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Joyce Kassman feeds a puppy at Iredell County Animal Services.

Iredell County Animal Services Director Brad Gates said there’s no single factor that’s behind a decrease in the number of animals euthanized and an increase in those adopted to either the public or rescue groups.

Since 2013, when Gates took over as Animal Services director, the numbers of dogs euthanized was about a 2-to-1 ratio over the number of those adopted. Now, he said, those numbers are much lower, at less than one dog euthanized for every one adopted.

“Prior to 2013, if someone brought a dog into the shelter, it stood about a 50-50 shot at being euthanized,” he said. “Now that number is about one in four."

Gates said that while they eventually want the number of healthy, adoptable animals euthanized at zero, this decrease in euthanasia is something to celebrate. “We’re very happy with the progress,” he said. “We want it to get better.”

Team effort to reduce euthanasia

Gates said many factors play into the good news.

Volunteer, low-cost spay/neuter programs and vaccination clinics, as well as staff members dedicated to improving the lives of animals, he said, all play a part in the efforts to reduce euthanasia.

Jessica Vaughn, volunteer coordinator for Animal Services, said volunteers and fosters are instrumental in helping animals at the shelter. She said there are currently 40 people who volunteer at the shelter on a regular basis – doing everything from loads of laundry to caring for animals after surgery to walking and socializing dogs.

And for those animals that need additional care, fosters are providing them a temporary home until they are ready for adoption, she said. There are 13 approved fosters with about 11 actively fostering animals.

Vaughn said fosters are essential, especially when there’s a sick kitten or litter of kittens. Getting a sick cat out of the shelter prevents exposure of every cat in the facility to the illness, she said.

“They spend long hours healing and nurturing animals so that they may go for rescue or adoption. They exhibit patience and commitment that helps transition our animals into their forever homes,” she said.

Volunteers play integral role

Gates said involving fosters and volunteers, as well as the availability of free spay/neuter services when funds are available, are all ideas brought forward by various staff members.

Vaughn is currently working on a couple of new programs, utilizing volunteers or fosters.

One is a foster ambassador program in which a foster can adopt a shelter animal directly, allowing a new owner to forego a visit to the shelter to complete the paperwork. The other is to involve children, too young to volunteer, in a program in which they come in and read to dogs.

This reading program has been implemented at shelters in other parts of the country and it allows children to interact with specially chosen dogs. It is shown to improve children’s reading skills and to improve socialization for the dogs.

Gates said the animal control officers in the field are also working with owners to better the lives of their animals. Recently, he said, an ACO was called to assist law enforcement and Iredell EMS on a medical call in which the person had several pets and was going to have to be hospitalized.

The pets were taken into Animal Services, and a day later, when the owner was back at home, the ACO asked Gates for permission to take the animals back to the owner rather than requiring the owner to pick them up at the shelter.

Animal Services volunteers are also working to improve the lives of shelter animals through projects of their own. One volunteer, Fred Savage, took on the effort to raise money for a canine exercise and training enclosure that would reduce stress and increase socialization for the dogs.

“Volunteers and fosters play an integral role in the day-to-day operations of the shelter. Their continued support positively impacts the shelter’s live release, whether by rescue or general adoption,” Vaughn said.

Reduced adoption rates this month

To further encourage folks to adopt, fees for cats and dogs are being reduced through the end of June. Cat adoption fees are $10 through June 30 and dogs can be adopted for $40.

Adoption fees include spay/neuter surgery, microchip, deworming and age appropriate vaccinations.

For those animals that might not be candidates for adoption to the general public, rescue groups are a logical step, Gates said. The shelter works with some 245 rescue groups, he said.

While they are not officially taking in animals yet, Friends of the Animals Executive Director Patrice Reynolds said she’s thrilled to see the progress in reducing euthanasia numbers.

“We applaud Brad Gates and his team at Iredell County Animal Care and Control for their success in saving the lives of more innocent animals through increased adoptions,” she said. “Working with so many local rescues, they have truly made progress in helping to improve the lives of dogs, cats and other animals in our community. There is still work to be done. But with everyone now working together, more animals are leaving the shelter and finding good homes.”

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EUTHANASIA RATES

Humane euthanasia per adoption

Year       Dogs Only            Dogs and cats

2013       1.13 : 1  1.98 : 1

2014       .78 : 1                    1.30 : 1

2015       .41 : 1                    .85 : 1

2016       .24 : 1                    .59 : 1

Source: Iredell County Animal Services

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