By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — Each year throughout North Carolina, with animal shelters struggling to handle an escalating population of cats and dogs, 160,000 animals are euthanized, including about 16,000 in Wake, Durham and Orange counties.
In the Triangle, the annual cost to taxpayers to run animal shelters is $5 million.
And low-income communities generate an estimated 85 percent to 90 percent of the pet population.
“Less fortunate communities don’t have the information or financial resources, and live in ‘pet-care deserts,'” says Martin Banning, executive director of AnimalKind.
AnimalKind, a Raleigh nonprofit, aims to end the unnecessary euthanasia of adoptable cats and dogs in North Carolina shelters by targeting its work low-income communities.
In 2014, through a voucher program that charges a $20 co-pay for spaying or neutering that typically costs $100 to $150, AnimalKind contracted with local veterinarians and clinics that performed 938 surgeries in Cary and in Caswell, Durham, Orange and Person counties.
In September, it expanded the program to Alamance County. And if it can secure funding, it wants to expand to Chatham, Harnett and Johnston counties.
Helping to reimburse the cost of the surgeries is the Spay/Neuter Program of the Animal Welfare Section of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, using revenue from the sale by the state Division of Motor Vehicles of the “I Care” license plate.
Last year, the state sold nearly 8,000 of those license plates, generating over $159,000, says Penny Page, spay/neuter coordinator for the Animal Welfare Section. The plates cost $30 more than standard license plates, with $20 from each plate going to the Spay/Neuter Program.
Founded in 1998 and operating with an annual budget of $500,000 and a staff of four people working full-time and eight working part-time, AnimalKind in September launched a pilot program in Alamance County to provide free spay and neutering surgeries. It targets high-poverty, low-income zip-code areas.
Through the program, AnimalKind connects pet owners with free pet food, vaccines and animal-welfare services.
AnimalKind raised $55,000 to launch the pilot, and aims to raise $75,000 each to expand it to Wake and Orange counties.
AnimalKind also operates the SpayNC Helpline at 1-888-NC-FIX-EM that connects callers with reduced-cost clinics, vets and-pet-care resources. The helpline fields about 100 calls a month and is tied to an online map used by 1,300 to 1,500 visitors a month.
In Caswell and Person counties, through a partnership with Planned Pethood, a Greensboro clinic, AnimalKind also pays for to transport pets to be spayed or neutered.
AnimalKind generates about 60 percent of its budget through a retail thrift shop it operates at 2120 Spring Forest Road, and is hiring its first development director, who will work to diversify its funding base.
“Until we get into the neighborhoods and spay and neuter the pets that can be spayed and neutered,” Banning says, “we’re going to have the rescues and shelters overwhelmed.”