Chatham Animal Rescue and Education, Inc.
The History of Chatham Animal Rescue and Education

By: Valerie Broadway
November 2015

Recently, Chatham Animal Rescue and Education (CARE) celebrated its 40 year anniversary with a dinner, raffle, and International Cat Video viewing. There was a packed crowd at the Pittsboro Roadhouse. It was a wonderful time and at a scale that could only have been dreamt of forty years ago.

Chatham Animal Rescue and Education was incorporated in 1975 by a small group of Siler City residents, headed by Clara Phillips. It was originally called the Chatham Humane Society. Creating a grassroots organization from scratch is extremely involved. Forty years ago working on behalf of animal welfare was a hard sell to most county officials, therefore the group's momentum stalled.

In the mid-1980s I was talking to the Chatham County Dog Warden Duke Fletcher about starting a local humane organization. He suggested looking into revamping the Chatham Humane Society. The original organizer was very supportive and helpful, so I ran an ad in the newspaper announcing a meeting and held my breath. Six people showed up at the Wren Memorial Library in Siler City, and from that moment we were off and running.

Those early years were hard work for the devoted volunteers. There were many strays in the county; especially in the rural areas where unwanted pets were regularly abandoned. For several years there were about a dozen core Chatham Humane Society volunteers. In addition to providing a network of foster homes, Chatham Humane Society members often met with county officials in an effort to improve systems related to animal welfare issues. The volunteers also organized a variety of public informational, educational, and fundraising events; one very popular event was an annual cat show for pet cats.

In the early 1990s, Chatham Humane Society's Board of Directors changed the name to Chatham Animal Rescue and Education (CARE). The group's mission remains that of promoting health and safety for all dogs and cats in the county.

The following changes are a direct result of work of dedicated CARE volunteers.

1. Before CARE the one dog warden reported to the Sheriff's Department. Animal control was the last priority and received little support. (CARE lobbied to have animal control moved to the Health Department. A second dog warden was hired at about that time. Today, the Animal Services department has about a half dozen staff members.)

2. Before CARE there was no animal shelter. There were 15 dog runs on a concrete slab with a roof. It was outdoors with no dog houses or bedding provided, and dogs routinely died from exposure to the elements. There were no accommodations for cats, which were immediately euthanized upon arrival. (CARE spent three years attending county commissioners meetings trying to get a proper animal shelter approved. Once it was CARE volunteers helped with the design of the shelter.)

3. Before CARE animals were euthanized using an old leaky gas chamber located at the pound. The dog warden had to sit in his truck during its use because of fumes escaping the chamber. (Today euthanasia by injection is the only method used at the Chatham shelter.)

4. Before CARE the adoption rate at the pound was zero to one dog per year. Since there was only one dog warden, he spent most of the day driving around picking up animals, and had very little time to spend at the pound. (Nationally, the shelter adoption rate averages between 10% and 20%. As a result of the current shelter working with CARE and other rescue groups, 40% of the animals leave the facility to new homes. In addition to the shelter adoptions CARE fosters and adopts over 300 animals per year.)

5. Before CARE there was no Animal Ordinance for dogs and cats in Chatham County. (CARE volunteers worked with the Health Department to create the first ordinance, and have been involved in several revisions.)

6. Before CARE there was no NC Animal Welfare Act. (CARE volunteers went to Raleigh and spoke before the legislative committee to help get this law enacted.)

7. Before CARE there were no low cost spay/neuter options in Chatham County. (Now CARE offers this through its Lillie Cameron Fund. Lillie was CARE's first foster home and I believe she would be so pleased that this program is named in her memory. County commissioners approved a similar low cost spay/neuter program that has been offered for the last several years through the county Animal Services department.)

For forty years CARE has been made up of extraordinarily caring people. To everyone who is now or ever has been an officer, board member, committee member, foster home, animal transporter, feral cat trapper, photographer, animal educator, phone message taker, adoption or event volunteer, donated money, supplies, or services, please accept my deepest and most sincere "Thank you!" You are what makes Chatham Animal Rescue and Education an organization that does so much good. Here's to at least another forty years! But wouldn't it be great if there was a future where there were no animals in need?