Animal shelters are not what they used to be

Nancy Ryan has been the shelter supervisor in New Hanover County for more than 20 years.

"This is not a job. This is really a calling," said Ryan.

She's seen a lot of changes. One of the biggest, doing away with the gas chamber to euthanize animals.

Ryan will be the first to tell you, the shelter is not a rescue. They have limited space so euthanasia is sometimes the only option but it is not a decision that is made lightly.

"I will beg, borrow, and steal if I have to from other people to say hey we really need help with this animal," Ryan said. "And we have a great community of rescue groups and vets in this area so we are very lucky but when you've exhausted every avenue then you realize there's nothing else I can do for this animal."

Unlike 20 years ago, there's a huge emphasis on making sure every animal is spayed or neutered which they can now do on site.

"The first thing that it does is you are no longer part of the the problem. When we send an animal out of here it is not breeding and that's a huge thing," said Ryan.

Social media has been a huge game changer in getting more animals adopted.

"It just blew the doors off our adoptions," Ryan said. "It's easy enough to have someone describe a dog over the phone but to see a picture of the dog, people connect with that."

And there's the staff. Just about everyone who works at the shelter has adopted an animal. Sgt. Stephen Blissett walks by the kennels everyday and fell in love with Kane who comes back to the kennel to visit and play with the others dogs but now goes home with Blissett every night.

"It's a good feeling because the whole goal is of course is to get the dogs adopted that's what we want or returned to their owners if they've gotten loose but that's the whole goal here and it feels good to have one," he said.

Other shelters have made similar changes. In Columbus County, director Joey Prince says rescue coordinator Loretta Shipman made huge improvements to begin networking and coordinating social media and rescue groups to get more animals fostered or adopted. He credits his staff and volunteers with the shelter and Columbus Humane Society for helping with adoption fairs, food drives and other needs. Prince says they now have the ability to give rabies shots at the shelter and they can also play music to help calm the dogs in their kennels.

In Pender County, director Jewell Horton says the biggest improvements are mandated onsite spay/neuter and micro-chipping before adoption. Just this year, they implemented an enrichment yard for help with training and stress relief.

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