CH@T: Fostering homeless pets is just the start for Chatham Animal Rescue & Education

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Chatham Animal Rescue & Education (CARE) was incorporated in 1975 with the name Chatham Humane Society by a group of citizens in Siler City. Today, the mission of CARE is to promote the health and safety of all dogs and cats in Chatham County. This week, we speak with board member Joan Cunningham about CARE’s work, which focuses on foster caregivers for homeless cats and dogs and a variety of other programs and educational resources.

Cunningham graduated from George Peabody College (now Vanderbilt University) in Nashville before earning a degree from School of Law UNC-Chapel Hill. She worked in the Durham and Orange/Chatham District Attorneys Offices and retired from the Appellate Section of the N.C. Dept. of Justice.

She’s been involved with CARE since the 1990s and has served on its board of directors in several capacities, most recently as chairperson of the Governance Committee. Cunningham and her husband Rick Goode live in Chatham County with a menagerie of dogs, cats and kittens rescued from the woods, roadways and fast food locations across the county.

What’s the past year been like for CARE? And can you give us a general update about the operation now?

Just as all nonprofit organizations, CARE had to be creative during the pandemic. Many of our in-person events, such as adoption events at PetSmart, and our big fundraiser, Woof-A-Palooza, had to be canceled. We had to find other ways to stay in touch with our constituents and to find new ways to raise funds.

In the past we had Yappy Hour at the Carolina Brewery where people would come, sit on the patio, have a beer or wine and socialize with other people and their dogs. Registration was $10 and came with a Yappy gift — t-shirt, tote bag, doggie water bowl, etc. We would raffle off some prizes and everyone had a great time. But when COVID-19 hit, we couldn’t do that anymore. We had some Zoom Yappy Hours and developed some fun trivia contests, but the energy wasn’t the same as in-person.

Now that things are opening up, we are again partnering with Carolina Brewery for “Dine and Donate” every third Monday of the month. You can either order out or dine-in at the Brewery and 5% of the day’s profits is donated to CARE. We are very pleased to have Carolina Brewery helping us. They have been a great partner to work with for over 10 years.

We have also experimented with fundraising and did a really fun event called “Awkward Pet Portraits.” People sent in photos of their pets and our volunteers tried to draw a picture of them. The pictures were silly, kept things light and put a smile on people’s faces.

We also raised over $12,000 during #GivingTuesday, a day in early December where people are asked to donate to their favorite nonprofit. We built a social media campaign around the event and were quite successful.

Adopting pets was popular during the pandemic…you have data you’ll share in your upcoming Impact Report, but what can you share about adoption trends?

Adoptions were very strong during the pandemic. We had a lot of interest in both cats and dogs and were happy to report that most animals who entered the foster program during this time were successfully adopted. We had to interview people with special attention to making sure they were not just wanting a companion during the pandemic and once life got back to normal the animal would be ignored or returned.

CARE took 123 cats and 99 dogs into foster care in 2020 and adopted 87 and 92 respectively. Among our various programs CARE helped a total of 739 dogs and cats in 2020. We microchipped 551 cats and dogs and provided 613 spay/neuter surgeries.

So what about unwanted cats and dogs — how is CARE helping with fostering those, and what are your needs when it comes to fostering?

Unlike sheltered rescue groups that have a centralized location to see cats and dogs, CARE relies on foster families to host pets until they find their forever homes. We can only rescue as many cats and dogs as we have space for in our foster homes at any time. Fostering a homeless animal provides the joy and satisfaction of helping an animal in need but fostering is not necessarily easy. Fostering takes a great deal of time and energy — both emotional and physical.

We ask that foster caregivers make a one-year commitment and hope they will fall in love with the joys of fostering and stick around much longer. Our foster caregivers provide shelter, socialization, some basic training and lots of love. CARE provides food, litter, flea and tick preventative, all necessary medical treatment, toys, beds and other pet items depending on donations.

You’re a non-profit. Can you talk about your fiscal status and financial and other needs and upcoming fundraisers?

We so value the loyal supporters who enable us to help stray and unwanted dogs and cats in Chatham county. We have two general appeals a year and a variety of smaller-scale fundraisers. Our next big appeal will focus on funding for CARE’s spay/neuter programs. In addition to CARE’s Lillie’s Fund targeted spay/neuter program, we have a program for community cats and, of course, we spay and neuter all foster animals before adoption.

In 2020, CARE volunteers worked tirelessly to serve all the animals and to raise funds to support the animals and the organization. These efforts increased revenue in 2020 by 43%.

Currently, we are holding another art-focused fundraiser, only this time the artists are your pets! The Pet-Casso contest will involve cats and dogs from the community painting a picture (see the CARE website for instructions) and then you ask your family and friends to donate money to CARE to vote for your pet’s artistic creation. The winner will have his/her artwork displayed at Liquidambar Gallery and Gifts in downtown Pittsboro. Voting will run through July 2. Each vote will be a donation to CARE. There is a $10 donation to CARE to enter your pet’s creation.

Can you talk more about Lillie’s Fund and your “Three for Free” program?

CARE’s Lillie’s Fund is a targeted spay and neuter program that subsidizes sterilization surgeries for dogs and cats owned by lower income families in Chatham County. The fund was established in 2006 in memory of Lillie B. Cameron, a long-time CARE volunteer and tireless advocate for making low cost spay/neuter services more accessible for Chatham County residents. CARE is grateful to have Lillie’s Fund, which has enabled us to sponsor spay/neuter surgeries for between 375 and 475 pets annually over the course of a decade.

Recipients of spay/neuter assistance through CARE’s Lillie’s Fund normally pay a minimal cost of $20 per pet. However, every spring during kitten and puppy season, CARE launches a three-month “Three for Free” campaign, which allows Chatham families to spay up to three females for free. For the past two years, the Three for Free campaign was funded through the Margaret T. Petrie Spaying and Neutering Foundation. CARE’s Lillie’s Fund also benefits from donations made through the State Employees Combined Campaign. With help from the Petrie Foundation, the SECC, and other donors to the Lillie’s Fund, CARE is making progress toward reducing the numbers of unwanted and abandoned cats and dogs that are such an issue in Chatham County.

For more information about CARE, go to


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