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North Carolina Ranks Third in US for Euthanized Shelter Pets

Hannah Breisinger
While 75% of North Carolina's euthanized shelter pets are cats, dogs are still prevalent in overcrowded shelters.

The Best Friends Network -- a national animal welfare organization -- wants to make North Carolina a “no-kill” state by 2025. According to their data, NC ranks third in the country for euthanizing shelter pets. To achieve the goal of  “no-kill” status, every shelter in the state must reach a 90% live-release rate for all cats and dogs -- leaving a 10% margin for health and safety related euthanizations.

246,000 animals entered North Carolina shelters in 2018. 68% were live-released -- through adoption, the transfer to another rescue facility, or the return to their owner. 23% -- or roughly 56,000 -- were animals euthanized for avoidable reasons -- to control the pet population, or free up space. 

This puts NC in its number three spot for most avoidable  euthanizations. But Best Friend’s rankings should be taken with a grain of salt: the states are rated without taking shelter intake numbers into account -- so larger, more populated states, like California and Texas, top the list. The group also doesn’t have complete shelter numbers from all states.

Credit Best Friends Network
North Carolina falls just behind California and Texas for most euthanized pets.

The data, however, is the most complete body of research collected nationwide on this topic to date. And North Carolina’s euthanization rates are high, even with its population considered. Makena Yarbrough, Best Friends’ Mid-Atlantic and Southeast Regional Director, says there are a number of reasons North Carolina pets are losing their lives:

“Lack of resources within the state for spay-neuter and medical coverage to citizens who have pets -- but also to some of the government agencies that are performing these jobs that just don't have adequate funding. The other biggest barrier are the legislative barriers that we're seeing.”

According to Yarbrough, one of these barriers is the lack of opportunities for transferring shelter animals across state lines. And local ordinances prevent many counties from funding what are called TNR, or trap-neuter-return programs -- where stray or feral cats can be brought in, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and then returned to where they were found. 

But even with these issues, progress is being made. Peggy Durso, Board Member of Paws Place Dog Rescue in Brunswick County, says things were a lot different when the nonprofit opened 20 years ago.

“You had thousands upon thousands upon thousands of animals being euthanized, and there were no alternatives.”

At the New Hanover County Animal Shelter, overall euthanization numbers have decreased substantially. In 2013, the shelter saw euthanasia rates of 50%, and a live-animal release rate of 45%. Those numbers are now at 13% and 82%, respectively -- close to the “no-kill” goal.

Shelter Manager Nancy Ryan says this is mainly because the shelter, which is county-funded, was taken over by the sheriff’s department in 2013. That brought in more funds, and a lot of new support. 

Ryan and her team have launched an owner surrender appointment initiative -- meaning before people drop off unwanted pets, shelter employees provide them with alternative options.

“She calls you and says, ‘Hey, what's going on? Why are you looking to rehome this animal?’ ‘Well, it's doing this, this and this.’ ‘Well, have you tried this, this and this?’ We can help you. We can maybe find a crate for you if you need to crate your dog. There's just a world of resources out there that most people don't even know about.”

They’ve also begun collaborating with rescue groups to provide alternatives to shelter intake. And their work with a TNR nonprofit has helped reduce feral cat intake drastically -- in 2013, the shelter took in 388 feral cats; this year it was only three.

Credit WhentoSpay.org
February is National Spay and Neuter Awareness Month. Reducing pet offspring is a huge component to reducing overcrowding in shelters.

It’s a step in the right direction. States that have reached “no-kill” status, like Delaware, often have spay/neuter opportunities, and established TNR programs for feral cats -- which make up 75% of North Carolina’s euthanized animals. But the most important step, according to Makena Yarbrough, is community involvement and engagement.

“The problems aren't going to be fixed in these states without the help of the public and the community getting involved in the shelter system and helping those shelters with more resources, and adopting more animals and really seeing it as a community resource.”

How people can get involved? By fostering and adopting animals, rather than shopping for them; donating unused pet food and blankets to local shelters; and most importantly, spaying and neutering all pets to prevent overcrowded shelters in the first place. 

Yarbrough thinks with these initiatives, North Carolina can reduce euthanasia rates, and reach the same “no-kill” status as Delaware. And Nancy Ryan agrees.

“I think you can always reduce that. Because I worked with some people that just were not progressively thinking -- ‘Nope, Nope, we've done it this way. We're always gonna do it this way.’ People aren't going to accept that anymore. People are more educated, people are more humane. So I think there's a huge avenue for change in this state.”  


Hannah is WHQR's All Things Considered host, and also reports on science, the environment, and climate change. She enjoys loud music, documentaries, and stargazing; and is the proud mother of three cats, a dog, and many, many houseplants. Contact her via email at hbreisinger@whqr.org, or on Twitter @hbreisinger.