When I came to Chatham County in 1979 the county dog pound was located in a small area behind the school bus garage, next to the Fair Grounds in Pittsboro. The pound consisted of a small number of fenced runs on a concrete slab. The only shelter it offered was a roof. Dogs suffered, and sometimes died, during cold and hot weather. There were no accommodations for cats, and upon arrival they were immediately placed in the leaky gas chamber. The only time I saw statistics for the Chatham Pound; one dog was adopted out in the entire year.
In the early 1990s, County Commissioners finally approved funds to build the shelter that is still in use today. At the time the facility was state-of-the-art; it even included heated floors in the dog runs. The building also could house cats. A new gas chamber was installed, but several years ago it was replaced with what is considered a more humane procedure, euthanasia by injection.
Chatham County’s Animal Shelter is located off of Highway 64 about five miles west of Pittsboro on Renaissance Road (formerly, Landfill Road). The shelter has 20 dog runs, a large open cat room where the cats are loose, and an additional 20 cat cages.
Often people vilify shelter staff, especially those who have the job of euthanizing animals. The reality is most shelter employees have to turn off their feeling, as best they can, and do the job that most people couldn’t. Shelter employees tend to be responsible and loving pet owners, who likely have never allowed their dogs and cats to add to the pet population. Yet, they regularly look into the innocent, sweet, or frightened faces of someone else’s unwanted animals and make the seemingly impossible decisions as to whose time is up today.
Let’s face it; working in an animal shelter is both physically and mentally draining; especially when you love animals. The employee turnover rate in most shelters reflects this. How many of us could do what they do day after day without quickly burning out?
I decided to write this month’s column after a conversation last week with Chatham’s Animal Services Director, Leigh Anne Garrard. At the start of that week, forty two dogs came into the facility in three days. One of them was pregnant and delivered puppies almost immediately upon arrival. The 20 dog runs already had occupants. No doubt, some hard decisions were made.
For years the average live release rate at shelters that euthanize in the United States has been well below 20%. These are the lucky animals who are adopted or reclaimed by their owners. Last year the Chatham County Animal Shelter had an amazing survival rate of 46%! This impressive number is largely due to excellent efforts by the shelter staff in working with a large number of animal rescue groups. These groups give the animals the extra time and TLC needed to find a new home.
Intake numbers at the Chatham Animal Shelter have been dropping over the last several years. This is a direct correlation to low cost spay/neuter programs offered by the shelter and Chatham Animal Rescue and Education. As the number of spayed and neutered animals in the county increases, then the number of animals entering to the shelter decreases.
On October 30, 2014, Director of Animal Services, Leigh Anne Garrard, and Health Department Director, Layton Long, facilitated a public meeting to present ideas and ask for feedback on proposed improvements to the shelter. Even though this meeting was well publicized, only about ten people attended.
Garrard and Long also hold quarterly Stakeholders Meetings open to the public. At these meetings the latest statistics for all Animal Services are reviewed and a topic of interest is presented about policies, upcoming events, etc.
It takes people to make changes to help animals. I hope more people will attend these meetings. The next Animal Services Stakeholders Meeting is scheduled for April 30th from 6:00 – 8:00 pm in the Conference Room at the Community Library in Pittsboro.