No kill shelters strive to incite a community effort

By Katelynn Watkins – kwatkins@unca.edu – Staff Writer | Feb. 25, 2015 |

Happiness is a warm puppy. At least that’s what Charlie Brown always said.

In Asheville, happiness is a lot of warm puppies, not to mention kittens as well. No-kill shelters are working to make sure that it stays that way.

Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, located on Glendale Avenue, enforces? a strict policy at its facilities to keep as many animals as possible from being euthanized. Denise Bitz, founder and president, oversees this no-kill policy.

“All animals are saved unless they are in an incredible amount of suffering,” she said , “or they are so truly aggressive that there is no hope of their successful rehabilitation.”

In the last few months, Brother Wolf and its partners launched a new website, No-Kill Asheville, to promote awareness in the greater Asheville community. Bitz said volunteers are coming together to canvas Buncombe County neighborhoods, educating residents who may come to the shelter for help with their pets.

Buncombe County Animal Shelter has also been making efforts to promote community awareness. Miranda Tipton, who has been part of the shelter for over four years, said the Safety Net program has helped keep pets with their owners.

Safety Net is a service provided by the shelter for those who have an animal with a health or behavioral problem that is difficult to accommodate, Tipton said.

“By teaching owners how to deal with a disease or behavior problem,” Tipton said over the excited dogs in the play area, “animals can stay out of the shelter system and off the street.”

BCAS has roughly 204 living spaces, which can house about 247 animals in all. In addition to space available in the shelter, Tipton said there is a working foster program that can house more than 400 animals until they are adopted.

By comparison, Bitz said Brother Wolf can house 125 animals and foster nearly 400 others in the community.

           Both shelters, along with the Asheville Humane Society, base their no-kill philosophy on those of Best Friends Animal Society. This organization, founded in Utah, is identified by Tipton as a trendsetter among no-kill shelters, and has defined the general meaning of no-kill policy.

“Best Friends defines a no-kill shelter as one that has a live release rate of 90 percent or better within its community,” Tipton said.

Tipton said Buncombe County Animal Shelter takes in about 7,000 to 8,000 animals per year, of which 73 percent were adopted or transferred last year.

“We never turn away an animal,” she said. “That’s what an open admission shelter is here for.”

Bitz, on the other hand, said 90 percent is not a truly accurate estimate of what no-kill should mean to shelters.

“True no-kill policy should probably mean a live release rate of 95 percent or better,” Bitz says.

Brother Wolf and the Asheville Humane Society had more than 4,000 adoptions and transports each in the last year, said Heather Hayes, marketing director and media contact for Asheville Humane Society. These are the main contributors to a shelter’s live release rate.

With the help of the Buncombe County Coalition For Animals, which is made up of city affiliates as well as Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, Asheville Humane Society, and Buncombe County Animal Shelter, Hayes said programs for educating the public are on the rise.

“You have to break the cycle,” Tipton says. “Education is the starting block for this.”

Reviewing the past can be a helpful start toward understanding where to go next, or how to get there. For Buncombe County Animal Shelter, this is recent history. (attribution?)

Friends For Animals was formed in the 1980s, Tipton said, through outfitting an old maintenance garage to house stray animals for the entire county. This garage, after the organization partnered with the Humane Society and a branch was established in Asheville, was vacated in favor of the facilities now located on Forever Friend Lane.

Tipton said she likes to remind people that they had humble beginnings but grew with a lot of planning and help. So, she said, building a no-kill community can certainly work the same way.

Nationwide, the Humane Society has been educating the public to avoid issues of overpopulation in no-kill shelters for several years. The Asheville branch of Humane Society translated overpopulation problems into special programs geared toward pet owners, such as spay and neuter clinics.             “Places like the Humane Society and Buncombe County Animal Shelter get grants and money from the local government,” Bitz said. “We’re privately owned, so Brother Wolf gets really specific grants that fund certain programs, not overhead costs.”

That means funding public education programs is all up to Bitz and her partners. She said it doesn’t discourage her, though.

“To be no-kill, we can’t do it alone,” Bitz said. “Even you and I working together can’t do it alone. The public has to be educated.”

The main barriers to this project are financial concerns for shelters and misinformation of the public, Bitz said. Shelters like Brother Wolf rely on their own efforts to fundraise and these, while helpful, are not often enough.

“We’re not there. This community thinks we’re a no-kill community,” Bitz said. “But we just aren’t there yet.”

After a quick calculation, she says 1,943 animals, to be exact, lost their lives in the last year to euthanasia, which is roughly seven per day.

The Humane Society cites public education as the reason for the decline in euthanasia cases from the 1970s to the present. The three major no-kill shelters in Buncombe County plan on continuing this effort for prolonged results.

“We are at capacity right now, unless we can get new foster homes. That, or we can get more buildings,” Bitz said.. “But that doesn’t really solve the problem. It’s just putting a Band-Aid on the bigger issue.”

And if residents are nervous about walking into a shelter out of the blue to volunteer or adopt, no problem, Bitz said. Brother Wolf hosts many public adoption events all over Buncombe County, where potential owners can meet their new friend right in town.

So whether it’s a warm puppy or kitten, workers at Asheville animal shelters are doing all they can to make sure residents have the opportunity to adopt a little happiness.

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