Stuck at home during the COVID-19 lockdown, many people adopted new pets from local shelters to keep them company while they worked from home. But as people return to work and school, there are still plenty of dogs and cats that need not only good homes but medical treatments as well.

The Friends of Wake County Animal Center (FWCAC), a team of volunteers, promotes awareness and adoption of the animals at the Wake County Animal Center (WCAC) with the mission to “improve the quality of life for animals” in the community and for their human families. WCAC is the only open admission shelter in the county and FWCAC members are dedicated to promoting safe and responsible pet ownership. Their Heal A Heart program, which encourages potential adopters to choose pets who have treatable heartworms, is part of this initiative.

“Wake County Animal Center has many worthy dogs that are not getting adopted because they have heartworms,” says Christine Becker, vice chair of the board of directors of FWCAC. “Adopters are often dissuaded by the cost of heartworm treatment or don’t know much about it.”

The Heal A Heart program sponsors treatment for heartworm-positive dogs that have been in the shelter or on the adoption floor for at least 30 days. This gives shelter dogs the chance to live as a healthy and loved pet.

New adopters are asked to email Becker when they are ready to start treatment. She guides them through the process and offers information on local veterinarians. Some vets offer additional discounts to adopters of shelter dogs.

Through the program, FWCAC offers $350 for each sponsored dog, to be paid directly to the veterinary practice that is treating the animal. A dog might have more funds available if an individual sponsors it as well.

“We can’t force anyone to treat their animal, but the Heal A Heart sponsorship funds offer an incentive,” Becker says. “Heartworm disease is very preventable; it’s as simple as giving your dog a pill every month. Prevention is much cheaper and easier on the dog and owner than treating heartworms.”

Sponsored dogs have a heart symbol on the info sheet outside of their kennel at WCAC to signify that they are eligible for the Heal A Heart program.

FWCAC, which started as a Facebook group in 2012 and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2016, raises money for the program through auctions and raffles during the year with the goal of helping residents who want to adopt by offering low-cost spay/neuter vouchers and sponsoring medical and dental care for rescue animals.

Other FWCAC programs include a pet pantry called No Empty Bowl (which started during the COVID lockdown when people were losing their jobs) and Pit Stop (a program that provides $25 spay/neuter vouchers for owners of pit bull and pit mix dogs).

These programs, along with Heal A Heart, help improve the health of shelter animals and reduce euthanasia rates at WCAC.

“We want to keep animals safe and healthy and out of the shelter,” Becker says. “During COVID lockdown, the needs went up and fundraising opportunities went down.”

You can donate to FWCAC’s Heal A Heart program here.

The group is celebrating Adopt A Senior Pet month in November by featuring a specific senior pet each night at 8:00 p.m. on its Facebook page.

Find more information on how to treat heartworms here.

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