By Amanda Coyne
After taking in its lowest number of animals in 14 years, the Columbia Animal Shelter has set a goal: becoming a no-kill facility in the next five years.
But to do that, the shelter and local nonprofits must embark on a campaign to increase the rates of spaying and neutering animals across the Midlands, shelter director Marli Drum says.
“The trick of it is, of course, that the community has to get involved,” Drum says. “If folks don’t spay and neuter and we keep getting litters year after year at our current rates, we can’t go no-kill.”
In 2012, the shelter, which also accepts animals from Richland County Animal Control, took in nearly 11,000 animals. Around 7,200, or nearly two-thirds, had to be euthanized.
“Some were unavoidable because of illness or severe injuries. That was the most humane thing for those animals,” Drum says. “But there were many that were adoptable. With the sheer numbers we have, we don’t get that luxury right now.”
The shelter will ramp up its efforts with local partners like the Animal Mission and Pawmetto Lifeline to educate pet owners about the need to spay and neuter animals and help make the operations more affordable. The Animal Mission already offers vouchers for free spay and neuter procedures, which many local veterinarians honor. Pawmetto Lifeline, a Columbia animal rescue organization that currently runs a no-kill shelter, helps the municipal shelter move some adoptable pets to no-kill shelters across the state and the country, helping them avoid euthanization, Drum says.
But that help alone won’t turn the Columbia Animal Shelter into a no-kill facility. Public cooperation is key in fixing what Drum said is a “community problem” of low spay and neuter rates. Four of every five litters of puppies or kittens surrendered to the shelter are the first litter the mother has had, Drum said.
“It does more harm than they realize. Preventing that one litter is key,” she says. “As much as you want your kids to see the miracle of life, you need to realize it could end in euthanasia. If you just want one puppy, you have to think about what happens to the other six or seven in the litter.”
The city’s Animal Services department runs on a $1.4 million budget, with $744,773 of its 2013-14 budget going to holding animals and $403,174 going to adoption; another $217,687 is spent on animal control services. Drum says she hasn’t calculated whether the shelter will need more space or funding to meet its no-kill goal, because the plan depends on intake rates dropping to around one-half or two-thirds of where they are now. In other words, the shelter will go no-kill once it’s taking in few enough animals to afford to be no-kill.
Columbia is not alone in working toward a no-kill municipal shelter. The Greenville County Animal Shelter, which took in more than 20,000 animals in 2012, is eyeing the same goal. Last year, 46 percent of animals at that shelter were euthanized, while 49.5 percent were adopted, returned to their owners or transferred to another facility.
Charleston County shelters are currently working toward becoming a “no-kill community” by 2015. In 2012, only 23 percent of the 9,171 animals taken in by the Charleston Animal Society were euthanized, and that number is projected to fall to 9 percent by the end of this year, according to the shelter.
Drum says she has looked to the Upstate and the Lowcountry for inspiration, but the solution for the Midlands is community cooperation to reduce the populations of unwanted cats and dogs.
“There are plenty of healthy cats and dogs that get euthanized because of sheer numbers. We’ve got to fight the battle for both species,” Drum says. “If we’re going to accomplish this, the public has to know we can’t do it without them. They have to be with us on taking on that effort and making that happen.”
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