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The (Unwanted) Pooch Puzzle

The artworks presented in this collection are part of a project titled, “The (Unwanted) Pooch Puzzle." This project was developed in coordination with the SPCA in Wake County, North Carolina, to help rescue domestic pets from euthanasia. The project seeks to cultivate a fresh perspective using the creative arts to bring additional awareness and support for the problem of unwanted domestic pets. Every 9 seconds, an unwanted domestic pet is put down in the U.S., based on studies from the National Council On Pet Population which estimates that 3.7 million are put down each year.

All of the dogs depicted in this exhibition were photographed at here at the Wake County SPCA, a no-kill animal shelter. In 2014, North Carolina animal shelters euthanized 119,751 dogs and cats due to an "unwanted" status. Sadly, many of these domesticated animals were just starting their lives and shared an eagerness to learn about and be a part of this world as much as humans. The problem of high kill rates is not necessarily lower for smaller shelters versus larger ones. A closer look at the statistics from the North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture reveal wide variances between animal shelters. For example, a smaller shelter in Polkton, NC, took in 678 dogs in 2014, and put down 587 of them (86.6%). By contrast, a larger shelter in Henderson, NC, took in 1,566 dogs in 2014, and euthanized 39 of them (2.5%). So why is Henderson's animal shelter so much more successful with pet adoption rates than Polkton's animal shelter?

Proximity does not play much of a role either. Two small towns next to each other and of approximately the same size, have startling different euthanasia rates. Salisbury, NC, took in 2,250 cats and 2,189 dogs in their shelter in 2014. Of those, they terminated 20.36% of the cats, and 10.28% of the dogs. They ran a very effective adoption program, whereby 1,511 cats were adopted and 1,584 dogs were adopted. Lexington, which is about 15 miles away, took in 2,849 cats and 2,757 dogs. Of those, they terminated 91.82% of the cats and 67.39% of the dogs.

Fortunately, concerned citizens of Lexington, NC, fed up with the high kill rates in their town, convinced their county commissioners to vote five to two to turn over the County's animal shelter from the sheriff's department to a nonprofit, United Animal Coalition (UAC), on Dec 9, 2014. UAC was currently running Guilford County's animal shelter, which increased adoptions there from a paltry 3% to 52% as of 2014 and increased return of animals to rightful owners nearly 20%.

Sadly, as long as people are regarding domestic pets as disposable property, this problem will remain difficult to resolve. However, concerned advocacy at the local level, as occurred in Lexington, NC, coupled with compassionate and caring citizens, can start to show surprisingly better results. This project seeks to provide creative support for organizations seeking to address this problem. The work depicted in this exhibition has been fully donated by the Artist to the Wake County SPCA to help raise awareness and funds at the upcoming Fur Ball Benefit, which will be held at the NCSU State Club on Sunday, October 11, 2015. The metaphor of the puzzle used in this series is done in part to describe a difficult problem that can be solved, as well as to appeal to the viewer to reach out and to be the missing pieces in these unwanted dogs lives through adoption.

The SPCA of Wake County is a local, independent, non-profit organization that receives no government funding or tax dollars. They are a no-kill shelter that relies almost entirely on private donations to fund their annual operating budget of $2.4 million. The SPCAs are a group of local humane societies around the world that operate independently from each other and are not affiliated with a national organization, as most people may presume. Each SPCA is a separate entity governed by its own policies and board of directors. To learn more about the Wake County SPCA in North Carolina, please visit their Web site at