Continuing crisis of too many pets, not enough adoptions/transfers forces change at animal center

Months-long pause of pet drop-offs becomes permanent

After more than a year teetering on the brink of euthanasia for otherwise healthy, adoptable pets, perpetual space issues are now pushing the Wake County Animal Center to make permanent changes in policy. The center has been at or over capacity for most of the past two years, necessitating urgent adoption pleas to the community almost every other month in 2023. That constant cyclic crowding of the shelter has strained staff, stressed the animals, and, in October 2023, led to an outbreak of canine influenza and the deaths of four dogs.

“As they say, the definition of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is called insanity and staff made a compassionate case to leadership that we had to make change,” said Wake County Commissioner Vickie Adamson. “The animal shelter crisis is mirroring the national housing crisis – and we’re seeing it across the country. Many other overwhelmed county shelters, including here in North Carolina, had already made this same change - ending the practice of allowing owners to drop off their pets for our team to find a new home. We hope enacting this change will reduce the crowding and chance of having to make the decision to put healthy pets down for space."  

In 2023, the center took in 2,612 animals between July 1 – September 30, compared to 2,245 animals during the same period in 2022, representing a 16% increase. Out of those 2,612 animals, 1,394 were strays and 389 were owner surrenders.      

There are only 132 kennels available for dogs at the shelter when used according to best practices for humane care. Most of the time, the center has had to divide these kennels to accommodate twice as many animals. This results in a crowded adoption floor, putting stress on the dogs' physical and emotional health. However, even dividing the kennels does not always help due to the constant inflow of homeless animals.

For decades, the Wake County Animal Center has prided itself on being the ONLY open admission shelter in the county, taking in all stray, abandoned and surrendered pets in Wake County. The center’s rescue partners have always been integral in helping in that mission, however, in recent years, the number of animals transferred to these partners decreased by 12% from Fiscal Year 2020 to Fiscal Year 2023. Many of those rescue organizations historically have not accepted owner surrenders directly, but instead choose to accept animals from our center. The impact of the post-pandemic homeless pet crisis seen nationally is impacting those organizations as well and played a role in the decision to halt acceptance of owner surrenders.

In October, when the animal center had to close to the public for eight weeks to quarantine roughly 100 dogs, the Animal Center enacted a temporary pause on appointments for owners to surrender their pets to the center. At the height of the canine influenza outbreak, 78 dogs were showing symptoms of the virus and new dogs coming into the center would have increased the spread and lengthened of overall closure of the animal center.  

“To keep up with Wake County's incredible growth, our team has been planning for years for a new shelter to help house the growing homeless pet population, but a large project like that takes years and significant taxpayer dollars – and, is really just one part of this complex problem,” said Dr. Jennifer Federico, director of the Wake County Animal Center. “It’s hard enough to find affordable housing right now, on top of soaring inflation, a shortage of veterinarians, apartments banning certain breeds or certain weight dogs – it is making pet ownership in Wake County very difficult. So, we absolutely understand this change will be difficult on some owners. We also understand our commitment to our municipal Animal Control partners and the need to prioritize community safety, public health and animal welfare. Those functions are not being met or addressed by any other animal organization in this county. We are looking to pet owners to plan for their pets if they can no longer keep them, as well as understanding that adopting or purchasing a pet is a commitment to the lifetime of that pet.”

Rehoming your pet
If you adopted your pet from the Wake County Animal Center and for any reason cannot keep the pet, the center will continue to accept those animals back. However, those who adopted pets from other shelters or rescues, or purchased from a store or a breeder, will no longer be able to surrender those animals to Wake County. Before adopting from other organizations, make sure that they provide a similar safety net if you cannot keep your pet in the future.

To assist owners in finding new homes for their pets, the center has developed a dedicated webpage with tips and recommendations for rehoming. Owners are the best advocates for their pets because they know them better than anyone and can help find the best fit. Owners should reach out to friends and family. They should contact the rescue, shelter, store or breeder where you adopted or purchased the pet for assistance.

Stray animals
Starting January 2, Animal Control Units will return to full service including picking up strays within the community. From January 2, the public can bring in strays by appointment.

If someone finds a stray pet and cannot locate an owner, they should call the Animal Center at 919-212-7387 to schedule an appointment to bring the pet in. They will need to provide their information and information about the pet and should attempt to take the animal to a local veterinary clinic to have the pet scanned for the microchip. The clinic will do this for free.

Spay/neuter and vaccination programs
The Wake County Animal Center always spays/neuters and vaccinates all the pets in its care prior to adoption. Pets will only go to their new homes after receiving all the necessary vaccinations, and these services are included in the adoption price. Adoption fees are $95 for dogs, $25 for long-timers, $45 for cats and 'Name Your Price' for long-timer cats. The center organizes multiple Community Pet Days throughout the year, offering low-cost vaccination and microchipping services. Wake County has compiled a list of affordable spay and neuter clinics. Please ensure that your pet is spayed/neutered and fully vaccinated.

Other services
Lost Pets: If you believe your pet is currently at the Animal Center, please call at 919-212-PETS (7387) for instructions on providing proof of ownership and the process to reclaim your pet.

Owner-Requested Euthanasia
Anyone who needs to euthanize a pet due to health or behavioral issues can call and request an appointment. Owners will be asked to provide veterinary notes detailing the animal's medical condition or specific behavioral issues. Euthanasia requested by owners will be carried out immediately upon surrender to the Animal Center. Staff reserves the right to refuse this service if the animal does not appear to be in need of euthanasia. Owners will then be referred to a private veterinarian for assistance.

Press Release