The Charlotte animal shelter might just earn a “no-kill” designation by the end of 2020. Here’s how you can help

The Charlotte animal shelter might just earn a “no-kill” designation by the end of 2020. Here’s how you can help
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First, a promise: This is a happy story.

Stories about homeless dogs and cats are emotional risks, especially for those of us who cry at SPCA commercials and refuse to finish Marley & Me. It’s been a hard year; no one needs suspense. So I’ll give it away now:

This is a happy story made up of nearly 5,000 other happy stories of rescued cats and dogs, which may lead to an even happier milestone for Charlotte — having one of the most successful municipal animal shelters in North Carolina.

One of those happy stories is Tiger’s. The former stray dog took his first trip to Asheville this summer, where he discovered a love of hiking and barbecue.

Another belongs to Sweet Potato, the kitten who learned that any place is a good place to nap: on a dog, in a potted plant, atop her owner’s head.


Tiger and Sweet Potato began their journeys this spring at Animal Care and Control, a division of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, at its southwest Charlotte shelter. Nine years ago, only 35 percent of the cats and dogs who came through here were saved. This year, almost 90 percent have found their happily-ever-afters.

Almost 90 percent. That’s a big almost. A 90 percent save rate would mean the shelter has earned the no-kill designation. While that’s fairly common for nonprofit rescue groups that control how many animals they accept, it’s the exception for municipal shelters that, as a public service, must accept all stray and surrendered animals — even when they run low on space or budget.

In 2019, the save rate for North Carolina animal shelters — both municipal and nonprofit — averaged 70.8 percent, with just 15 percent of communities deemed no-kill.

Charlotte’s municipal shelter just might make it. It comes down to the next eight days.

As of mid-December, AC&C’s annual save rate is 89.7 percent, up from 79 percent last year — and way up from that 35 percent nine years ago. Depending on how many dogs and cats are adopted in the next week and a half, AC&C might earn the no-kill designation for the first time.

Mecklenburg County Animal Control

Mecklenburg County Animal Care & Control is on the cusp of becoming one of the rare municipal shelters to earn a no-kill designation.

This milestone is difficult to achieve any year, but it should’ve been impossible this year.

Things looked bleak in spring. When Governor Roy Cooper issued stay-at-home orders on March 27, some government shelters closed their doors to adoptions.

“We had a meeting of the management team here and we said, ‘Listen, as long as we have animals coming in — from the field, through owner surrender, however else — we have got to find a way to get them out in a positive manner,” says Josh Fisher, AC&C’s director. “It just was simply not acceptable to us to do anything but that.”

Fisher joined other animal control professionals who petitioned Cooper to designate municipal animal shelters an essential service. Cooper granted their request, and AC&C remained open for adoptions, with limits on the staff and visitors allowed inside.

But, Fisher wondered, would anyone even want to adopt a pet during a pandemic?

Oh, how they did. Adoptions accelerated. He was stunned.

Nicole Beasley of Plaza Midwood isn’t surprised by the rush on adoptions. She adopted Tiger — hiking-loving, barbecue-loving Tiger — from AC&C in April, while grieving the death of her grandfather and coping with the stress of the quarantine.

Animal Control Nicole Beasley and Tiger

Nicole Beasley and Tiger like to hike.

“(Tiger’s) made me get up and do things. I’ll say, ‘OK, buddy, let’s do something fun!’” They explore trails and enjoy drives with the windows down. “The amount of love that [Tiger] has given me throughout the year has been life changing. Nothing is the same as a dog’s love for you. … He’s made this year actually bearable for me.”

Pets like Tiger became 2020’s unexpected essential workers. Dogs have reminded us that one walk a day isn’t enough. A purr can convince us to stay on the couch, just one Schitt’s Creek episode longer. (OK, two.) And pets behaving poorly became the accidental stars of Zoom meetings.

Outdoor exercise. Staying home. Laughing. The most helpful things we could do for our physical and mental health were moments so easily inspired by our pets.

In 2020, it’s up for debate: Between pets and people, who’s really talking care of whom?

“They are the ultimate antidepressants,” Russell Varner says of dogs and cats. In early April, he and his wife, Sara Borer, decided to foster a cat after they read that animal shelters were in danger of filling. They ended up fostering six from AC&C: a mama and her five two-week-old kittens.

“Especially in the early months (of the pandemic) — when cases were rising, no one really knew what was going on, some people were following rules and some weren’t — there was so much negativity,” Varner says. “If I needed a distraction, I’d just go upstairs and play with all the kittens, and they’d just pile on you and lick you.”

One day as Varner worked, Sweet Potato — the runt of the litter — climbed on top of his head and fell asleep there. That moment, Sweet Potato was no longer a foster. She was home.

Russell Varner and Sweet Potato

Sweet Potato naps here.

This isn’t just sweet; it’s science.

A study published by the American Psychological Association showed that pets have alleviated the stress of uncertainty and isolation during Covid-19. But a city like Charlotte — no stranger to dogs at breweries or cats on leashes — doesn’t need a study to teach us the importance of pets.

“It speaks to the value that Charlotte has for the human-animal bond … not just the pets themselves but caring for both ends of the leash,” Fisher says.

AC&C’s success comes from tapping into that community spirit. It continually unveils programs for the public, including the popular staycations that allow people to borrow a dog or cat for several nights to give it a break from the shelter. (Not surprisingly, 70 percent of those staycationers become permanent pets.) AC&C also collects funds and supplies for Human Animal Support Services (HASS); when people facing financial hardship come to the shelter to surrender loved pets, HASS offers them support to bring their pets back home.

“For a long time, people viewed animal overpopulation as a shelter problem,” Fisher says. “But they know now: it’s a community problem that needs a community solution.”

Mecklenburg County Animal Control

Mecklenburg County’s animal shelter wants to find every dog a home.

In this year of tough numbers — unemployment rate, Covid cases — a 90 percent save rate would give us a much-needed victory.

It’d give us more dogs like Tiger, who began the year wandering a field as a stray and now has a stack of Christmas presents waiting for him. It’d give us more cats like Sweet Potato, born in an animal shelter but who is probably — as you read this — playing with ornaments and garland on the tree. And it’d give us more people like Beasley and Varner, who found the love of a pet is a powerful medicine, even in a pandemic.

“I’ve joked that Sara and I wouldn’t have kept our sanity this year if we didn’t have the kittens,” Varner says. “But every joke has a little bit of truth to it.”

Mecklenburg County Animal Control

How you can help the shelter make a 90% save rate:

  1. Adopt a dog or cat. If you’re looking for a pet, consider one at AC&C. View their animals available for adoption. (But please don’t surprise someone with a pet as a gift. It’s a major commitment, and owners should be part of that decision.)
  2. Give a shelter dog or cat a vacation. Borrow a dog or cat for a few nights. You’ll return your relaxed, furry friend with a report card that will educate prospective adopters about their personality and preferences.
  3. Support Human Animal Support Services (HASS). Help families in need keep the pets they love. Donate to the HASS Fund or buy supplies from its Amazon wish list.

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"It's good. I promise." - Emma   Emma Way