A woman entered the Beaufort County Animal Shelter on Wednesday in tears and set down a carrier containing the two cats she had owned since they were kittens.
Her husband had lost his job. They could no longer afford to keep their pets.
Another woman dropped off a stray kitten she couldn't find a home for. With eight kittens, one cat and a dog at home, Amber Spooner said she couldn't afford another animal.
"I hate to bring her, but we have too many animals at our house, and that's expensive to feed," Spooner said.
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The stories are all too common for shelter administrative technician Lindsey Edwards, who said the shelter's cat crowding problem continues. A warm winter has meant more time for breeding, and continued financial problems have people struggling to pay to spay or neuter their pets.
So the shelter stays crowded.
"If it doesn't get cold, I have no hopes for this to slow down," Edwards said of the growing cat population.
As many as 50 cats have arrived at the shelter in a day, Edwards said. On Wednesday, it housed about 160 cats, and another 50 were being fostered by Beaufort County families, she said. Shelter volunteer Jessica Weiss is fostering 30 cats.
The shelter is built to hold about 90 cats, so the employee break room now has stacks of cages full of recent arrivals, Edwards said. They are monitored for bad behavior and disease before being sent to foster homes, put up for adoption or transported to shelters in need of cats.
Up to 60 cats a week have been sent to shelters in other states. But that option is becoming a challenge. An Atlanta shelter that typically takes some of the overflow has reached capacity, Beaufort County shelter director Tallulah Trice said. Nonetheless, the transport program has helped cut the county's cat euthanasia rate in half some months, she said.
The shelter has taken other steps to try to reduce the cat population. It has arranged for discount prices at the Spay & Neuter Alliance & Clinic for owners to get their cats fixed, she said.
The shelter also has started a trap-and-release program, in which stray cats are caught, spayed or neutered, implanted with microchips, and released outside the shelter. If given food and water, Edwards said, they will remain in an area and kill bugs, spiders and snakes.
"The county can't beat free pest control," she said, "... and we're trying to show people that we're doing it here, and they can do it, too."
The program is ideal for businesses, farms and plantations, she said.
One Lady's Island woman asked for a friendly feral cat for her home for her grandchildren to play with, and several less congenial kitties for properties she owns in Beaufort, Weiss said.