LINCOLNTON – The Lincoln County Animal Shelter achieved official no-kill status earlier this month, and it’s been a long time coming. The effort started in 2013, and for the last 12 months the shelter has maintained a live release rate of 90 percent for cats and dogs – the main requirement in becoming no-kill.
“It's definitely been a bumpy road, but this feels pretty amazing,” LCAS Executive Director Hannah Beaver said of the achievement. “It's hard for me to focus on what we've achieved – we’re not done yet.”
A group effort
Beaver started working at LCAS in 2016 and was hired as the executive director by the end of that year.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into programs over years, which has been the key to success,” Beaver said. “We identified needs the shelter was facing and put programs into place that would help those areas. But it's something that's just not done if your community isn't behind you.”
And though Beaver had a vision, and a heart for becoming no-kill, she wasn’t the first to start working toward that designation.
The idea came out of a commissioners meeting in 2013 for a number of reasons.
Lincoln County Commissioner Anita McCall wasn’t yet on the board in 2013, but when she started campaigning in 2015, she voiced support for the mission.
“I met with a lot of no-kill advocates, and I said ‘This is something I want to champion,’” McCall said. “They had made the decision to move toward no-kill philosophy in 2013, yet nothing had been done at all, nothing had happened.”
Once elected, McCall immediately saw two ways to better support the mission: Designate more funding and foster better relationships between local animal advocacy groups.
“The community together has done this,” McCall said. “It wasn’t any one person. People have come out of the woodwork to help us.”
McCall said the ad-hoc group she formed includes some LCAS staff, members of the humane society, Helping Animals to Survive (HATS) representatives and more, and those monthly meetings have opened lines of communication.
“Hannah has done an exceptional job, the no-kill ad hoc team was there to say, ‘What do you need?’ and we connect her volunteers who can do those things,” McCall said.
McCall said the shelter staff, including Beaver, have gotten training and information from Austin Pets Alive! – a Texas-based no-kill group – which has been a guide through the process.
“When they came back they were on fire,” McCall said, rattling off the ideas Beaver and her team brought back from Austin.
HATS President Matt Anderson said the no-kill goal in Lincoln County started as a “grassroots movement” back in 2013, and HATS was formed in 2014 to support that.
HATS has a spay and neuter program, hosts adoption events, raises money for the shelter, educates community members and does other initiatives.
“I’m really not surprised it has happened because we have a director who is committed to making it happen and who is willing to put in the work to make it happen,” Anderson said of becoming no-kill. “Hannah and her team have the right people doing the right things.
“They’re not looking at the D students saying ‘at least we’re better than them,’ they’re looking at the A students saying ‘We’re going to be like them or better.’”
The obstacles, solutions
Beaver said the No. 1 problem she identified early on in her role was overcrowding at the shelter.
“We had no control over that,” Beaver said. “The care wasn't to the personalized degree we can give today. Now we do heartworm work, address individual behavioral needs. There were so many animals we couldn't do that before. There were just too many.”
And one of the keys to creating space is fostering, Beaver said.
“Fostering used to be really difficult,” Beaver explained. “It involved lots of paperwork and home checks. But we found people offering to foster were doing it for the right reasons, so we’re trusting in people who were coming forward to help. It’s a lot more welcoming.”
The other challenge, Beaver said, was educating people about community cats and keeping cats out of the shelter.
In order to become a no-kill facility, the shelter had to maintain a live release rate of 90 percent for both cats and dogs for 12 months – if the shelter falls below that one month, they have to start over. Beaver said maintaining that for cats proved to be challenging because of the influx of kittens in the summers. She said “well-meaning people” will find a litter of newborn kittens and bring them to the shelter.
“It's incredibly hard to keep six bottle-fed babies alive,” Beaver said. “They need to be fed every two hours and stimulated to use the bathroom. They do much better with a mama than we can ever do. They’re super cute but super fragile and difficult.”
HATS has organized some programs to better educate people about cats, including their new spay and neuter program. People can bring in cats to be spayed and neutered for free, and then those cats will be re-released into the community they were taken from, Anderson explained. And Beaver said that really is the best option, especially for community cats with no designated home.
“The county is really looking at how we can we help you keep your pet,” Anderson said. “Sometimes they need a hand up like a like a low-cost spay and and neuter. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to keep pets (if they can get help).”
McCall said the fight isn’t over, and commissioners still have more work to do to support the county shelter.
“In years past, I think people felt aimals were more disposable, whereas today we look at them as children,” she said. “Years ago they would kill for space, that's the whole thing with no kill, it’s not the case anymore. … We need to work together not only to maintain but to progress.”
Anderson shared a similar sentiment.
“We’ve made it to this point, our 12 consecutive months,” he said. “It’s not just HATS, it’s not just the shelter. … It’s the community itself that's really grasped this whole idea and is making the effort to make this happen. … Going forward, we’ve gone 12 months, let’s go 13, let’s go 24, 36.”
Beaver said she’d like to see Lincoln County continue to become more of a resource so pet owners can keep their animals. And making sure the shelter sees less cats in the summer will be “the cornerstone of success.”
“While we want to celebrate, we need help more than ever,” Beaver said. “We want to encourage more people to volunteer because we have lots more we want to offer and lots more we want to achieve.”