Animal abundance doesn’t stop shelter’s no-kill community goal

Sandra Cook, vet tech, holds onto Aly as Sarah Boyd, director of medicine, performs an examination during a fee-waived adoption campaign Wednesday at the Charleston Animal Shelter.

Paul Zoeller

Visitors to the Charleston Animal Society might be excused for thinking that it’s been raining cats and dogs in the Lowcountry.

A flood of hundreds of kittens has entered the shelter as the weather has grown warmer, and at least one kitten is visible in almost every animal pod at the shelter’s North Charleston facility.

And the animals at the shelter don’t include the hundreds more that are in foster homes across the area.

Yet despite this overabundance of cats, dogs, puppies and kittens in its system, Charleston Animal Society CEO Joe Elmore insists that its recently stated goal of “No Kill Charleston 2015” still is on track.

Elmore explained last week that a no-kill community is a broader effort than a no-kill shelter.

A no-kill community focuses on finding homes for as many animals as possible, and spaying and neutering the animals that come into the shelter. Those two practices help lower the number of stray animals and unwanted animal births, he said, lowering the number of animals coming into the shelter, and in turn lowering the number of animals eligible for euthanization.

“We want to save every healthy and treatable animal that comes in here,” said Elmore. “That’s what creates a no-kill community.”

A no-kill animal shelter doesn’t euthanize animals that can be adopted or treated for any potential behavioral or medical issues. But animals that don’t have a chance at a healthy life or that are too aggressive or dangerous are still eligible to euthanized.

Elmore said the shelter uses a pet evaluation index to determine what is and isn’t treatable in an animal’s quest for adoption.

The community’s help is what Elmore hoped for as it kicked off a free adoption period on Wednesday, a few days after sending out an SOS after seeing its population rise to about 800.

Wednesday yielded success for the shelter, with 204 animals adopted that day alone, breaking the state single-day record of 107 adoptions set last year. The shelter’s original goal for the entire free adoption period, which runs through today, was 300 animals.

As of Saturday afternoon, 468 animals were adopted during the push.

Moe Millwater, who volunteers at the shelter every week with his wife, Becky, was staggered by the number of animals he saw. “There’s so many it’s overwhelming,” he said.

Before Wednesday, the shelter was housing about 100 more animals than its listed capacity of 263, on top of having 450 animals in foster homes throughout the area.

Elmore said foster homes are crucial to the adoption process, especially for neonatal kittens that have to be bottle-fed every two hours or so and are too small to be spayed or neutered. Kittens have to grow to 2 pounds before they can be spayed, neutered and put up for adoption.

“A home is a much better environment at that point,” he said. “It’s the hardest job anyone will ever have.”

Mary Beth Dew of Mount Pleasant fosters one cat and four kittens for the Charleston Animal Society, and has been fostering since the shelter began the program.

“I came home with one kitten and I haven’t been without a cat or kitten since,” she said.

Dew was recently named an “adoption ambassador” for the shelter, meaning animals she fosters can be directly adopted from her, without having to return to the shelter’s adoption floor.

One of her kittens, Murphy, was scheduled for adoption on Thursday.

The no-kill goal is made more difficult, Elmore said, by the fact that the Charleston Animal Society is an open-admission shelter, accepting any animal that comes through its doors.

Kevin Ryan, the executive director of Pet Helpers, an animal shelter on Folly Road, said he is proud that his shelter has been no-kill since its inception. He said Pet Helpers offers a “lifetime safe haven guarantee” to any animal that is adopted from their shelter, allowing the animal to be brought back to the shelter.

“Our people will move for our animals,” he said.

Ryan also said that running a no-kill, open-admission shelter can get expensive, including medical and behavioral interventions for the animals.

As of May, the Charleston Animal Society was operating at a $240,000 deficit, Elmore said.

He estimated that it costs $240 on average to treat and care for each animal that comes through. The unusually large number of animals currently housed at the shelter is taking a financial toll.

“It’s killing us financially,” he said. One-third of the society’s funding comes from Charleston County, one third from user fees — when people pay to adopt pets — and one third from contributions and donations.

But the financial toll will not hinder the society’s goal for a no-kill community, Elmore said.

“We’re not ever going to sacrifice these animals. We’re going to save them.”