More shelter dogs killed in Charlotte as shelter runs low on space, staff

Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s animal shelter capacity issues contributed to a 40% jump earlier this summer in the number of dogs that were put down or euthanized, according to a recent analysis of public records by The Charlotte Observer.

For most of this year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control officials have raised concerns over the shortage of space and staff, combined with a spike in the number of pets and animals taken in by the shelter.

The average number of dogs euthanized per day for June and July was just over 3, according to records provided by animal control.

Compared to 2020, that’s more than double the number of dogs killed in the shelter in that same time period. Two years ago, 74 dogs were put down in that two-month period. Last June and July, it was 124. Figures from June and July 2022 show at least 173 dogs were euthanized, a 40% increase compared to June-July 2021.

Dogs euthanized

It’s unclear precisely how many dogs in the past few months have been put down specifically because the shelter ran out of space or staff to care for them. But, Melissa Knicely, spokesperson for Animal Care and Control confirmed, lack of space and being short-staffed have led to some dogs being euthanized. Under better circumstances, euthanasia at the shelter is usually limited to putting down dogs with significant medical issues or a history of injuring people or other animals.

The Observer previously reported the shelter has the space to house at least 155 dogs with 220 stainless steel cages and 165 dog runs.

Some dogs were put down for behavioral issues that may have otherwise been saved if staff had the time to work with them.

“If we have the room to work with these dogs that are showing a little bit of issues, then they wouldn’t be listed for euthanasia,” Knicely said. “But when we have four dogs that haven’t been given a chance for adoption yet, are waiting to come in you have to make some really tough choices.”

Cash, a pit bull mix, stands in his kennel while awaiting an adoption at the CMPD Animal Care and Control shelter in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, July 22, 2022.

She said the euthanasia numbers for cats and dogs have taken a toll on staff.

“It’s been very, very hard. Because we’re about life saving here,” she said.

Knicely said a lack of staff lessens their “capacity for care,” which means that even though they may have cages available, they don’t have the staff to take care of the animals adequately. As of early July, the agency had roughly 12 open positions and more than 80 employees working.

“Just like everybody else that’s experiencing staff shortages, we are too,” Knicely said.

The shelter needs staff to provide an acceptable quality of care for the animals, without it their quality for care diminishes and they can’t take in as many animals. Workers and volunteers need to clean cages, walk dogs, feed the animals, do laundry and dishes, and help with medically and behaviorally different cases.

The shelter earned a “no kill” designation for the first time in 2020, meaning that it had a “save rate” of 90%.

Charlotte animal shelter capacity

In addition to a lack of staff, the shelter is suffering from a lack of fosters for dogs.

Even though over 1,000 people signed up to foster, as of mid July only 26 dogs were out of the shelter and in foster care.

Despite the rise in euthanasia numbers in Charlotte, the shelter is still one of the best in North Carolina, says John Graves, strategist for North Carolina from Best Friends Animal Society, a nonprofit dedicated to ending unnecessary euthanasia.

“Charlotte is one of the most progressive and most dedicated to life saving communities that we have here in North Carolina, I can say that they are actively working to save as many lives as possible,” Graves said.

Overall, North Carolina has the third highest euthanasia rate in the country, Graves say. Wilkes County in the northwestern part of the state has the highest shelter euthanasia rate in North Carolina.

A piglet at the CMPD Animal Care and Control shelter in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, July 22, 2022.

Nearly 28,790 dogs and cats were killed in animal shelters across North Carolina last year, according to the non-profit’s community dashboard. The group hopes to make North Carolina a no-kill state by 2025.

Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control has been sending out adoption and foster pleas since last fall and has not had the room they need for incoming dogs, according to official statements in recent months.

A tracker on the shelter’s website has indicated since at least April that they have 0-10 kennels available for incoming dogs. When the shelter is “good” it has 35+ kennels available, the tracker says.

The Charlotte Observer reached out to the city of Charlotte to ask them what they planned to do regarding capacity issues. They responded via email to say CMPD is working to fill vacancies, and from FY19-FY22, $9 million has been allotted to upgrading the shelter.

A nationwide shelter problem

In January, Best Friends Animal Society warned of “a national animal shelter crisis.” After an analysis of shelter data, it stated that about 100,000 more dogs and cats in U.S. shelters are awaiting adoption than this time last year due to issues caused by the pandemic.

After evaluating 150 shelters, the society said 88% were short staffed.

“Intake has increased, and adoptions have decreased at shelters, contributing to a challenging environment for lifesaving,” Julie Castle, CEO, Best Friends Animal Society said in a news release about these statistics. “Adopting a pet can help to alleviate the stress shelters are experiencing, so if you can, I urge you to adopt now.”

Graves said Charlotte has been set up with “an imperfect storm” with the panleukopenia outbreak, a few large dog intake cases, and court holds.

Knicely also mentioned court holds as a big issue for the shelter. While abuse, neglect, or other animal cruelty cases are at trial, Animal Care and Control is responsible for holding the dogs as evidence, and these cannot be adopted out. Approximately 46 kennels are taken up by this, and the backlog in North Carolina court cases is severely impacting their capacity, she says.

People also don’t always know to check with the shelter for their lost pets, she says. She encourages that as soon as someone realizes their pet is missing, they call the shelter, and that pet owners implant a microchip so that animal control can return their pets right away without them coming to the shelter and taking up a kennel.

Since 2019, the population in the Charlotte Metro area has grown exponentially, Knicely said in a presentation about the shelter. Which means the number of owned pets has also increased in the community. Inevitably this also means the number of stray or lost pets coming into the shelter will likely increase along with the population growth, she said.

For more information on how to volunteer, foster or take dogs on a stay-cation, visit the shelter’s website.

Carson Zalizniak, 14, of Wahxaw, N.C., pets Opie in a meet and greet room at the CMPD Animal Care and Control shelter in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, July 22, 2022. The Zalizniak family decided to foster Opie which will help create kennel space at the shelter.