Release and euthanasia rates

Charleston Animal Society’s live-release and euthanasia statistics:

Year Animals Live released Euthanized

2007 9,821 35% 63%

2008 10,549 38% 64%

2009 10,439 40% 59%

2010 10,795 50% 50%

2011 10,486 62% 37%

2012 9,171 73% 23%

*2013 8,761 88% 9%

Animals that are adopted, reunited with their owners, or free-roaming cats that have been spayed or neutered and released

*Estimated

Source: Charleston Animal Society

Jeremiah and Janine Bumgarner are so committed to providing foster care to kittens that they made sure their new home had a separate room for them.

Rate by city

Animals euthanized per 1,000 people:

Columbia 21.9

Charlotte 11.8

Atlanta 9.2

Charleston 2.3

Source: Animal People/ Charleston Animal Society

Since they bought the house a year ago, they’ve cared for about 40 kittens, some so young they had to be bottle-fed. The Charleston Animal Society would provide food and supplies, but the Bumgarners buy their own as another way to contribute to the effort to become a no-kill community.

“If this is what it takes to keep the motor running, this is what we’ll do,” Janine said.

That’s the level of commitment many will have to put forth if Charleston County is to become a no-kill community and sustain it. A no-kill community means that no healthy or treatable animals are euthanized, said Joe Elmore, chief executive officer at the Charleston Animal Society.

In those communities, the only animals that are euthanized are those that are extremely ill with untreatable conditions or are so aggressive they are unsafe.

Becoming a no-kill community is a much bigger undertaking than simply becoming a no-kill shelter, Elmore said. A no-kill shelter simply can turn away animals when it is full, or when an animal brought to it is deemed unadoptable.

The Charleston Animal Society is the county’s open-admission shelter, he said. It accepts every animal brought in, making it much more difficult to avoid having to euthanize animals.

The Animal Society this year set a progressive and ambitious goal to work along with Pet Helpers and other animal-rescue groups to become a no-kill community by 2015. The good news, Elmore said, is that it will hit the goal by the end of this year.

But sustaining it for any length of time is going to be difficult, he said. “We don’t want 2013 to be a flash in the plan.”

Karen Medicus, senior director of community initiatives for the national ASPCA, said many communities across the country are attempting to euthanize fewer animals. But Charleston is among a handful that have made significant progress in recent years, she said.

The money hurdle

Elmore said one of the biggest obstacles to becoming a no-kill community is money. To sustain its progress, his group will need to raise another $500,000 per year, he said. So far it hasn’t come up with a solid plan to do that.

It will cost $3.7 million to run the Charleston Animal Society in 2013, Elmore said. About a third of the organization’s funding comes from donations, another third from adoption and other fees, and the final third from Charleston County.

The Animal Society has a contract to handle all the animals picked up by the county’s animal control division, he said. That contract, however, covers only about a third of the cost of caring for the animals brought in.

He estimates that the shelter will serve about 8,800 cats and dogs by the end of the year. He also estimates that it will complete the year with a deficit of $500,000. It’s simply more expensive to treat, care for and find homes for animals than it is to euthanize them, he said.

Running a one-time deficit is acceptable, he said, because it will allow the shelter to reach its no-kill goal by the end of the year. He expects the shelter’s live release rate to be about 88 percent for 2013. That rate includes stray animals returned to their owners, those that were adopted, and cats put back outside after they were spayed or neutered through the shelter’s free-roaming cat program.

The Animal Society will dip into reserves to cover the shortfall this year, Elmore said, but it can’t afford to do that for another year. The group built a new shelter a few years ago for which it continues to make payments.

Marcia Atkinson, executive director of Berkeley County’s Doc Williams SPCA, said she’s keeping on eye on Charleston’s progress on its no-kill goal. Her shelter, with a live-release rate of 31 percent, can’t afford to do something similar, she said. But it’s making progress, especially by focusing on spaying and neutering to prevent the births of unwanted animals.

And she thinks those efforts are beginning to pay off. She expects the shelter to handle about 8,000 animals this year, she said. A few years ago, the number was close to 10,000.

Foster care, volunteers

The animal society also needs more foster families, like the Bumgarners, and other volunteers.

Foster homes are the backbone of a no-kill shelter with limited space, Elmore said. “We couldn’t do it without them. We’d break.”

Jodi Osborne, the Animal Society’s foster and rescue coordinator, said last week there were 618 animals in the system, and 346 of them were placed in about 190 foster homes.

Janine Bumgarner said taking care of the newborn kittens is the way she and her husband can contribute. She has a busy job with an unpredictable schedule, but she works from home. She can’t often commit to being at a certain place at a particular time, but she can care for animals in her home.

Jeremiah Bumgarner said the couple finds homes for the kittens most of the time, and only occasionally returns them to the shelter. And on two occasions they were what is lovingly referred to in the shelter world as “foster failures,” which means they adopted the kittens themselves.

He recently spent about $2,500 on photography equipment so he could take better photographs of the kittens to post on Facebook, hoping to make them look more appealing to people who might adopt them. “People at work think I’m the crazy cat person,” he said.

Difficult conversations

Going no-kill is not without controversy, Elmore said, and it at times forces “the difficult conversations.”

One of those, for instance, is about pit bulls. Often, about half of the dogs available for adoption in the shelter are pit bulls or pit bull mixes, he said. “They are in high supply and low demand.”

Maybe the community should discuss putting in place a mandatory spay-neuter program and ban the breeding of pit bulls, said Elmore, who has adopted a pit-bull mix. “Maybe we need to ban the breeding in order to save the breed.”

The Animal Society also has put in place a controversial free-roaming cat program, where it traps the animals, spays or neuters them, then releases them. The plan is to reduce the number of free-roaming cats over time.

Some people, however, are concerned about the number of birds killed by free-roaming cats.

Carol Linville, founder of Pet Helpers, a no-kill shelter on James Island, said creating a no-kill community is a great idea. But like families, there sometimes are disagreements among members of the animal-rescue community.

For instance, she said, she isn’t pleased that the Charleston Animal Society regularly holds free adoption events. Pet Helpers can’t afford to waive adoption fees, she said. When people opt to adopt a free animal from the Charleston Animal Society, it can make it harder to find a home for animals at Pet Helpers.

And Elmore said that as spay and neuter programs become more successful and the shelter stops euthanizing most animals, more of the animals available for adoption likely will have some medical or other issues.

The shelter will have fewer litters of puppies, and many more older dogs. And shelter workers will have to find the right homes to meet the needs of particular animals. “We’ll really be more like Match.com.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.