FOCUS: No Kill S.C. is changing the face of animal welfare

Photo provided by Lou Cattano.

By Joe Elmore, special to Statehouse Report  |  Despite Charleston County becoming the Southeast’s first No Kill Community in 2013, tens of thousands of animals in other areas of South Carolina are dying needlessly due to a lack of best practices and resources.

Elmore

To combat these alarming statistics, Charleston Animal Society, South Carolina’s first animal protection organization and one of the oldest (143 years) in the nation, launched No Kill South Carolina (NKSC) in 2015Funded by a generous grant from Petco Foundation, No Kill South Carolina hit the ground a year later and is arguably the boldest grassroots animal care initiative ever undertaken in the U.S.

Note:  “No Kill” means saving every healthy and treatable animal.  It does not mean that no animals are euthanized.

Six animal shelters will serve as “Key Resource Centers” to coach, inspire and train vulnerable animal sheltering organizations throughout the state on lifesaving strategies and ways to generate support to implement them.  In the next two years, we will help build capacity at these Key Resource Centers with research-based and data-driven best practices so they can then reach out and support other organizations closer to home.  The goal is that no animal in South Carolina will be more than an hour’s drive from real help.  By working together and supporting one another, we can save thousands of more lives, making South Carolina a leader in the nation.

There are upward of 400 animal organizations in South Carolina ranging from small home-based rescue groups to large government-based shelters, with Greenville County Animal Care being the largest taking in nearly 20,000 animals each year for both Greenville and Spartanburg Counties.  It’s estimated that less than two-thirds of dogs entering South Carolina shelters find homes and only one-third of cats are released alive.

Employing a two-fold approach, NKSC aims to help shelters reduce both the overpopulation and the unnecessary euthanasia of dogs and cats.  The flagship of reducing overpopulation is affordable and accessible spay and neuter, while the flagship for live release is adoptions.  There are other strategies that support these two flagship strategies; however, focusing on high-volume sterilization and adoptions could significantly change the face of animal welfare in our state.

Legislation at the state level can play an important part in making South Carolina the first No Kill state in the South.    To  build an infrastructure for humanely facilitating the disposition of animals entering the sheltering system, effective oversight is needed, not only for traditional animal shelters, but for any individual, organization, agency or business responsible for the care, husbandry or custodianship — temporary or permanent —  of companion animals.  This includes animal shelters, animal rescue organizations, veterinary clinics or hospitals, boarding facilities, breeders, groomers and others.  It can be done, but needs to be completely throughout  to be done correctly, meaning both efficiently and effectively.

Thorough, recognized and updated standards exist in each and every phase of animal welfare – this does not need to be recreated.  National industry standards include, but are not limited to:

  • Association of Shelter Veterinarians Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters
  • Society of Animal Welfare Administrators Companion Animal Transport Best Practices
  • National Animal Care and Control Association Guidelines
  • American Animal Hospital Association Accreditation Standards
  • Association of Shelter Veterinarians Veterinary Medical Care Guidelines for Spay-Neuter Programs
  • American Kennel Club Guidelines for Responsible Breeding

In addition, for the first time in our nation’s history, the launch of a national animal sheltering database (Shelter Animals Count)  has been initiated and backed by all of the national animal organizations.  There is no cost for participation, and, thus, no excuse to opt out.  All organizations involved in animal sheltering, both in-home or in a physical plant, should be required to participate and Shelter Animals Count should be South Carolina’s mechanism for monitoring the overpopulation of canines and felines.

Many states have enacted laws and regulations addressing the oversight of animals.  While many look good on paper, few are effective due to two overriding reasons – lack of resources and resolve.  A national model of oversight worth examining is the Colorado system.  Delaware also has a solid system.

Animal welfare is both complicated and simple.  The complicated part is reducing the population of, not one but two, species of animals – canines and felines, while managing the positive and negative intervention of a third species – humans.  The simple part is you cannot have positive animal flow without positive cash flow and vice versa.

Most importantly, it requires collaboration.  All of us need to put aside our differences in working toward solving these problems.  We need to repel the notion that South Carolina is at the bottom, can only follow and never lead.  As Charleston Animal Society has done, so can the entire state.  We have proven that, indeed, South Carolina can lead!

Joe Elmore is CEO of Charleston Animal Society in Charleston.  No Kill South Carolina is an initiative of Charleston Animal Society. 

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