Shelters in North Carolina provide temporary refuge for abandoned pets as demand rises

Buffy, a 3-month-old kitten, is being weighed by Mary Dow, director and volunteer at the Independent Animal Rescue clinic in Durham. (Photo by Danelis Olivera-Herrera.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

By Danelis Olivera-Herrera

Animals surrendered to animal control or abandoned often face fending for themselves on the streets or death. North Carolina is one of many states where the demand for animal rescue exceeds available fostering and adoption resources, particularly in the Triangle, Wilmington, Winston-Salem and Charlotte areas.

Various shelters and sanctuaries in North Carolina offer temporary refuge for abandoned pets until they can be adopted, serving just about every type of animal from the usual household pets like cats and dogs, to pigs and goats.

Independent Animal Rescue, Durham

Independent Animal Rescue (IAR), one of the older nonprofit animal rescues in the Triangle area, is located in Durham and was founded in 1994. The organization is a foster-based rescue that was historically staffed by volunteers but recently was able to hire paid staff.

Lex Tamvakis is among those paid staff members, serving as fundraising and communications manager.

“We’ve already brought in, I think, more dogs in the past three months than we did for the first three months of the year last year,” Tamvakis said. “We’re seeing an increase in requests from owners who have to surrender their animals for different reasons that are requesting that we can intake them.”

IAR currently has under its care 205 animals – 160 cats and 45 dogs – but some of them are not available for adoption until various health issues are addressed. IAR also holds cat clinics every other Sunday for feral cats or those found roaming a neighborhood.

Like many nonprofits, IAR seeks the support of the community in many ways, not just those wanting to adopt a pet.

“We take some things that maybe are not as common today in animal rescue. We are always in need of old hand towels or bath towels that we use for animals to recover after surgery.” Tamvakis said.

Animal City Haven, Charlotte

Animal City Haven (ACH) in Charlotte, a foster-based rescue that is also run by volunteers, is not your typical shelter. It cares for animals whose owners have died and don’t have family who can adopt their pets.

People with pets and nobody to pass them along to, can make arrangements with ACH in advance. Also, if ACH board members learn about animals who have gone to other shelters for this reason, they will take in those animals, too.

“We offer security to pet parents to ensure that their pet will not go to animal control if something should happen to them,” said Leah Henrichsen, founder and president of ACH.

Henrichsen came up with the idea for the organization as she herself doesn’t have family in the area.

“And if something happens to me, all of my pets would go to animal control because there is no other option,” Henrichsen said. “There was nobody like us that said, ‘Hey, it’s OK, we’ll protect them, we’ll find them a home’”

People who contact ACH ahead of time are asked about their plans for the pet’s future, whether they have godparents for the pet or want it re-homed, and if they have multiple pets that should be kept together.

 “We create a forever care plan for each pet, sort of telling us, Animal City, what to do in the case of an emergency,” Henrichsen said.

The nonprofit has a small board, and it’s the members of the board along with a few volunteers who care for most of the animals until they can be placed. This limits how many animals the group can help.

“We are pretty limited with how many of those kinds of pets that we can help because we don’t have all the money in the world to do that,” Henrichsen said. “But how we do it is through our foster care program, and that is the only way we can do this work—through people saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll take that pet into my house and house that pet until they are adopted out.’”

According to Henrichsen, donations are not a dependable source of income. While always welcomed, they are not sustainable, and the organization has faced challenges reaching a wider audience.

Chihuahua Rescue and Transport

This is also true for Chihuahua Rescue and Transport (CRT), whose mission is to rescue Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes throughout three regions in the United States — Midwest, Southeast and Southwest — since 1996.

“We used to do really well on, like, T-shirt fundraisers. We did calendars with our past dogs and did really well within the last two to three years, but those fundraisers are just nothing like they used to be in our in-person events,” said Scott Frye, board member and president of CRT.

“They’re [people] very, and with good reason, are really cautious with their money. Our donations are way down big time, so it’s taken a financial hit and we’ve had to really, the last couple of months, step back.”

CRT currently has 80 dogs in foster homes, with 21 of them being considered for hospice care because of their age or general physical condition.

Eva Cushman, a CRT volunteer, is the “queen” of hospice sanctuary, according to Frye.

Although not part of her volunteer duties, Cushman stays in touch with the adoptees and even dog sits the beloved pets when their owners are out of town.

“Every single one of them, of those dogs has a piece of my heart, and they have in some way changed me. As long as I’m breathing, I will keep helping them and taking them,” Cushman said.

Cushman said she’s a “Chihuahua girl at heart” and has been throughout her life, but some days, the constant presence of death weighs on her.

During Hurricane Florence, a CRT foster home was severely impacted, and the foster parent and her neighbor had to wait for the Cajun Navy Relief to rescue them from heavy flooding.

“We were actually in that neighborhood before FEMA got there,” Frye recalled. “It was just like being in another world — very humbling.”

Animal Victory, Wilmington

Another organization that adds to similar efforts is Animal Victory (AV), based in Wilmington N.C. AV works with organizations to aid animals in crisis situations, such as natural disasters and conflict zones, by offering supplies, food and medical care.

AV has an extensive domestic and international network which allows it to effectively support smaller charities. The organization also raises money to back animal welfare efforts during disasters and conflicts.

Projects include the 2023 Home Street Home initiative supporting pets of people experiencing homelessness and the rescuing and protecting of animals during the war between Hamas and Israel.

“For the Syria-Turkey earthquake, we collected close to $40,000,” said Janelle Babington, executive director of AV. “We worked only with one person there because she did have a big base in Istanbul and she knew what she was doing.”

Grey Muzzle Organization

The Grey Muzzle Organization, similar to AV, supports animal welfare groups nationwide with funding and resources and raises funds to help organizations that may otherwise struggle to care for senior dogs.

“We’ve been very fortunate that every year we’ve been able to increase our funding and our grants by at least 10%,” said Lisa Lunghofer, executive director of Grey Muzzle.

In 2024 Grey Muzzle received roughly 370 applications from organizations all over the country and internationally as well, according to Lunghofer. In 2023, Grey Muzzle awarded 90 grants totaling $848,000.

The grants help senior dogs by supporting programs that prevent their surrender, providing veterinary and dental care, hospice programs, and offering resources to the general public such as initiatives to help people rehome their senior dogs.

“We’re not a foundation. Everything, the amount that we give out every year in grants, is entirely dependent on how much we bring in from individual donations from the public,” Lunghofer said.

Jenna and Friends Sanctuary, Chapel Hill

Jenna and Friends Sanctuary, located in Chapel Hill, is not run by a woman named Jenna.

Instead, it is run by Anna O’Neal, founder and primary caretaker, who dedicated her pig sanctuary to her beloved dog Jenna, who passed away suddenly in March of 2017. At that time, O’Neal was in the process of obtaining nonprofit status for her sanctuary and had only a couple pigs

“It was just the timing, and I was so heartbroken, and it just made sense to do it,” O’Neal said. “A lot of people call me Jenna and I just, I don’t even correct them anymore.”

O’Neal has seen the impact social media has on misconceptions about farm animals like pigs.

“Social media can be such a great tool as far as spreading education and the truth about pigs, but it’s also just a haven for miscommunication and falsehoods about, you know, they show like little, little, tiny little piglets running around and they’re just like so cute and like, oh, I want a pig,” O’Neal said. “So, they go to a breeder, don’t ever, like, let a breeder tell you that, you know, they really care for the animals. They’re doing it for the money.”

An hour and a half drive from Jenna and Friends Sanctuary is another farm dedicated to helping animals you don’t normally see as pets in people’s homes.

Fairytale Farm, Winston Salem

Fairytale Farm, in Winston Salem, is run by Kimberly Dunckel and her husband Arthur Dunckel. The farm has a fair number of goats, ducks and two donkeys named Lorelai and Luke.

The goats are divided into two groups: those with special needs and the rowdy ones that love to play-fight whenever possible.

“They’re so curious and sometimes kids are nervous about them, and I’m like, they’re basically, like, puppies with horns,” Dunckel said.

Each animal has unique needs. For example, Simone, according to Dunckel, was born without ligaments in one of her legs, and her owner felt unable to provide the care she required.

“It’s different every time, but usually it’s either they’re born with something a little bit different, and the people realize that they can’t give them the extra care they need where they are, and they’ll contact us and ask us,” Dunckel said.

According to Frye, he has “unfortunately, seen the worst in humans in some of the situations,” but acknowledges the impact his work and that of others within the animal community has on those without a voice. O’Neal feels the same way.

“I know for a fact I’ve impacted some people and made them fall in love with pigs and hopefully spark a few seeds that somebody will eventually get to a place in their life where they can, you know what, I’m going to rescue a pig and get down that path.”

Joy, a baby goat at Fairytale Farm in Winston Salem, wears a harness daily due to a possible prey attack injury, according to her caretaker Kimberly Dunckel. Although Joy prefers being without the harness, her caretakers try to keep her in it briefly each day to help her adjust. They hope using the cart early will aid her adaptation and ease joint stress as she grows. (Photo by Danelis Olivera-Herrera.)

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