By Jake Flannick
She spent years rescuing dogs, using her home as a shelter and arranging adoptions outside a local grocery store in Asheville. Working as a registered nurse at the time, Denise Bitz wanted to prevent as many unnecessary euthanizations as possible.
That was more than a decade ago. Nowadays, she is at the helm of a nonprofit animal rescue organization that has helped lay the groundwork for a sustainable no-kill community.
“We know we can’t just spay, neuter and adopt our way to no-kill,” says Bitz, founder of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue (BWAR). “We must work equally hard to keep cats and dogs from ever entering the shelter system in the first place.”
Beyond rescuing animals and raising awareness, BWAR offers crucial resources for pet owners, such as a free food pantry and financial assistance for spay and neuter operations and medical bills. Workers and volunteers are dispatched to homes, repairing things like fences and frozen water lines. They even serve as mediators, helping resolve disputes that involve pets. “Whatever we can do to keep animals in their loving homes, we will do it,” Bitz says.
Founded in 2007, Brother Wolf is the largest no-kill animal rescue organization in North Carolina, with chapters in surrounding counties as well as in South Carolina and Virginia. It relies on some 3,000 active volunteers. In addition to its 10,000-square-foot adoption center in southeast Asheville, it has built an extensive foster care network, accommodating more than 400 animals on a given day. And each month it adopts roughly 300 animals, most of them surrendered by their owners.
As for euthanasia, it is used only on animals whose suffering is incurable or that are deemed dangerous and untreatable—“when there is no hope,” as Bitz puts it.
This effort to create a sustainable no-kill community is a collective one. The Asheville Humane Society (AHS) has euthanized no animals it deems healthy since opening its adoption center in 2010, executive director Tracy Elliott says. The center, on a street called Forever Friend Lane, adjoins the county animal shelter, which the nonprofit has run since 1990.
“We accept every animal brought to us,” Elliott says. “We do not euthanize due to lack of space at the shelter. We save every treatable animal.”
Steady advocacy and financial support have helped finance spay and neuter procedures and foster care programs, and medical treatment has become more accessible to the public. AHS is also taking preventive measures, including deploying workers to underserved communities where animals abound. There is, however, still room for improvement, including more consistent access to low-cost veterinary care and free spay and neuter procedures.
This summer, BWAR plans to break ground on a rehabilitation center west of Asheville that will offer longer-term care for animals with medical conditions, behavioral issues and emotional stress and trauma. Stretching over nearly 85 acres of undulating pastures and forested hillsides in Leicester, the sanctuary will also accommodate farm animals.
“We all need to step in to help these more difficult cases,” Bitz says of animals with disabilities and special needs. “We need to help each other out.”
To learn more about Brother Wolf’s no-kill awareness campaign, visit nokillasheville. org. To read a message from Asheville Humane Society’s Tracy Elliott, called “Beyond No Kill—Life Worth Living,” visit ashevillehumane.org/beyondnokill.