Things have come a long way for the Harnett County Animal Shelter in a relatively short amount of time.
Gone are the days of a dark, damp, dreary and dank shelter with bare, unpainted walls and dirty, hard-to-clean floors.
They have been replaced with freshly painted walls, new cleaning methods and maybe most importantly, better overall medical treatment for the dogs and cats — and other creatures — under their care.
“In addition to the changes we were able to make to the building, we were also able to change the many processes,” said shelter manager and adoption coordinator Emilee Beeson.”Now we can do checks for heart worms in dogs, microchip animals, we didn’t even have a place to quarantine animals, now the whole process has changed.”
Thanks to just over $28,000 in donations from outside sources and financial help from the county, the shelter has quickly become a more pleasant, animal- and people-friendly location.
Now there are separate rooms for would-be adopters of cats and dogs to have their own rooms, something that wasn’t available last year, along with additional cages, most donated, and places to make sure the animals in their charge are taken care of medically.
“We didn’t even have a place to quarantine animals when they first came into the shelter before,” she said. “Now we have that as well as areas where we can give proper medical care, something we haven’t had before.”
At one point, before the county stepped in and provided heat and air conditioning, the shelter was without either. Volunteers and workers were forced to take care of the animals in everything from freezing cold to blistering heat.
Ms. Beeson said many times potential adopters would comment on how hot is was for the cats, especially. She often heard from visitors to the shelter how the cats were panting and heard pleas to do something.
Thankfully, those days are now in the rear view mirror.
“Three years ago we had no air conditioning or heat,” Ms. Beeson said. “We’re working in the shelter under these conditions right along with the animals.”
One of the largest criticisms the shelter faced was its euthanization rate. At one point the shelter received a great deal of backlash because of euthanizing nearly 60 cats.
Thanks to the improved methods, euthanizing animals is the last resort in most cases. There are still the court-ordered and medically-necessary euthanizations which make up a large portion of the 17 percent rate of euthanization, a rate well below the 50-plus percent average across the state and the area.
“We’ve formed a lot of partnerships with the rescues, the doctors, a lot of changes all the way around,” Ms. Beeson said. “We’re able to vaccinate when animals come into the shelter to keep down sickness. It all goes hand-in-hand for a better tomorrow for all of our animals.”
Also gone are the days of shelter personnel and the animal control officers sharing a confined and cramp workspace. Gone is 10 people sharing two computers and a workspace small enough to make a sardine feel cramped and uncomfortable.
Replacing it are separate areas for the two agencies that were combined into one. Shelter workers have their space and ACS officers have theirs.
The ACS officers benefited from the arrival of a refurbished school hut. Additionally, the officers have new trucks to carry out their duties.
The trucks are equipped with new cages and even an air circulating system to keep the animals just a little more comfortable.
In addition, when they go on a call, ACS officers can use portable microchip readers to help locate the owners. Something Ms. Beeson said wasn’t a possibility that long ago.
“New microchip readers are available on the trucks and we all have one,” Ms. Beeson said. “In the past the only one we had was at the shelter. Now we can all check for microchips when needed.”
Other significant changes to the system and processes include a computer app-based adoption system. The new system allows for out-of-office adoptions, according to Ms. Beeson.
Now shelter personnel can enter adoption information into the system remotely, collect the identification information of people rather than using paper copies and begin the process of adoption quicker.
“We’ve got new uniforms, we’re all wearing scrubs now in the shelter and not a full uniform anymore,” Ms. Beeson said. “We’ve got new trucks, a new look and a brighter and friendlier Harnett County Animal Services. It’s all about better care for the animals.”
Admittedly, Ms. Beeson says there’s still some shortcomings, mostly because of a lack of personnel in the shelter — and the needed funding to hire an additional shelter worker.
Ms. Beeson and her staff of two consistently put in extra hours, working sometimes as late as 8 or 9 p.m., well past the scheduled closing time, in order to make sure the animals are fed, clean and taken care of medically and in every other way.
“We need another person, but the budget hasn’t allowed it,” she said. “We’ve been working overtime to make up for the shortage. It’s very difficult, but we’ll continue moving forward.”
With the lack of another staff member, the shelter has turned to the volunteers who have offered their services.
Ms. Beeson credits those caring individuals for playing a major role in keeping the shelter running consistently and as smoothly as possible.
“Most of our work is done by those volunteers,” Ms. Beeson said. “What they do each and every day is simply amazing.”
There’s one other thing she believes will have to eventually happen as Harnett County grows — building an adoption center separate from the shelter.
She believes the addition of an adoption center, which has been done in places such as Lee County, would help make the process of adoption more streamlined and would give shelter staff the chance to completely separate animals up for adoption from those at other stages in the process, including those who are a health hazard.
With the growth of the county, she sees it as a necessity more than a desire.
“One of the best ways to help us really, would be adding to the shelter,” she said. “We have been kicking around the need for an adoption center and using the current shelter as a holding center. A lot of growing shelters have been able to do that and it’s helped.”
Finally, Ms. Beeson believes one thing that will help a great deal is to continue her campaign of educating the public on spay and neutering and making sure all pets leaving the shelter are involved.
After past attempts of using vouchers or transporting animals to Vass for medical care have basically failed — only about 60 percent of pets were spayed or neutered at the high mark previously — the new system requiring a trip to the veterinarian has brought about a drastic change to 96 percent.
When someone adopts now, they enter into a spay and neuter contract. The contract involves shelter staff making the appointment then following up afterward to make sure the appointment was kept.
If not, then the adopter runs the risk of being placed on the no-adoption list or being fined and usually having the pet they just took home brought back.
It all goes along with the new brand the shelter has created for itself — pun intended.
“Care They Need, Love They Deserve. Chews To Adopt, Chews the Harnett County Animal Shelter.”