Facebook helping more people bring a pet into their home

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 12, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — If an unwanted animal needs a loving home, social media may be a dog’s best friend.
Adoptions at the Rowan County animal shelter have more than doubled in just five months, and officials say volunteers on Facebook have helped save the lives of dozens of dogs and cats.
“The first seven months of this fiscal year, we were only averaging 41 adoptions a month,” said Clai Martin, Rowan County Animal Control Supervisor. “In the past five months, we’re up to 107 a month. … That’s just fantastic.”
Martin said the shelter has definitely been helped by the opening of Faithful Friends in March, along with the return of the Pet of the Week program in the Salisbury Post. But it’s a Facebook page called “Friends of Rowan County Animal Shelter,” that’s catching the attention of potential pet owners.
“We open at 11 a.m. When I come pulling in at 11:15 and count 11 cars in the parking lot, and the majority are here to adopt, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Martin said. “It’s pretty exciting to see all of these animals find owners.”
Candace Honeycutt, a Rockwell resident, created the page. She regularly stops by the shelter to take photos of new dogs and cats that come in. She then uploads them to an album, including the animals’ names and what she knows of their personality.
She and other volunteers send out urgent calls for help when animals don’t have much time left to find a home.
Honeycutt has been involved with the Carolina Basset Hound rescue for the past eight years. In February, she decided to broaden her scope.
She was inspired by a meeting of the Humane Society that encouraged people to find ways to help their local shelters.
“I thought, I like to take pictures… so why not showcase these dogs and cats?” Honeycutt said. “If I could even get just a few adopted, I’d be happy with that.”
Like a Labrador retriever puppy, her idea has grown much faster and larger than she first imagined.
After five months, more than 1,600 people now “like” her Facebook page. Those people often share photos of the animals on their own Facebook profiles for a wider audience to see.
Sometimes, they catch the attention of rescue groups that specialize in certain breeds.
To make adoptions easier for rescue groups and individuals, animal lovers can “sponsor” a cat or dog by paying its $70 adoption fee. The new pet owner must still pay for vaccinations, supplies and any needed veterinary care.
In exchange for the adoption fee, the shelter gives vouchers for spaying or neutering pets. Those that have already been fixed are free to adopt.
The county shelter currently waives the fee for the Faithful Friends Animal Sanctuary in Salisbury, which then vaccinates, spays and neuters the animals it pulls before adopting them out.
“We’ve kept 144 animals since we opened, that we’ve either taken from the shelter or kept from having to go to there,” said Faithful Friends Director Shelley Swaim. “Even if we take an owned animal directly, it’s still freeing up space at the shelter.”
Swaim said she will always work with the county shelter whenever she can. The number of cats or dogs she can pull depends on the number of available foster homes and volunteers.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a no kill sanctuary or an open admission shelter; we’re all in the same boat,” Swaim said. “We’re pretty much at capacity right now.”
Soon, the county could expand its waiver program beyond Faithful Friends, but Martin said the shelter wants to see how this partnership works first.
“We’d like to give it about a year, and then possibly down the road, we might do it for other rescues,” Martin said. “We want to make sure they’re legitimate rescues.”
Maria Pannell, who works at the shelter, said she has contacts with about 40 groups who pay to adopt animals they’re interested in.
“Sometimes, we take pictures of them and send those to a specific rescue group,” Pannell said. “Other times, rescue groups are contacted by people on the Facebook page or somewhere else, and they call us.”
Though many more pets are finding homes, other cats and dogs are still being euthanized.
About 580 unwanted animals arrive at the shelter each month, Martin said, whether they’re picked up by animal control officers, dropped off by rescuers or surrendered by owners.
Some are put down because they are vicious or feral and can’t be adopted out. Others have developed serious illnesses like parvo, which recently broke out among Rowan shelter puppies. The shelter quarantines sick animals, but it can’t afford to vaccinate the healthy ones.
Sometimes, an adoptable animal’s time simply runs out, and the shelter needs to make room for new ones.
Honeycutt said it’s hard to see that happen, but at least she knows “they didn’t go without somebody fighting for them.”
She said she wants to thank everyone who has helped give their furry friends a home.
For anyone considering adopting from a shelter, Honeycutt said, it’s a good idea to make a veterinarian appointment before picking up the pet. That way, they can take the animal straight to the vet for critical tests, vaccinations and other treatments before it’s brought home.
Within 30 days, if an animal is found to have a serious illness and must be euthanized, the shelter will refund the adopter’s veterinary bills.
Honeycutt encourages people who want to make a difference in their community to go ahead and try.
“If you have a thought or an idea… don’t just not do it,” Honeycutt said. “Either try it and it works good, or if it doesn’t, rework it and try it again.”
Martin said there is no volunteer program at the county shelter, but Faithful Friends would welcome additional help. Both shelters could use donations of food, toys, blankets, towels, cat litter and other supplies.
“If you can’t afford to bring anything, just tell people about spay and neuter,” Pannell said.
Swaim, with Faithful Friends, agreed.
“That’s really the answer,” she said. “Until people start to spay and neuter their pets, we’re always going to have the problem of overpopulation and overcrowding at the shelter.”
To reach Faithful Friends Animal Sanctuary, call 704-633-1722. For more information about the Rowan County Animal Shelter, call 704-216-7768.