The Charlotte regions animal shelters are killing fewer of the dogs and cats they take in, a review of state data from 2001 to 2013 shows.
In 2002, area shelters euthanized eight of every 10, at a rate more than twice the national average, the Observer reported in a 2003 series, Death at the Pound.
Most died in unregulated gas chambers, killed by workers with no mandated training.
By 2013, Mecklenburg and eight nearby counties had improved to the national average, euthanizing about half their dogs and cats. If the shelters had continued at the 2002 rate, about 15,000 more would have been killed last year.
Saving more shelter animals reflects a changing American attitude, says Kim Alboum, North Carolina director for the Humane Society of the United States.
People spend billions of dollars on their pets, she says. We take them on vacation. They sleep in our beds. ... When my dog gets a new coat, it goes on my Facebook page and its in front of 400 people.
Pets answer a need to nurture, researchers say, at a time when more Americans live alone or wait longer to have kids, then live longer after they leave. Caring for an animal can relieve stress, or fill a void in social interaction.
A communitys shelter reflects its values, say those who deal with unwanted animals.
The general public is so in tune with these issues, Alboum says. People are concerned for responsible care from a policy standpoint.
Several counties in the Charlotte region have engineered steep gains in adoptions. Only one Union still uses a gas chamber for most of its euthanasia.
Yet numbers here remain chilling. Nearly 30,000 cats and dogs were killed last year in the regions shelters. By some estimates, 24,000 of them could have found homes, given a little more time, treatment or training.
Every weekday of the year, 111 dogs and cats are put to death in the region, nearly all held in the arms of shelter workers who must watch them die.
That is an average, of course. Killing is seasonal.
June is what shelter workers call puppy and kitten season. In just over a week, 175 kittens were dropped off at the Union shelter, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg sent out urgent emails seeking homes for an overwhelming number of cats and kittens.
Successful shelters are using three key tactics to save lives:
• Social media and the Internet allow fast, broad communication about animals that need help.
• Collaborating with rescue groups nonprofits that take animals of all kinds finds more homes, more quickly.
• Prevention, from education to financial support, can keep animals with their families. Most crucial of all, experts say, is spay/neuter surgery to prevent the birth of animals no one can care for responsibly.
Rescue dog stories: Avery | Banks | Zeus
Resources: Where to adopt, more | How to help
Database: Animal shelter reports by county
Interactive: Adoption and euthanasia rates
2003 Special Report: Death at the Pound (PDF)
Contest: Send us your rescue pet's photo
Progress at the Pound
Mecklenburg is part of national ASPCA partnership
Gas chamber falls out of favor
5 promising animal shelter programs
Shelters' success depends on volunteers
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