Onslow County Animal Services Shelter is located in Jacksonville, North Carolina, an area bustling with military operations and plenty of Marines. The shelter is a busy, bright, welcoming place conveniently located near schools and beside a county park.
Municipal shelters are often located next to county utilities, near the landfill or the waste processing plant. Too often they are down backroads, in out-of-the-way places, so it was great to arrive at this recently renovated shelter located right in the heart of its community.
It was also great to see a familiar face. We met Tyler, the shelter manager, in 2022 on our winter shelter tour when we visited Gaston Animal Control and Care in Gastonia, North Carolina where she was the shelter manager. Not long after our visit there, she moved back to her hometown in Onslow County and in April she began work as the shelter manager at Onslow.
The shelter handles about four thousand animals each year with a staff of only eleven. The beautiful, airy newly renovated building has large kennels (with an amazing ventilation system for each kennel!), an expansive lobby, a veterinary suite, kennels for adoption, intake, and holds (stray, legal, bite). They have a large play yard and three separate spaces for meet and greets.
For years, the shelter has been able to depend on donations to feed their animal population, and so they don’t have a budget to buy food. This year, for the first time, they are struggling to feed their animals. Tyler isn’t sure if that is a reflection on the current economy or on the supply chain issues that Amazon and Walmart are having, but it’s created a challenge for the shelter.
Most of the animals leave Onslow through local adoption, but they also work with rescues and would love to find more rescue connections. It would literally save lives.
Each week they have about 20 adoptions, which is important because their intake can be more than twice that. With a Live Release Rate of about 65%, they have to make some hard decisions. Dogs with serious medical issues and dogs who are dog or human aggressive are likely to be euthanized if a rescue placement is not found.
Onslow is located in a military community. There are about 40,000 marines living nearby. This creates a transient community and owner surrenders due to deployment are huge. While the military members often are the best volunteers – cleaning, building, helping, they are also volunteers that come and go on a regular basis.
As I listened to Tyler talk about the challenges of dealing with a transient population, I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibilities also. I’ve long thought that military members would be the perfect foster families. They often don’t know how long they will be in one place. Adopting an animal is a risky proposition. Fostering seems like the perfect solution.
There are so many animals who would thrive and eventually be adopted if they only had more time and attention. What if military members and families fostered dogs for the shelter? They could provide stability and love at an incredibly tough time for so many dogs, helping them to find their feet and eventually adoptive homes. In return, families that would love to have a dog, get to receive the joy of having a dog in their lives, but not the guilt of having to surrender that dog when they are deployed.
Tyler would love to connect with the military community to create a foster program that could save more lives at Onslow County Animal Shelter. This idea could work in other places where shelters struggle because of the military presence. It doesn’t need to be a hindrance to their work—it could be the key to turning the page and becoming a place where every animal gets a real chance.
Maybe I’m a dreamer, but my little brother is a twenty-two year veteran of the Air Force and I know the size of his heart. I know if he’d been given this opportunity when he was stationed in North Carolina, he would have seized it. Like many in the military, he’s a person who is naturally inclined to help others.
There are so many solutions to the crisis of healthy, adoptable dogs dying in our nations shelters. Like so many situations, we need to stop accepting the problem and focus on the solutions. They are out there. This country loves dogs. I know that if they are given the information and empowered to help, they will step up.
If you’d like to help Onslow save more lives, here are a few ways to help:
If you live in the community, volunteer and/or foster.
If you have a military connection in North Carolina (or anywhere), have a conversation about how a local military community can help their local animal shelter save more lives by fostering instead of adoption.
Shop their Amazon wishlist (they need food!): https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/36Q2K58I9OTMN
We can all do something; we can all tell someone. That’s what will bring the change we need.
Until each one has a home,
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Learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.
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