Midlands animal shelters use education, fostering to decrease euthanizations

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Overpopulation of animals in Midlands shelters is leading to an alarming amount of animals being put down each year.

While Columbia animal shelter officials say they saw a decline in animal euthanizations last year, they want that number to continue to drop.

Just take a look at the case of Mickey -- a 3-year-old Chihuahua mix that was brought to the shelter because its owners could not care for the dog. Mickey is just one of over 12,000 animals in the City of Columbia and Richland County to have been dropped off at the shelter.

Officials say while the number of drop offs is down 1,900 animals from 2010, the biggest problem in overpopulation in the Midlands continues to be the lack of animals spayed and neutered.

Animal shelter officials attribute the drop to increased education and awareness, free spay and neuter programs and help from various non-profit organizations, but say the problem is still out of control.

Officials with Pawmetto Lifeline, a non-profit no-kill shelter, say the mass amount of animal drop offs equates to an 82 percent euthanization rate in the Midlands and that's almost 20 percent higher than the national average.

While the euthanization rate is alarming, shelter officials say the weight should not fall on the shelters.

"I want to be real clear and very honest," said Pawmetto Lifeline's Denise Wilkinson. "We need to all stop blaming the municipal shelters for this problem. If you have a pet and you have not spayed and neutered that pet then that's your responsibility. That's why we end up with so many puppies and kittens in our municipal shelters and large dogs and cats who are homeless."

The group does what it can with limited resources. When they run out of room, foster parents like Pam Harrell step in to help pick up the slack.

"My family loves it," said Harrell. "It's a bonding experience for us and I know that for every animal that I foster one is pulled from a kill shelter."

There's about 40 foster pet homes in Richland and Lexington County, but officials say there's a need for more homes.

"I could have 250/300 foster homes and I still wouldn't have enough places for the 21,000 homeless pets that are in the municipal shelters in Lexington and Richland counties," said Wilkinson.

According to Harrell, it doesn't take a lot to be a foster parent. Pawmetto Lifeline provides all the basic needs. "They provide the training education, food and resources that I need," she said.

Officials at the Columbia Animal Shelter say the animals they take in every year don't have to be a statistic and the only way they can combat the overpopulation problem is with the help of educated owners.

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