To say Deanna Lasner has a passion for animals is an understatement.
As chairwoman of the board of directors of the Humane Society of Charlotte, she spends most of her free time saving and taking care of discarded animals.
"I don't think people realize just how many cats and dogs we take in," said Lasner. "Between us and Animal Care and Control, we had an intake in 2011 of 20,000 animals.
"The saddest part is that 12,000 of those animals were euthanized."
Although she has always had pets and enjoyed animals, Lasner's involvement with the Humane Society - her current position is still as an unpaid volunteer - began in 2008 in Denver, N.C., when she helped with one of the largest animal raids in the society's history.
Operation Noah's Ark, named for the volunteer group that initiated the rescue effort, and the police seized 400 abused animals from a single home.
"My daughter and I heard about it and I knew I had to help," said Lasner. "I would arrive every morning at 7:30 and help facilitate the medical team. I would show up some mornings and there would be fewer and fewer pets, because they wouldn't survive the night. It was horrifying."
Lasner, 51, lives in Myers Park with her husband, Mitch, and daughter, Mikayla. She said she may never have become a volunteer with the Humane Society if it wasn't for her daughter.
"When we heard about the raid in Denver, it was Mikayla who said we needed to help," said Lasner. "Now I can hardly keep her away from the shelter. She loves it as much as I do."
In 2009, Lasner became involved with the Humane Society of Charlotte, becoming chairwoman in 2010. She's been making a large community outreach effort since, making people more aware of animal issues within Mecklenburg County.
"When I first moved here, I didn't even know there were any problems," said Lasner. "You never see animals running wild in the streets. But that's doesn't mean there aren't issues that need to be dealt with."
According to Lasner, one large issue is the number of animals euthanized in Mecklenburg County. In 2011, about 250 animals were euthanized every week.
Although the Humane Society is a no-kill shelter, Animal Care and Control is not.
Lasner said she believes the euthanizations could be halted if more pet owners would spay and neuter their animals.
"The (euthanization) numbers would go down in three years if people would spay and neuter their pets," said Lasner. "Every year, if more animals were fixed, we'd see less animals coming through the shelter and less being killed. Hopefully soon, we will be a no-kill city and lead the way for North Carolina."
Lasner said the Humane Society is working with Animal Care and Control and Coalition for Unchained Dogs to try and start a mobile spay-neuter program. This would allow a vehicle to pick pets up from their homes, spay or neuter them and return them to their homes.
There's one major hitch: Lasner said the Humane Society is underfunded and in need of donations. She said most people assume that when they donate to the Humane Society of the United States, the money goes to local shelters - but that's not the case.
"That money goes to national ad campaigns and lobbying, which is needed," said Lasner. "We have a few dedicated supporters, but it's difficult for us because we can't go after big corporations for donations.
"They have very specific directives as to where they can donate their money to. Most of them give to the arts, education and health issues, which are all great issues, but we are being overlooked."
Lasner said a major obstacle for the society is its facility, in the old Animal Care and Control building off Toomey Avenue. Because the building is owned by city, the society is unable to renovate, leaving the staff desperate for space.
"A coat of paint can only do so much," said Lasner. "We need more space."
"We don't even have space for our dogs to run around," she said.
Lasner said she'd like to have a facility with a training center for dogs and an education center for community outreach.
"If we could have an education program for children, they'd bring their parents, and that's more people we can reach," said Lasner. "We could get programs in schools, like a 'Pennies for Pets' program.
"I've started a Humane Society Club at Myers Park High School, and they hold a great adoption event every year. But wouldn't it be great if every school did it?"
Lasner said she believes that even if someone isn't an animal lover, they should still be concerned with animal issues in the county.
"For every call Animal Care and Control gets, it costs $112 of taxpayer money," she said. "Last year they had 45,000 calls, which cost taxpayers over $5 million. That should get people's attention."
Lasner said the Humane Society and Animal Care and Control are making it a goal to create a coalition with local rescue groups to deal with the number of animals the county intakes every year. She also she wants to make community outreach a main priority for the coalition.
"Everything we do is through a grassroots effort," said Lasner. "The Humane Society has two events every year, the Pet Palooza in May and the Gala in November, but it's not enough. These issues can be fixed if we can reach out to our community more."
"It's not a matter of how we do it," said Lasner. "We know how to fix things. We just need to do it."