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Garfield gives Dorchester Paws employee Sydney Gentry a high five at the Summerville shelter.

Recently, Dorchester Paws – formerly the Frances R. Willis SPCA – took in 27 animals in one day. That’s a rate of nearly 10,000-a-year for a facility that has room for just 165.

The math doesn’t work, even in dog and cat years. Local shelters are inundated with strays because humans aren’t treating them right.

Take the case of Michael the dog. He was an angel. Animal control brought him to Dorchester Paws with third- and fourth-degree burns on his under sides. The damage went clear to the bone. Michael couldn’t walk.

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Dorchester Paws Executive Director Kim Almstedt with rescue Frank.

The caring, compassionate pet lovers at Dorchester Paws tried to save him. A veterinarian determined that Michael’s owner had washed him in gasoline to alleviate the itching from mange.

The gasoline penetrated into Michael’s skin and burned it off like tissue paper. Yet he was so sweet. “He let you hold him; he didn’t have any aggression even though God knows what he had been through in life,” lamented Kim Almstedt, executive director of Lowcountry Paws.

There wasn’t much the vets could do for Michael, who suffered from heart problems as well. The staff at Dorchester Paws was heartbroken, but heartbreak is the norm at an animal shelter, the repository for people’s mistakes.

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Carole Bruno of the Summerville Artist Guild adds details to a new mural at Dorchester Paws.

At Dorchester Paws, the 3,500 creatures that get dropped on their doorstep each year get the very best treatment possible. Dorchester Paws adopts out about 1,600 dogs and cats. They maintain about 150 others at any given time in foster homes. They work with shelters in other parts of the country that have room for the local overflow. They are housing 300 animals in facilities designed for 165.

In 2017, Dorchester Paws has avoided euthanizing any animals unnecessarily – i.e., for time, space or money. The only animals euthanized are those brought to the shelter in such poor health that keeping them alive will only prolong their pain.

It’s a miracle that Dorchester Paws can care for so many animals, and it’s only because of the generosity of donors. Contributions fund the neutering, vaccinating and microchipping, the feline leukemia and AIDS exams for cats, and heartworm exams. These tests cost hundreds of dollars, but adoptions are generally $150 for a dog and $75 for a cat.

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Gabby is one of about 3,500 residents who cycle through Dorchester Paws each year.

Dorchester Paws is the only open shelter in the county, meaning it will never turn down a dog or cat. (Or goat – they’ve received a few of those over the years.) Almstedt says the real key to improving the lot of pets is to make sure they are spayed or neutered.

Almstedt says the shelter represents hope. One woman visited the shelter monthly looking for her lost cat. This went on for years. One day she happened upon an orange tabby with a cropped tail and fell to the floor sobbing. She had finally found her pet. Almstedt said the shelter waived the adoption fees.

“Those kinds of cases make me do what I do,” Almstedt said. “There’s a lot of hardship in shelter life, but a lot of blessings.”