A panic spread across Facebook and other social media over what county officials say was merely an untrue rumor that eight healthy shelter dogs were going to be euthanized on Friday, Jan. 18 due to space issues the shelter faces during cold weather.

The claim, which was also conveyed by instant messages from one animal lover to another, ignited a widespread effort to stop the shelter from going through with the euthanizations – though shelter staff say the animals were never scheduled for euthanasia in the first place.

In 2015, the Guilford County Animal Shelter, before Guilford County ran it, was the center of a major animal abuse and neglect scandal, and, ever since then, many area animal welfare advocates have had a great deal of mistrust toward the shelter.  That often leads to situations like the one that gained steam on Thursday, Jan. 17 and came to a head the following day.

In the latest incident, the Guilford County Animal Shelter sent an email to area rescues and labeled the situation of some healthy animals as “urgent.”  Though some in the community apparently took that to mean that those dogs were going to be put down if not adopted or rescued, Guilford County Animal Control Supervisor Lisa Lee said on Friday the animals were never in danger of being euthanized.

“We do not euthanize animals for space,” she said.

She said the dogs were listed in “urgent” need of adoption in the email to animal rescues because those animals were experiencing high levels of kennel stress and would therefore benefit greatly by being adopted or rescued.  She stressed that none of the animals were on the shelter’s euthanasia list.

The Guilford County Animal Shelter does euthanize animals for other reasons – for instance, if an animal exhibits violent tendencies or has a major medical problem.

Lee said the shelter merely used the “urgent” description in the email because that often helps spur rescues to action.  While that one-word label may have been meant to light a fire under rescues it instead lit up social media.

Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad, who served for years on the county’s Animal Services Advisory Board, said it’s very frustrating when county staff, who have been making tremendous strides at the shelter, are excoriated by the public on social media due to claims that are completely baseless.

“It is extremely frustrating that staff who have been working hard and improving the shelter have to stop what they are doing and address a baseless rumor spread on social media by those who have not done their own research,” Conrad said.

Conrad added that the matter could have been cleared up by a simple phone call to the shelter.

He also said that Guilford County Animal Services Director Jorge Ortega and his staff have been doing an outstanding job creating a great shelter in Guilford County and he added that, even in cases where it is taking some time to address tough problems, constant progress is being made.

On Friday afternoon, Guilford County Animal Services put up a Facebook post of its own hoping to calm things down.

“We have recently learned that misleading and inaccurate information is being shared on social media regarding animals in our shelter,” the post states.  “Social media is our best and worst tool for sharing information out to the public. While it is a great tool which can be used to quickly reach potential foster and adoption families and draw attention to the animals who need them, it is very easy for individuals to get information misconstrued or promote false and inaccurate narrative.”

The post adds, “To help prevent the sharing of misleading information we strongly encourage our residents, followers and fellow animal lovers to utilize the County’s official social media accounts, and call or visit our facility as often as possible for up-to-date information on animals in our care.”

According to the shelter’s post, the rumors posted on Facebook “incorrectly editorialized” the status of the animals based on the “urgent” need for rescue.  The shelter’s Facebook post also stated that no one called the shelter to check the story before posting the claim on social media.

Based on some posts that have followed in the wake of the county’s post, some animal advocates still believe the shelter intended to euthanize the animals but did not do so after there was a public outcry.

Shelter staff is now using the incident to encourage all citizens with concerns such as this one to contact the Guilford County Animal Shelter staff directly rather than get their information from social media posts.  The shelter’s post states that the public is always welcome to come to the shelter during business hours, see the animals first-hand and ask questions regarding any concerns.