SC animal shelters are at a breaking point. Pet adoptions can’t keep pace with admissions | New

Too many animals, not enough space – that’s been the mantra of South Carolina humanitarian societies and shelters for months.

Two dogs are seen at Dorchester Paws in Summerville on Thursday August 11, 2022. The capacity of the shelter is extremely overcrowded and several collapsible crates are placed in the hallways for temporary locations. Andrew J. Whitaker/staff

On September 1, the Charleston Animal Society declared the situation a state of emergency, saying nearly all shelters in the state were “at breaking point.”

Dorchester Paws took in 21 cats and kittens on August 27 after a house fire in Summerville maxed out the shelter already at capacity. In nearby Moncks Corner, the Berkeley Animal Center has occupied its new, larger building for just over a year, but it has so many animals that it has resorted to pop-up cages.

The Horry County Animal Care Center in Conway had to temporarily close to treat animals after welcoming more than 170 animals in August.

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Upstate, Greenville County Animal Care has so many animals that it euthanizes some to save space — something they hate to do, said Paula Church, the shelter’s community relations coordinator.

She said they looked at animals with behavioral issues — for example, if a dog had bitten a child — and serious medical issues that would take a lot of time and money.

“If we had time, we could find a placement for them,” Church said. “But we don’t have months and months to find space for animals that have behavioral and medical issues.”

Part of the problem was caused by the end of the closures of the COVID-19 pandemic, which initially eased the burden on shelters, as more and more people adopted pets to occupy families or to support employees working from home.

Joe Elmore, president and CEO of the Charleston Animal Society, said shelters expected admissions to increase after this initial wave of adoption. When lockdowns began in 2020, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommended that all veterinarians nationwide opt out of elective procedures, such as neutering and neutering, so as not to tax the healthcare system.

“We typically do about 10,000 surgeries a year,” Elmore said. “But in the spring of 2020, when hospitals were overwhelmed, we stopped doing these kinds of elective procedures. We only did what was necessary and reduced the number of public sterilizations – castration.”

Elmore said shelters are now seeing the results of those surgeries, with more animals being born than there are people who can keep them.

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April Howard hugs Puma the cat at Dorchester Paws in Summerville on Thursday, August 11, 2022. Shelter capacity is extremely overcrowded and several collapsible crates are placed in the hallways for temporary locations. Andrew J. Whitaker/staff

Other factors are also at play. Of the 75 animal shelters in South Carolina, 75% of them do not have a veterinarian on staff, according to Elmore. This makes adoption more difficult because state law dictates that animals cannot be adopted unless they are repaired.

State law also dictates that an animal brought into a shelter must be held for five days before being cared for.

As people move in, animals move out

In areas like Charleston County, growth and development is also a factor of overcrowding. As more people and buildings push stray and wild animals out of their natural habitats, more and more of these animals are abandoned at shelters.

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“We get calls from time to time here with people saying, ‘I have deer in my yard, and I’ve never had deer in my yard.’ It’s because they’re being pushed out of development,” Elmore said. “The same thing will happen with feral cats and dogs. People will then start calling animal control, animal control will come out and start calling. bring more and more of these animals.

Dorchester Paws, which has been operating beyond capacity and has been in “crisis mode” all summer, understands that growth and development in the Summerville area is having a huge impact on animals. Danielle Zuck, director of marketing and development, said it was expected that Dorchester Paws would get a new, larger building.

“Our building was designed to be a detention facility 50 years ago,” Zuck said. “It was not designed to take 4,000 animals a year, and that’s the number we expect to take this year, if not more.”

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Bill Wagener, a volunteer dog walker, takes Jags the dog for a walk at Dorchester Paws in Summerville on Thursday, August 11, 2022. The shelter’s capacity is extremely overcrowded and several pop-up crates are placed in the hallways for temporary locations. Andrew J. Whitaker/staff

Usually, Dorchester Paws hosts about 10 to 15 pets a day on average, Zuck said. Recently, it receives 15 to 35 animals per day. This, combined with slower adoptions, plays a big part in overcrowding the shelter.

“We constantly play this animal puzzle game,” Zuck said.

Not only is the building old and too small to house all those pets, but it’s also in a flood zone. Every time it rains, Dorchester Paws gets flooded and animals in the kennels get stuck standing in the water, Zuck said. Staff have to take buckets to try and empty the floodwater shelter.

In December, Dorchester Paws purchased land along Highway 17A – not in a flood zone. Now they are in the midst of a financial drive to help fund a new building on the property, which will include a neutering and neutering clinic. They are still determining the cost of the construction, but it is estimated that it will cost between 3 and 8 million dollars.

Zuck said Dorchester Paws is thrilled the new location is in a growing neighborhood right next to Palms and Summer’s Corner.

“Summerville is one of the fastest growing cities,” Zuck said. “We desperately need the shelter to support the new population that is arriving.”

SC animal shelters remain overcapacity:

A new building will also help Dorchester Paws elevate its shelter status, she added.

“A lot of people still don’t know Dorchester Paws exists. They either call us the pound or they don’t know where we are located,” Zuck said. our mission for animals.

Currently, Dorchester Paws has over 400 animals in their care, almost half of which live in a kennel or pop-up in the shelter.

Zuck said the shelter has simplified Dorchester Paws’ adoption process over the past year to try to get people to adopt: just a one-page application, reduced fees and a chat with a counselor. up for adoption.

“We’ve removed all barriers to the adoption process,” Zuck said. “We want the animals to be placed in loving homes.”

Zuck said it’s hard to say why adoptions have been slow, but there could be a number of reasons: summer vacation, back to school, world news.

One thing that is not a factor is a significant increase in the number of adopted pets in 2020 returning to shelters. Elmore said it’s a myth that people abandon their pets as soon as they return to work.

“We’ve seen people returning to work coming back to adopt a pet for the animal,” Elmore said.

Find houses

Due to overcrowding at most shelters in the state, some are teaming up to ship animals to others who don’t have as many.

Elmore of the Charleston Animals Society said he started a statewide transportation program where his staff takes animals to other local shelters, and even out of state. Some shelters the Charleston Animals Society partners with include Hallie Hill Animal Sanctuary and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Animals.

Church of Greenville County Animal Care said the shelter partners with rescue organizations almost daily to transport animals to other shelters. Some organizations they partner with include the Animal Sanctuary Society, Hearts of the North Rescue, Lovable Mutts Adoption Center, and Jackson’s Legacy.

Tiffany Hoffman, events coordinator for the Berkeley Animal Center, said the shelter is filled with pop-ups.

“Even though I don’t want a dog in a pop-up, it still saves a life,” Hoffman said.

The center recently moved to a larger building with more amenities, including a surgery room, meeting room, and play areas. After being in the new building for 14 months, Hoffman said staff are grateful that they now have more space and can not only take better care of the animals they have, but also take in more of them.

“We are able to take care of more animals, but with that we need more foster families. We need more volunteers, more adopters,” Hoffman said. “With (the new building) comes the need for the community.”

Hoffman said many community members are already helping. Those who adopt pets are essential.

“We have a very hardworking staff, but we couldn’t save the thousands of animals without the foster families,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said the Berkeley Animal Center foster placement is completely free and they have a 24/7 hotline for foster families in case they have any questions about foster care. animal they care for. She added that the center also provides food crates and medical care.

“We literally give whatever we need,” Hoffman said. “They just have to give love.”

Hoffman said the staff — a group of just over 10 people — often encourage the animals as well.

“Our staff work here because they love animals,” Hoffman said. “If you work in animal rescue, if you work in an animal shelter, you do it because of your love for an animal.”

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