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CMPD Animal Care & Control Opens Satellite Shelter Amidst Crisis

A woman reaches out to two dogs that are behind a fence in a kennel
CMPD Animal Care & control spokesperson Melissa Knicely at the temporary overflow facility on Toomey Avenue. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Several times a week, a CMPD Animal Care & Control employee is tasked with one of the most gruesome jobs at the shelter; they are given a wheelbarrow filled with euthanized animals and told to take them to the incinerator for cremation. Then, they painstakingly clean the machine for the next time it’s needed.

The incinerator has been needed often in 2023.

The CMPD Animal Care & Control shelter has been battling a capacity crisis for the past two years. During this time, death by euthanasia numbers have reached an all-time high due to a lack of space, with staffing nd volunteers also in short supply.

To help alleviate the growing demand for kennels, the shelter opened a satellite location in October at the old Humane Society shelter on Toomey Road. This is saving lives but it still isn’t enough, Animal Care and Control spokesperson Melissa Knicely told Queen City Nerve during a visit to the new space on Nov. 1.

CMPD’s main shelter is undergoing renovations that have cut its kennel space by 15-20 kennels at any given time. While the satellite shelter provides an additional 28 kennels, Animal Care and Control remains at capacity and dogs keep pouring in, Knicely said.

Because of the never-ending influx of animals, more dogs are being euthanized. Additionally, the shelter is so full that it is no longer accepting owner surrenders, Knicely said.  

A line of kennels at the CMPD Animal Care & Control overflow facility.
CMPD Animal Care & Control is utilizing the former Humane Society shelter. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

As of September, 1,050 animals had been euthanized by the shelter in 2023, according to CMPD AC&C. For the entire year of 2022 that number was 1,262.

In 2022, 146 of these euthanasia deaths were due to a lack of space at the shelter. Already in 2023 as of Nov. 2 that number has reached 137.

Typically at the shelter, dogs are euthanized for medical or behavioral reasons, and very occasionally due to space. The past two years have seen that change, however, and 2023 has become one of the worst years for euthanasia deaths due to space in the past decade, Knicely said.

As a communications and outreach manager for the agency, which operates under the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Knicely has had to put out a plea to the public at least 10 times this year, listing dogs up for euthanasia and telling them that if they can’t adopt or foster, difficult decisions will have to be made.

It is unclear why exactly the shelter is becoming so overwhelmed, but it appears a perfect storm of multiple causes. The crisis first came to light as the country began to recover from the harshest parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time that saw many people giving up on pets they had originally adopted as coping mechanisms during lockdowns. 

Other causes may include inflation and the rising cost of living, which drives pets from the homes of people who can no longer afford to take care of them, and a lack of housing that allows large breeds. 

A dog behind a fence
A dog housed at the CMPD Animal Care & Control overflow shelter. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Another likely cause is the fact that kennel capacity hasn’t kept pace with Charlotte’s growing population, Knicely said.

The lack of space coupled with the euthanasia decisions staff are being forced to make add up to what has become one of the toughest years emotionally that Knicely has had in her nearly 17 years at Animal Care and Control, she said. 

An emotional toll with no solutions on the horizon

The job of an Animal Care and Control employee can be a demoralizing one. Staff members and volunteers alike are struggling not just from the physical labor of cleaning out kennels but from having to make the euthanasia decisions for the dogs they’ve cared for every day, Knicely said. 

The high euthanasia numbers often draw an outrage from the public that is directed at the staff rather than the situation.

“They associate us as bad people that are killing the animals,” Knicely said. “We love the animals. That’s why we’re there. We’re not making millions of dollars in these jobs; some of these jobs are very low paid within the city and people are there because they love animals and they want to help.”

Lindsay Kashino, a kennel attendant with AC&C, said burnout from the job is real.

“(Overcrowding) has made it extremely difficult to keep up with everything,” Kashino said. “We have hundreds of dogs and minimal people to try to take care of them.”

A woman walks a dog down a hallway full of kennels
Technicians and kennel attendants like Lindsey Kaschino care for animals around the clock at CMPD Animal Care & Control’s temporary overflow facility. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The shelter needs more fosters and volunteers, she said.

“Anything that gets them out,” Kashino said.

Community advocates have tried taking action on behalf of the shelter. At a public forum addressing Charlotte City Council on Oct. 23, one volunteer and foster pleaded with city officials to do something to help.

“Animals are dying everyday,” Sierra Mascilak told City Council members

In September, 117 animals were euthanized, which averages out to just under 4 animals a day.

There needs to be a bigger shelter and more staff to care for the number of animals Animal Care and Control now has, she said.

“Kennel numbers haven’t changed at the shelter in the past 20 years, yet the Charlotte population has almost doubled,” Mascilak said. “That means that almost double dogs and cats, y’all do the math, where are they going?”

During an August Charlotte City Council meeting, Mayor Vi Lyles said the city is currently in the advanced planning stages for a new AC&C shelter facility, plans for which she said would come in front of council soon. No details have since been provided. 

As of press time, the city did not respond to requests for comment on what they plan to do to alleviate the capacity crisis.

A woman holds a cat and attempts to put it in a cage at the CMPD Animal Care & Control overflow facility.
Cats are also housed at the temporary overflow facility. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

A solution to the shelter’s capacity crisis isn’t clear, Knicely said. The problem can’t be solved by simply adding more kennels or having more space.

“The kennels just don’t clean themselves, the dogs just don’t get fed themselves. You have to have that whole capacity for care,” Knicely said.

This means that the number of staff and the shelter’s operating budget would both have to increase significantly in order to have the capacity to care for additional dogs.

During public forums that have taken place over the last year, including the Oct. 23 meeting, volunteers and staff have asked council to consider removing AC&C from operating under CMPD and creating an independent department tasked solely with animal care. 

Capacity for care at the main shelter is already low due to employee vacancies. Now that capacity is stretched even thinner because the shelter hasn’t received any additional allocations from the city to staff the satellite shelter. Instead, it sacrifices five employees each day to work at the second location.

It is unclear how long the satellite shelter will remain open.

“We could use so many more allocations, we just finished the budget ask for 2025. And that includes a lot more staffing, for vet techs and for kennel attendants,” Knicely said.

In the meantime, the shelter could always use more volunteers, fosters, and folks who are willing to take a dog on a staycation, she said. 

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