LUMBERTON — Three months after the Robeson County Animal Shelter re-opened after a deadly distemper outbreak forced a nearly three-month closure, the number of animals euthanized has barely decreased and adoption rates remain less than half of what they were before the outbreak began, according to statistics compiled by Robeson County Health Director Bill Smith.
But the adoption coordinator there believes that adoptions will be picking up soon.
During the months of March, April and May, 1,035 animals were euthanized in efforts to contain the outbreak that only about 6 percent of dogs survived, according to the statistics. Sixty-nine animals, mostly cats that cannot contract the disease, were adopted or rescued, and 30 pets were reclaimed by their owners.
The shelter reopened on May 23 after being closed since Feb. 29. In June and July combined, 1,001 dogs and cats were euthanized, 152 animals were adopted or rescued and 35 pets were reclaimed by their owners — an average survival rate of 16.5 percent for dogs and 9.5 percent for cats. August statistics were not available for this story.
Smith says that adoption rates at the shelter have been affected by the departure of several rescue groups, which followed former employees Lori Baxter and Sara Hatchell to their new jobs at shelters in neighboring counties.
“It’s much the same as any employee who leaves an employer, they sometimes take customers with them,” Smith said. “… Somebody else gained, and we lost.”
Hatchell, the former adoption coordinator for the pound, resigned on March 27 after accepting a position as the director of the Scotland County Humane Society. Baxter, the former shelter director, left her position on March 30. She was named the interim director for the Sampson County Animal Shelter on June 22.
In January, before the outbreak began, 120 dogs and seven cats were adopted, 238 dogs and eight cats were rescued, and 97 dogs and 63 cats were euthanized for a survival rate of 79 percent for dogs and 28 percent for cats. In February, 126 dogs and 12 cats were adopted, 79 dogs and one cat was rescued, and 89 dogs and three cats were euthanized for a survival rate of 70 percent for dogs and 82 percent for cats.
“We did lose some of our bigger pullers,” said shelter adoption coordinator Wanda Strickland of rescue groups that work with the shelter. “But we’ve got so many that have stepped back up, and we are working with new ones. Just about every day we’re getting contact from a group we’ve never used.”
Brian Lashley, interim shelter director, says the shelter currently works with about 20 rescue groups that regularly visit the shelter. Strickland said these include New Leash, Claws and Paws and Collie Rescue of the Carolinas.
“It’s great to see them coming back, because at one point they were sort of scared off by the distemper outbreak,” Strickland said. “They understand now that we’re clean and everything’s good, so they’re coming back.”
Smith said that many animal rescue groups come from northern areas of the country, where spaying and neutering campaigns have been so successful that there is a shortage of animals for adoption.
‘There is some criticism because some people say that we’re just moving our problem to them,” he said. “They’ve had their spay and neuter efforts longer than we have. Until ours has an appreciable effect I’d say that they’re correct.”
Lashley says he believes that local residents will also begin making more trips to the shelter to adopt, and continue to make donations of supplies.
“There’s been donations of puppy food, dog food, cat food and toys coming in and helping us out,” Lashley said. “As bad as the economy is, we’re doing pretty good.”
Smith has yet to hire Baxter’s replacement, and says that there has been “little interest” in the position — a fact he blames partly on the “constant scrutiny” of the shelter by the media.
“It’s not a relaxing environment,” he said.
Smith said that the large volume of shelter animals is due largely to poor treatment by county residents of their animals, many of whom don’t have permanent homes.
“They’re not owned by anybody, they just stay with people,” he said. “They’re not vaccinated against rabies, they’re not spayed and neutered.”
“People up north that I’ve spoken with find it amazing that in this part of the country, people still do not see spaying and neutering as the thing to do,” Strickland said. “It’s catching on, but we still have a ways to go.”