‘Nearly impossible’ goal met. Why more York County animal shelter dogs, cats survive

Clover first graders read to furry friends at animal shelter

First graders at Kinard Elementary School in Clover read books to dogs and cats at the York County animal shelter in York on Wednesday. The goal was to help socialize the animals that may not be accustomed to being around people. After the student
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First graders at Kinard Elementary School in Clover read books to dogs and cats at the York County animal shelter in York on Wednesday. The goal was to help socialize the animals that may not be accustomed to being around people. After the student

No, animals can’t vote. But they’ve had a consistent voice on the York County Council for two years, and it’s starting to show.

York County Councilwoman Allison Love said the effort she and other county leaders put into animal control reform is the main reason why that department is having unprecedented success.

“These accomplishments began with me addressing issues one-on-one with county management,” Love said. “Personnel addressed itself, and we now have harmony within the shelter. The people are in place.”

Perhaps the most significant change in recent months is the percentage of animals saved from euthanasia. The save rate for 2018 is 79 percent, but it’s been 90 percent or higher since September.

“In the world of shelters, when you hit 90 percent for over a six-month period, you’re considered a ‘No Kill’ status,” said Bobbie Comer, York County Animal Control supervisor since July. “Which is the premier level to achieve as a shelter, and nearly impossible for a county shelter to achieve. We’re about to hit it in our county.”

Intake and outcome rates had been consistent for about three years. Comer said things have changed.

“The intake has drastically been reduced,” she said.

Comer said animal intake has been reduced 24 percent, and owner surrenders of pets were down 51 percent in 2018 compared to 2017.

In January 2018, the county shelter had more than 400 animals and 150 owner surrenders. A year later, there were fewer than 300 animals and 22 owner surrenders.

“We’ve also had success in our outcomes,” Comer said.

The more than 800 dogs rescued in 2018 is an annual increase of 54 percent. The euthanasia rate dropped 55 percent in a year, something Comer and colleagues in other counties discussed as a five-year goal.

“This is unheard of in shelter standards,” she said.

How it happened

Animal control equipped each field officer with a microchip scanner. Officers follow a new protocol for reuniting strays with owners. Animal control has a managed intake program, impacting how and how often people can forfeit animals.

Comer said budgeting changes helped. An updated cleaning system is saving the department 40 percent on that cost. A managed feeding program brings the food budget down 25 percent. Buying an X-ray machine means reduced costs for outsourced medical care.

The department also went social.

“We did a lot of marketing,” Comer said. “We did heavy social media, partnered with rescues, implemented a new resolution and we created a community foster program.”

Animal control officials also reached out to the public, with events like reduced cost adoptions. The department partnered with Friends of York County Animal Shelter, created a community reading program in York County schools and piloted a shelter emergency management program during Hurricane Florence.

“You can’t discount the fact that education plays a part in how people treat their animals, what our responsibilities are and what we expect of them going forward,” said Councilman William “Bump” Roddey.

Council members applaud Comer’s work, but also the efforts of Love.

“I think Allison deserves a pat on the back, too,” said councilman Britt Blackwell.

Roddey said Love has been a driving force behind the reforms and a constant voice about it in his ear.

“I was concerned,” he said. “I was skeptical. But to hear the update on things we’ve accomplished, and hearing that we’re well in reach of attaining some of these things, it’s refreshing.”

Love turned heads in her 2016 campaign to represent the Lake Wylie and Clover areas on Council by bringing up animal control as a major issue facing the county. There was a sentiment, she said, that the topic was risky, given that animals can’t vote.

She’s reaching beyond the county, too. Love has almost 3,000 signatures on a petition she sent to a state house committee, asking for statewide regulation on dog breeding.

“We need state legislators to make animal welfare laws South Carolina counties can enforce,” Love said. “We need York County to focus on our undersized facility.”

County leaders say a lot has changed in a year.

In January 2018, the shelter was overrun with animals, sometimes two or three to a kennel. Extra money had to be allocated when contracted veterinary services ran high following the unexpected departure of the county vet.

Now, county leaders say, it’s a different picture.

“This is remarkable news,” Roddey said. “This is definitely a step in the right direction.”

What ‘No Kill’ means

The “No Kill” status can be hard to define. Some shelter advocacy groups consider sites “No Kill” if they keep a certain percentage of animals from euthanization — not counting gravely ill or dangerous animals. Others only consider sites “No Kill” if they save all healthy animals.

The California-based No Kill Advocacy Center estimates about 6 million animals enter shelters each year with almost one-third euthanized. According to the center’s website, animal activists “should celebrate the increasing success” of communities reaching the 90 percent save rate or better, while still striving to save all healthy animals.

The center estimates less than 1 percent of animals are unhealthy to the point of requiring euthanization.

North Charleston-based No Kill South Carolina partners with 42 public and nonprofit animal welfare groups, with the goal of creating a “No Kill” state. Those partners include the Humane Society of York County in Fort Mill, Project Safe Pet in Lake Wylie and Southern Animal Welfare League in Chester.

No Kill South Carolina estimates there are 350 animal welfare groups, 82 shelters and 63,000 animals entering shelters as of 2017.

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John Marks covers community growth, municipalities and general news mainly in the Fort Mill and York County areas. He began writing for the Herald and sister papers in 2005 and won dozens of South Carolina Press Association and other awards since.

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