‘You’re my best friend:’ The good boys and girls of the Guilford County Animal Shelter
“I am having an emotional day,” said Guilford County Animal Shelter volunteer Allison Dunmore as she started tearing up. “They come to us, with broken souls. They start loving, they start learning, they start thriving. To be able to thrive in this atmosphere is a real challenge.”
“But like Diamond here, she came to us, and she was so scared of everyone and everything. She is one of our over-bred, under-fed and unloved babies,” Dunmore added as she called for Diamond to come closer.
Dunmore has been a volunteer with the Guilford County Animal Shelter for eight years, and she primarily works with the dogs. Dunmore’s shift is three days a week for two hours each time, but sometimes, two hours turns into four. Her duties include working one-on-one with the dogs for obedience training, and “whatever the dog wants to do.” For instance, “Diamond likes to go on a little sniff walk; the dog I had out earlier just thought that there was nothing in the world like playing fetch, so we played for a while,” she said. “Whatever they find enriching and whatever keeps them going, I like to do with them.”
Dunmore said before she started volunteering, she went through a lot of hardship and was trying to figure out what to do with her life next. In the meantime, she decided to start spending time with the dogs, which turned into eight years.
“I am just finishing up my degree in canine behavior, so yes, it was beneficial,” she said. “When I was looking for what to do next, they kind of led me down this path. I went from an exceptional children teacher to an exceptional doggie teacher.”
Dunmore said with dogs, what you see is what you get.
“There is an honesty to them; there is a forgiveness to them,” she said. “Humans couldn’t have nearly the compassion as these animals — the amount of forgiveness. For thousands of years, they have been our companions. And that is all a dog wants to do more than anything else in the world, have a human to love.”
Just as Dunmore was finishing her sentence, Diamond plopped on the ground and rolled over, begging to have her tummy rubbed.
“That’s it, that is Miss Diamond,” she said with a giggle and stopped rubbing the dog’s belly. Diamond looked up, almost demanding with sweet, wide eyes that Dunmore continue to give her tummy rubs. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to stop scratching your belly,” Dunmore said. “Can’t you tell this is a fearful dog?” Dunmore joked as we both laughed and shared an “aww-moment.”
Guilford County Animal Shelter’s community engagement manager Lisa Lee brings the animals in the shelter to the community by managing GCAS’s social media accounts (an Instagram account is coming soon), planning outreach events such as mobile adoptions (the next one coming up is in July at Friendly Center’s Whole Foods), and partnering with local colleges and universities such as Guilford College’s new Roar Club. Lee said that the municipal government funds and runs the animal shelter.
“We took over the shelter about three years ago from a nonprofit organization,” Lee said. “It was animal control that would pick up dogs in a field and drop them off and leave, and the nonprofit would do the adoption.”
When the county took over the adoption side, she said it had become collectively known as animal services. Lee said usually the GCAS averages 320 animals altogether. According to the GCAS report for 2018, from the years 2016 to 2017, total animal intake decreased by about 1,500, and from 2017 to 2018, the intake rate dropped by about 3,000.
The rate of owner-surrenders also dropped from 3,516 in 2016, to 2,553 in 2017, and fell again to 1,118 in 2018. Lee attributed this drop to the shelter’s managed intake system, which requires owner-surrenders to make an appointment before dropping off their animal.
“Before, when I started here, there was a line out the door of perfectly healthy animals, and people just standing in the sun because they were moving or the landlord wouldn’t take them, or the dog chewed a hole in the rug, and we had absolutely zero space,” Lee said. “Yeah, it might be two to three weeks out for an appointment, but it gives us time to provide those owners with resources. Maybe they can’t keep their dog because they need pet food? Maybe they can’t keep their cat because she keeps having kittens? We can take care of that; we can help get their cats spayed/neutered. We are starting now to provide the community with different resources to keep pet retention at home and not in the shelter.”
Lee said she has always been an animal lover. She originally came from a law enforcement background. She took a break from that field and started working as an animal control officer and investigator in Fort Myers, Florida.
“I went there and did an interview with a pit bull on my lap in my dress,” she said. Lee became an animal cruelty officer, a field training officer and then moved to Greensboro to start her position at GCAS.
“From where we were then to where we are now, it is like a complete 180 improvement,” she said. “It is really exciting; we have a lot of good stuff going on.”
Kristen Wheeley is a 22-year-old employee of GCAS. Her duties include cleaning the dogs’ kennels, spending time with the dogs, feeding the dogs, and helping potential adopters find their new best friend.
Wheeley said she always loved working with animals since she was young, and she wanted to be a veterinarian. But the medical side of the job discouraged her. Instead, she went to Alamance Community College and got an associate’s degree in animal care and management. She worked at a private shelter in Mebane called, Paws Forever before she started in Guilford County.
Wheeley said the difference between public shelters and private shelters is that the public shelters, “have to take in every animal that comes to them. The private shelters don’t, so they all have different rules and standards of what they take in. Some places are breed-specific.”
Lee said that most of the dogs that are at the shelter are mixed “bully breeds.”
“We don’t like using the word pit bull,” Lee said. “It is a bad connotation. People think ‘oh it is a pit bull, it is aggressive.’ So, bully breeds can be anything.”
Both Wheeley and Lee agreed that the biggest misconceptions that the public has of GCAS is that the shelter euthanizes animals immediately after they are surrendered.
“That is the big thing, that we kill everything,” Lee said. “It is obviously not the truth.”
“That is not true, at all, there is a whole process for it,” Wheeley said. “They go into intake to make sure they have all of their shots, perform assessments to make sure they are safe, and behaviorally OK. When I did work at the private shelter, a lot of people would call and say, ‘oh will you please take my pet I don’t want them to get put down,’ and most shelters don’t do that anymore.”
“We do euthanize, but we don’t euthanize for space,” Lee clarified. “We have an 81% live outcome rate, and if we were another 9%, we would be considered a no-kill shelter.”
Lee said the choice to euthanize is a tough decision for everyone involved, and it has to meet specific parameters in terms of “behavioral, bite level, aggression, and medically untreatable” factors.
Wheeley walked me through the process of adoption: First, potential adopters come in and look around at the dogs they are interested in. Then, they can ask a volunteer or employee to take a dog out a spend about 10 minutes with them, just to get the feel of their personality. If the person wants to adopt, they fill out an application.
“We can hold dogs for up to an hour if someone needs to leave for some reason and come back,” Wheeley said. “If they are not already spayed or neutered, they have to be spayed or neutered before they go home. We give you all their records, paperwork and resources (such as potty training, or dog-to-dog training resources) and a small bag of food.”
The fee for adoption is $50 for adult dogs, $25 for seniors (8 years and up) and $75 for puppies (7 months and under).
Meet some of the good boys and girls
Mozart is a super cute 7-year-old bully breed, who is heartworm-positive. Lee said he qualifies as a foster-to-adopt candidate for heartworm treatment. Lee said that Mozart was owner-surrendered in the field, and the owner thinks he is hearing impaired. Mozart is treat-motivated and knows basic commands. “I really like him, I just think he is so adorable, he’s just like tilting his head,” Wheeley said. “He is short, so I think that is really cute.”
Diamond, who was mentioned above, is a sweet 3-year-old bully breed, who was brought into the shelter as a stray from High Point, Lee said. Diamond is a gentle girl who is also heartworm-positive and qualifies for heartworm treatment as a foster-to-adopt candidate.
“She was so afraid when she first came in,” Dunmore said. “We had to work with her for a while because she had no history of trusting humans; her nature was not to be afraid of humans it was her nurture that took her there.” After getting acclimated to shelter life, Dunmore said Diamond is a sweet and easy-going girl who, obviously, loves tummy rubs.
Rabbit is a 10-year-old female, who was owner-surrendered and has been at the shelter for a while. Lee said Rabbit is listed as a Dalmatian-mix who loves adults and children. Rabbit loves to go on rides and “has done great when taken to adoption events,” Lee said.
“She is an older gal, she is 10,” Wheeley said. “But she is super sweet, and I just think she is cute because she does a little happy dance all of the time.”
Tigger is a 6-year-old Mastiff male who was surrendered to the shelter in April because his owner passed away, Lee said. He is a large, strong boy that is also heartworm-positive. Lee said Tigger is a gentle-giant that loves attention but needs someone strong who can handle his size. “He is a big guy, and he loves tennis balls, and he goes absolutely nuts for them,” Wheeley said. “We keep them outside, and he will try to knock them over to grab like five in his mouth.”
The Have-A-Heart Fund is a fund for heartworm-positive animals at the shelter that incentivizes potential owners to “foster-to-adopt,” and in return, GCAS pays for their expensive treatment.
“If you wanted to adopt Diamond, you would be her foster mom first while she goes through treatment with one of our veterinary partners, which is a series of three injections,” Lee said. “Once they have the treatment, they need bed rest, and after the last treatment, fosters are provided with resources, and then the adoption is complete. It is kind of like giving a dog a second chance.”
Jessica Mashburn, a volunteer for GCAS and an animal activist, attributes the homeless pet population to irresponsible citizens in the community.
“It will truly ‘take a village’ to get them home and to educate about the importance of spay/neuter,” she wrote in a Facebook message. “The shelter is funded by county property taxes, and unfortunately, those that pay the most in property taxes do not visit or adopt from the shelter often. I know in my heart if folks in our county simply visited the shelter, even if they cannot adopt, they would want to either volunteer, foster or would demand that our shelter be funded better.”
Mashburn encourages those who have the time, to pick some cats and dogs to campaign for and help them get a home by telling their friends, neighbors and coworkers all about them. (On Mashburn’s Facebook page, she can be seen taking her own advice quite often.)
“Everyone needs an agent, right? See not, want not,” she continued. “These animals are members of our community, too, and we should all care about them. Keeping them out of sight and mind only perpetuates the problem. They deserve love; everything is connected. Seeing a homeless animal find a loving, forever home is such a beautiful feeling. As someone that does not have children, it’s been the greatest expression of my maternal instinct to find homes for shelter pets.”
Volunteering is always welcomed at GCAS, and choosing to “adopt not shop” is highly encouraged. Volunteering could be just spending quality time with the animals to socialize them; or helping GCAS employees clean the facilities; it could also be holding fundraisers for food, litter and other essentials for the shelter; or making a monetary donation.
“By adopting a rescue dog, you save two dogs,” Lee said. “One that you are rescuing is making space for another animal at the shelter.”
Wheeley encourages people to do research first when they are looking for a new best friend.
“If you do want a certain breed, see if there are rescues that do those breeds and look it up online. Go into the shelters, spend time in the shelters. Ask a lot of questions, they are there to help you,” she said. “All shelters will have resources for you. We work here, and we know the dogs, so if you are looking for a calmer dog or energetic dog, we will be able to match you with that fit.”
As an eight-year volunteer, Dunmore said one must “have a big heart, and be able to say goodbye because there are a lot of goodbyes,” she explained. “And that is OK, because for every goodbye, there is a new hello. If you don’t know patience, you will learn patience. This is one of the best things you can do if you want to learn to be more zen in your life. If you want to learn mindfulness, volunteer with these dogs.”
Dunmore encourages potential adopters to open their minds and not be deceived by outward appearances.
“Whatever you can do, please, please do to help these animals,” she said. “So much has been said against the shelter and all, but you will never find a more caring and compassionate group than the people that come in here and do this every day. You will never find a group of people that loves these animals than the people that come here and do this day after day. They are the absolute heroes.”
Dunmore said a pet is a lifetime commitment, “so think long and hard before you get a pet and make sure you get that pet for the rest of its life. Spay and neuter it; we have way too many now that need homes, we don’t need anymore.”
“Every animal here needs a second chance,” Lee said. “I know we just have bully breeds, but these bully breeds are loving animals. All of our animals are fully vetted and microchipped. I mean where else can you get a fully vetted, microchipped animal for a $50 adoption fee?”
Looking to the future, Lee said GCAS is planning to expand to a new shelter, located on Guilford College Road.
“We are working toward our new animal shelter, that is supposed to hopefully be done in the next couple of years,” Lee said. “It is going to be a brand new bright and shiny building. We are hoping to break ground before the year is over.”
Lee hopes the new shelter will be a destination for people, one that they visit after church on Sundays or on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Who knows, you might find your new best friend there.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.