around 25% to 30% of the shelter’s intake, Animal Services Director for Wake County Jennifer Federico previously told the News and Observer.
Not all of these animals are adoptable, due to medical and behavioral issues, but many do end up needing new homes.
The center only accepts owner surrenders by appointment. As of Tuesday, appointments were booked out through July 25.
This level of owner-surrenders represents a more recent uptick that reflects the impact of the pandemic and a return to more normal, in-person life, Thomas said. Many people stepped up and adopted during the pandemic, but relinquished their pets since as offices have opened up again and some owners find themselves strapped for time to train and care for their animals.
But the bigger issue driving the high level of owner-surrenders, Thomas argued, is affordability. From housing to veterinary care, dog training, pet supplies and overall rising prices amid a possible recession, cost has become prohibitive for many pet- or potential pet-owners.
Last month, around 40% of owners surrendering their pets to the center cited financial and housing challenges — such as new landlords prohibiting pets or charging a pet fee — that prevented them from holding onto their animals, Thomas said.
“Anecdotally, I think that the housing crisis right now is playing a huge factor,” she said. “People cannot find affordable places to live. And they can’t find affordable places that will allow their pets, and now they’re coming to us.”
And while a bigger facility would help ease the pressure the center faces, Thomas added that “fixing the reasons why animals are coming to us is better for us. We don’t need a bigger shelter. If people were able to keep their pets, we wouldn’t need a bigger shelter.”
‘Our community will step up’
The biggest ways the community can help, Thomas said, are to adopt and help reduce the center’s intake.
Mac Ferland and Tristan Lewis of Raleigh were browsing the adoption floor Wednesday afternoon after thinking intermittently about adopting. And while it wasn’t the overflow at the center that brought them in, Ferland, over the barking and yipping of kenneled dogs around her feet, said that they “understand that that’s part of the situation as well.”
Outside of adopting, the center asks that if you find a stray, try finding the owner yourself before bringing the dog to the shelter. You can ask a local veterinarian to check the dog for a microchip, post in a local Facebook group or on NextDoor and TriangleLostPets.org, and put signs up in your local neighborhood.
Pet owners who need to rehome their dogs should try to exhaust all other options — asking friends and family and posting on social media and rehome.adoptapet.com — before going to the center.
“Every stray you help find the owner of and every pet you own and place yourself will help save the life of a pet already at the shelter,” the center wrote in a news release Tuesday. “We don’t want to euthanize for space and this plea is to make our community aware of the urgent need.”
The number of animals the center euthanized has decreased in recent years, The News & Observer previously reported. In fiscal year 2021, the center euthanized 769 animals, compared to 1,273 in 2020 and 2,268 in 2019.
The center has not had to euthanize animals on the adoption floor for space in the past seven years, according to Thomas. Instead, most euthanasia performed is owner-requested, or for injured wildlife or rabies vectors, bite animals or animals with major medical problems who would not be up for adoption or release.
The reduction seen in euthanizations can largely be attributed to additional space built to expand the center’s dog adoption floor, Thomas said. She also credited a requirement implemented in the past decade that adopted animals leave the center spayed and neutered, in addition to the center’s “robust” volunteer and foster programs, its nonprofit rescue partners — which take in a number of animals the center cannot adequately care for or adopt out—and the community’s support.
“Our community has always done a really good job of supporting us and sharing content, coming in to adopt, getting an increase in foster homes and things like that,” Thomas said. “There’s no reason to not believe that our community will step up to help us, because they have in the past.”
Staff writer Aaron Sanchez-Guerra contributed to this report.
This story was originally published June 22, 2022 1:54 PM.