For dogs and cats it’s the breeding season. And as puppies and kittens enter the world, the pressures increase at animal shelters.
Dorchester Paws in Summerville had a record-setting day on Tuesday, taking in 33 dogs and cats, including two mamma dogs each with seven pups. That’s a lot of animals all at once, said Jami Bunton, marketing director at the shelter. The previous one-day record was 27.
And what this means is the kennels are over-stuffed, the animals stressed out, the staff over-burdened.
Staff found one dog tied to the shelter’s mailbox when they arrived Tuesday morning. He chewed through his leash and ran free until staff and volunteers were able to catch him.
A stray Chihuahua was brought to Dorchester Paws in obvious distress. An X-ray taken at Central Veterinary Hospital revealed a broken pelvis. Staffers think the dog might be lost. Anyone missing a Chihuahua should contact the shelter.
Then, Tuesday afternoon, the two litters arrived. Later, the shelter accommodated more cats and dogs.
It’s not unusual for Dorchester Paws to take in 10 or even 15 animals in a day, Bunton said. And the staff do their best to find adoptive families for the pets or transfer animals to other rescue and shelter operations.
But the accumulation never seems to stop.
"Within five days, we have admitted over 70 animals," said shelter director Kim Almstedt. "Our campus capacity is 165 animals: 87 cats and 78 dogs. Currently, we have 90 dogs on campus and 116 total dogs in our care. We have fared quite well through 'kitten/puppy season' until last Friday. When almost 50 percent of our campus is admitted within five days, the panic button must be hit."
In February, Dorchester Paws took in 175 animals and adopted out or transferred 133, for a net gain of 42. In March, the shelter took in 193 and released 174, for a net gain of 19. In April, it took in 232 and released 150, for a net gain of 82.
“It’s not really sustainable,” Bunton said. “We need more people to come in and adopt, and we need more people to foster animals until (someone) is ready to adopt.”
The costs of sheltering animals are considerable. The first day of care averages more than $100 per pet, then there are ongoing medical and food expenses. Dorchester Paws, like many such shelters, relies on volunteers and charitable giving.
"We are not only housing all the animals, we are caring for them ensuring they are vaccinated, microchipped, dewormed, heartworm tested (and) given flea prevention and heartworm prevention," Almstedt said.
The Summerville facility has been part of the No-Kill South Carolina coalition since January 2017. The shelter will not euthanize animals because of time, space or money constraints, only for legitimate medical reasons.
“We go out into the community and try to educate as best we can about why spaying and neutering your pets is so important,” Bunton said.
But Dorchester County has no animal clinic that provides neutering and spaying services; pet owners must go to the Charleston Animal Society or Doc Williams SPCA in Berkeley County or their private veterinarian. So the shelter is raising money to start a clinic of its own.
“It’s one of our main goals for this year to get that up and running,” she said.
But an even more urgent goal is to find stable homes for the numerous animals currently in shelter kennels.
“Smaller dogs tend to be easier to adopt out,” Bunton said. “But we’ve got everything, and most are larger dogs, over 40 pounds.”
Dorchester Paws is launching a "Go Big or They Don't Go Home" adoption special: Any dog over 40 pounds is $40. Those two litters? One is a hound mix, the other a terrier mix. For more information, visit https://dorchesterpaws.org or call 843-871-3820.