A first-of-its-kind partnership is helping the Humane Society of Charlotte keep its animals healthy

These days, the spread of disease is all anyone can talk about.

COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus, has thrown the world into chaos, creating a new normal of quarantine and social distancing. One bright spot came when the World Health Organization reported that social distancing didn’t need to include our pets; they are unlikely to be able to transmit the disease to humans.

But that doesn’t mean the Humane Society of Charlotte can rest easy.

For a facility that houses 3,000 animals every year, the threat of disease is still very real, with or without coronavirus.

On a recent tour through the cramped facility the Humane Society has occupied since 1993, kennel manager Danielle Cunnane spotlighted the flaws in the design. Chain-link fences separate the dogs in Kennel #1, the block reserved for healthy animals, and chain link isn’t ideal, she explains. For one, dogs can touch noses through the fence, trading germs that could spread disease. Two, the chain-link gives dogs an open view into neighboring kennels, which can trigger a domino effect when one of those dogs start barking.

That increases anxiety levels among the dogs, she says. It also affects the most important part of what they do: More often than not, prospective adopters avoid barking dogs and move on to the next.

Over in Kennel #2, where the Humane Society keeps new dogs that have not yet been medically vetted, half-height concrete walls go a long way toward preventing the spread of disease, Cunnane explains. But the doors to each of those kennels is chain link, and as dogs are taken out on walks, they stick their noses through the diamond-shaped holes to touch noses with the dog inside. Again, disease spreads, and the risk of getting healthy animals sick rises.

Those fundamental design flaws can impact the health and well-being of all the Humane Society’s residents. They’re also costing the Humane Society thousands of dollars a month in medication.

During slow months, the organization spends $450 a week on medicine to treat upper respiratory infections, explains Elizabeth Jones, vice president of operations at the Humane Society.

At peak times, those costs climb into the thousands.

“Without a physical barrier, animals touch noses or sneeze directly onto the animals next to them,” Jones explains. “If anyone of those animals is sick, it will slowly domino effect throughout the entire organization.”

Two years from now, those dogs and cats will have a new home in a state-of-the-art facility — the end result of a $15 million fundraising campaign that began this past fall. But the Humane Society couldn’t afford to wait for a new facility, nor could the organization perform major construction on a facility it rents rather than owns. Instead, Libby Currier, donor engagement manager for the organization, reached out to someone she thought could provide a solution.

That person was Kevin Dixon, the founder, and CEO of CLAWGUARD.

Dixon launched his company back in 2009. He had adopted a dog with anxiety issues, and the dog was routinely destroying every apartment he and his wife moved to. It became a running joke between the two of them; once they handed over the pet deposit, they were kissing it goodbye.

When the couple bought a home, their dog destroyed the front door. It cost Dixon $1,200 to fix. He decided it was time for a solution. So he developed a rudimentary design, cold-called a plastics company, and produced the first-ever CLAWGUARD — a sheet of non-toxic polymer plastic that protects the door and the surrounding frame from anxiety-ridden pets.

Over the years, the business has grown, but that core product remains the same. And it offered a perfect solution to the Humane Society’s problems.

“I developed CLAWGUARD because I knew that a primary reason dogs were surrendered to shelters was because of unwanted behaviors — chief among them being damage to the home. I hadn’t thought about other potential uses for our product, but seeing the needs at the Humane Society, and how CLAWGUARD could help, I had to get involved,” Dixon says.

Dixon agreed to donate CLAWGUARD door shields to help the facility rig temporary fixes throughout both kennels. Workers placed the shields on every doggie door in Kennel #2, where new dogs are kept. That effectively blocked dogs from touching noses, which is going a long way toward preventing the spread of illness. The Humane Society also requested a custom product to test out as a divider between the dogs in Kennel #1. The opaque plastic sheet

attaches to the chain link and effectively isolates the dogs, keeping anxiety and illness levels down.

Now, Dixon is working with the Humane Society to expand the partnership and incorporate CLAWGUARD into other problem areas at the facility. The Humane Society has also taken to promoting his products as education for pet owners, Jones explains.

“Now, when owners show up to surrender their dogs because they're tearing up the house and the furniture, we can say, ‘Have you tried this great product?’ It’s something to help people retain their pets, which is a vital part of the work we do,” Jones says.

Dixon now hopes he can expand the work he’s doing across the country.

“With the Humane Society of Charlotte, we can see the potential to support shelters across the country, particularly those who may not be able to raise the funds for new, upgraded facilities,” Dixon says. “If we can save shelters money, keep animals healthy, and help more pets get adopted, we will call that a success.