Efforts by a local rescue group have dramatically reduced the number of animals euthanized at the Vance County Animal Shelter.
According to shelter records for the 2011-12 fiscal year, 26.5 percent, or 984 of the 3,715 animals that came through the shelter were euthanized. Nearly 43 percent of the animals were rescued and transported out of state by the group to other rescue and adoption groups and individuals who adopted them.
The numbers stand in sharp contrast to previous years, shelter records show. In fiscal 2010, nearly half of the 3,461 animals were euthanized and only about 12 percent rescued. In fiscal 2009, 80 percent of the 3,841 animals were euthanized and 3 percent were rescued.
Since it was organized in May 2011, the local group nonprofit Ruin Creek Animal Protection Society of Henderson has rescued approximately 3,000 animals, according to Angie Rowland, one of the group’s five full-time volunteers.
(It should be noted that the numbers from the shelter’s records reflect animals in all of the shelter’s “intake” categories, including quarantines, animals held in court cases, strays and unwanted, or surrenders. Euthanasia and rescue are only two of the shelter’s “dispositions” categories. Others include adoption, return to owner and a few animals escape. It should also be noted that in the years mentioned, 933 animals were adopted from the Vance shelter, records show. As well, other shelters and rescue groups take animals from the shelter, but often look only for specific animals.)
County Manager Jerry Ayscue said Ruin Creek is by far the primary rescue group placing animals from the Vance shelter.
“They have had a phenomenal impact on the number of animals that have been placed in homes and in the care of other rescue groups,” Ayscue said.
While animal rescue has been ongoing for years, it was not until volunteers organized as the Ruin Creek group that more of the animals got a new lease on life.
“I’ve been volunteering off and on for about eight years,” said Rowland, who earlier in 2011 organized a forerunner to Ruin Creek, the Advocates for Vance Shelter Animals. Over the years she has been volunteering, Rowland estimates that another 3,000 animals have been rescued.
It was one of Rowland’s postings on Facebook that caught the attention of Charles Brandon Boyd, a local automobile dealer. The shelter, she wrote, was full.
“I was making the most pitiful plea,” Rowland said.
Boyd commented on her posting that he would pay to spay or neuter any animal adopted from the shelter. A friend of Boyd’s, a Raleigh televison personality, saw the postings and mentioned Boyd’s offer on the air.
Boyd, the society’s president, said about 10 were adopted from that offer.
“That’s how we got started,” he said.
“I noticed from afar the group led by Angie,” Boyd said, knowing there would be “endless possibilities” if volunteers could get a nonprofit status and attract tax-deductible donations.
While the number of rescues has been impressive, society and county officials caution that not all animals brought to the shelter will be rescued.
“I don’t want people to think that when they bring the animals to the shelter that they will be rescued,” Boyd said.
“Certainly,” Ayscue said, “some will be euthanized.”
If local rescuers see “endless possibilities” in their work, they’re also seeing an endless job. Each week’s work begins in Vance County and can end in upstate New York.
“People are literally working around the clock,” Boyd said. “It’s the team of volunteers that keeps this going.”
The team of five full-time volunteers has more than animal advocacy going. Each has a full-time job. Rowland and Ann Hanson are schoolteachers, Lisa Dickerson is an apartment manager, Dawn Hedgepeth works for a firm in Virginia and Alan Hedgepeth is a Henderson police officer.
“I don’t sleep,” Rowland said. “I’m nocturnal.”
Rowland said she often works into the early hours of the morning, in part because of differences in time zones and also reacting as other rescue groups respond.
Volunteers make use of lunch and other breaks for emails and phone calls.
“I just can’t stand them being in that shelter,” Rowland said.
The volunteers take turns going to the shelter for an hour each day to take pictures of animals and assess their need for vet care and compatibility with other animals. Ruin Creek pays for vet care for animals likely to be rescued.
Sunday through Wednesday, the pictures and descriptions of animals are posted on Facebook and emailed to other rescue and adoption groups. An initial list of only 25 email contacts has now grown to 43 pages of contacts.
“Facebook is a 24/7 job,” Dickerson said. “We answer questions like ‘Does this dog get along with cats or with children?’”
The “push for rescues” begins Thursday, when volunteers are “on the phone a lot” asking other groups if they can take just one more animal, Dickerson said.
A list of the animals and their destinations is prepared by Friday. Interestingly, Rowland said, because contacts and confirmations are made online, the list is assembled by a woman in Nebraska who Rowland got to know when the woman lived in New York.
“Fridays are awful,” Rowland said.
Depending on the route, the society’s van will leave Vance County on Fridays anywhere from 10 p.m. to midnight. Before the trip, a veterinarian examines and signs a health certificate for each animal. From 30 to 40 — but as many as 65 — animals are transported each week.
The route depends on requests for the animals. The volunteers have taken animals to Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, states with spay-neuter laws and no surplus of animals. One delivery went near the Canadian border.
“They have spay and neuter laws that are enforced,” Boyd said of the other states. “There are no puppies, no stray animals. The pet population is under control.”
Rowland said a delivery of animals to a Secaucus, N.J., shelter was met by a line of people waiting to make application for an animal — and the mayor was taking pictures.
Ruin Creek works only with groups that have no-kill policies, she said.
Individuals across the country often adopt animals from the Vance shelter. Rowland said, for example, a cat now makes Colorado home, and a dog resides in Nebraska. Ruin Creek has partnered with pilots to move animals, and the dog in Nebraska was shuttled there by individuals and truck drivers.
“The number that get out is based on how hard we work,” Rowland said.
The society’s work comes with a cost, “over $100,000” a year, Boyd said.
By contrast, the animal shelter’s budget for the current fiscal year is $287,000.
Among the expenses, Rowland said, is a van — a $450 a month payment for the vehicle, $300 a week for gas, maintenance and tolls. The shelter is reimbursed $5 for each animal’s rabies vaccine. Volunteers provide and administer heartworm medication. The Friday night vet fee is a minimum of $300, which is part of about $7,000 a month that Ruin Creek spends on vet services.
In September, the society sponsored a visit by Spay-Neuter Assistance Program of North Carolina. SNAP-NC offers a service from its mobile veterinary surgical clinics. The 130 animals spayed or neutered during the visit cost their owners only $20 each, with Ruin Creek and the Ryan Newman Foundation providing an $8,000 subsidy for the procedures.
All of the society’s expenses are covered by tax-deductible donations and fundraisers. The funding has made the difference, Dickerson said, as more animals can be treated, and the purchase of a van has made deliveries easier.
As Advocates for Vance Shelter Animals, the volunteers paid for services themselves and from donations and often drove personal vehicles or rented vans, she said. They also partnered with the Rural Transport Service, a group that drove legs of trips to move animals to other locations.
The Ruin Creek volunteers’ work isn’t lost on county commissioners.
“The county is very thankful for them,” Commissioner Eddie Wright said. “They help the county by placing some animals that would be put to sleep.”
“Vance County is very fortunate,” Commissioner Tommy Hester agreed.
“We have so few volunteers,” Rowland said. “We can’t do this until we’re 90. If we stop, they die.”
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