The greatest issues that Dorchester Paws currently faces are facility and maintenance issues, and consistent overcrowding.
To address these issues, the shelter is trying to raise funds to construct a new facility, and hopes to meet its goals through a capital campaign launched in February.
With Dorchester County already contributing $1 million, the shelter is closer to reaching its goal.
Dorchester Paws’s Interim Executive Director Maddie Moore said at that point when the capital campaign launch, it was more of a “private burden” that had just finally been made public.
The shelter rebranded from the Frances R. Willis SPCA to Dorchester Paws in 2017, and Moore said shelter officials quickly realized that relocating the shelter was becoming more and more urgent.
As of Sept. 1, Dorchester Paws has been forced to close the shelter three times because of flooding.
“When heavy rains are forecasted to hit Low Country, our shelter staff starts acting, as early, quickly, and proactively as possible,” Moore said. “At Dorchester Paws, closing means turning away animals that are in need while the staff operates in ‘emergency mode,’ meaning we’re piling sandbags, shoveling puddles that form in our kennels and hallways within minutes, mass-calling our First Defense Fosters, and working skeleton shifts to ensure that the animals are taken care of through storms.”
Meanwhile, hurricanes and major storms often mean the shelter’s entire population of dogs and cats have to be placed into temporary foster homes or transported to other shelters. Moore said the building’s condition and perception has a devastating ripple effect, as families that visit with hopes of adopting a shelter pet see it as “a depressing shelter” and decide to look elsewhere.
“Often, they make these judgments before even entering the door, meaning often our pets never get the chance to meet these potential adopters. The perception from potential adopters is another direct cause of a longer length of stay for some of our animals, often resulting in their mental health declining, them suffering from kennel deterioration and them losing hope in finding their second chance.”
In addition to the flooding, Moore noted cracks and crumbling kennel walls around the animals they are supposed to shelter. Tens of thousands of dollars have gone toward building repairs instead of animal care.
“The land itself is not in a desirable location and is hard to notice,” she said, “therefore we cannot gain more potential adopters. The shelter needs adopters first and foremost to be able to carry out its mission of helping homeless animals in Dorchester County.”
The shelter continues to see an increase in the number of animals brought in each year. Moore said they expect to total more than 4,000 animals this year; last year they had 3,725 intakes and in 2018 they reached 3,270.
A new shelter is being designed by MB Kahn. Current designs for the shelter sets the building at 12,496 square feet.
The current shelter was built in 1972 and has 80 dog kennels and 103 cat cubbies.
Moore said Dorchester Paws wants the new shelter to be able to house just as many animals while having the space to offer programs to the public.
“While the plan isn’t to build on a larger campus, the idea is to offer more strategic housing and ensure the facility has the space to offer more public services,” she said.
Dorchester Paws hired the Winkler Group in August for a mid-campaign assessment. Moore said the consulting firm has drafted a detailed case statement, and will assist the shelter in contacting its supporters to help raise more funds.
“The feasibility study will help us determine our timeline and whether or not our goal is attainable,” Moore said. “Can we afford to have more kennels, bigger play yards, and more accommodations, or do we need to scale back our wish list items? They essentially get out into the community to express our needs to the proper audiences.”
In June, when Dorchester County Council passed its 2018-2019 fiscal year budget, council members approved a $1 million contribution to Dorchester Paws. The money will come from both the county’s general and capital funds – $500,000 from each.
“We are looking forward to a new Dorchester Paws facility that will include a low-cost public spay/neuter clinic and a bigger adoption facility that will combat over-pet population,” said County Council Chair Jay Byars previously said in press release. “We hope that our community partners will join us in making a financial contribution.”
Since then, Moore said the county has committed to providing the land on which the new shelter will be built.
The $1 million remains in their care, ready to use, until all of the funds on the shelter’s end have been raised. After that the county will enter into a contract with MB Kahn and they can officially break ground.
The shelter needs to raise approximately $2 million in addition to the contributions made by the county.
Residents can donate to the campaign at https://dorchesterpaws.org/capitalcampaign/, where they can also view the proposed layout, naming opportunities, pledge forms and more. They can also e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
While Dorchester Paws is a private 501©(3) animal shelter, the shelter holds a county contract and provides services for animals that animal control brings in.
“To us, their (council members’) investment is a reflection of the good spirit and faith that Dorchester County has in our community shelter; our relationship is based on an equal investment in the welfare of the animals in our community,” Moore said.
In the meantime, Dorchester Paws welcomes fostering opportunities from residents, as well as pet food and cat litter.