• Thousands of unwanted pets from SC shelters saved by rescues in the Northeast

    By: Greg Suskin


    CHESTER COUNTY, S.C. - It's an export from South Carolina few want to talk about. 

    More than 60,000 dogs and cats are either abandoned or turned in to county animal shelters in South Carolina each year.

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    Those shelters are trying anything they can to avoid putting the animals down. 

    The only way they can save them is to send them hundreds of miles away.

    When Channel 9 dropped by Diana Holcomb's Chester County home she had 19 dogs inside.  

    "It's my passion. It's what I love to do," Holcomb said.   

    She started rescuing dogs 35 years ago. 

    One or two at a time at first, and then, whatever she could handle.   

    Although she lives in Chester, she's part of a rescue group out of Connecticut called Sweet Adoptables, a group that takes dogs from South Carolina.

    Holcomb said the problem is the local laws, or lack of enforcement of them.   

    Most southern states require pet owners to get a rabies vaccine, but nothing more. There are no pet license or spay and neuter laws, which is why so many animals end up in poorly funded county shelters that are always over capacity.

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    Many pet owners don't want to go the the trouble and expense of having their animals fixed.

    "Just our tiny little small group of about six people. We pay for people to have their dogs and cats spayed and neutered because a lot of people just don't have the money," she said.

    Rescues, veterinarians and shelters work together to offer free and low cost spay/neuter clinics, but it's not enough.

    In Chester, the shelter posts pictures of adoptable animals both online and on site.   

    Animal care and enforcement just added better protection against the weather, and a meet and greet area, to help boost adoptions. It's an important step, but the problem is widespread.

    Rescues from the Northeast and Midwest pay transport companies, sometimes $125 per dog, to take unwanted animals from shelters in the South, to save their lives.

    In Lancaster, nearly every Friday, a transport van arrives and takes dogs from the county shelter, to rescues up north.

    Carissa Valenti works at the animal shelter in Lancaster County. She stays in touch with those rescuers to let them know which animals in the shelter are not likely to be adopted.

    "They're in New Jersey, New York and Virginia. We've got one down in Florida. We wouldn't be able to do it without them," Valenti said.

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    Shelter director Alan Williams said they receive about 100 dogs a month.  On average, about 70 of them will be sent up north to rescues and eventually, new homes.

    It's not only the strays and abandoned pets, but sick ones too. People won't take home a dog with heartworm, or a disease that's expensive to treat, but rescuers will.

    "Mange, heartworm, burns, broken legs.  I mean they take them all," Valenti said.

    There are local rescuers in York, Chester and Lancaster counties that take these animals too. However, because of the high demand,  most will end up far away, but alive.

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    Holcomb said out of state rescues make money on the sale of a highly sought after breed, but the costs to transport and vet them balance that off.

    "You might make $50 on a puppy that's never been sick, and you've given him his shots and he's gotten spayed or neutered.  Then you turn around and you've got a heartworm-positive dog that's gonna cost you $300 or $400 to have treated," she said.

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    Still, many of the larger rescues have steady donors, and can often find adoptive families quickly, which is why Holcomb will always take in one more at her home.   

    She'll often hear from a new owner, who has a dog she once rescued.

    "And I know that that dog was on the euthanasia list, or it was dumped on the side of the road, or in a horrible place in a kennel all its life," she said.  "I'm just thankful that they're there."

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