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Policy changes at county shelter are paying off for dogs and cats

A.J. Montgomery and Andrea Sargent, care technicians at the Beaufort County Animal Shelter, restock the refrigerator in this file photo from October 2010 after giving the cat holding room a thorough cleaning.
A.J. Montgomery and Andrea Sargent, care technicians at the Beaufort County Animal Shelter, restock the refrigerator in this file photo from October 2010 after giving the cat holding room a thorough cleaning. Staff photo

Beaufort County officials hope proposed changes to the animal-control ordinance will continue to increase pet adoptions and reduce euthanasia.

County Council's Public Safety Committee recommended earlier this week that the county lower fees for reclaiming dogs and cats at the animal shelter. The proposal also would attempt to stop people from continually returning pets and adopting other ones, and create exceptions for terminally ill or vicious animals to the five-day waiting period before they can be euthanized.

"We're trying to (improve) without going to any radical solutions like passing a spay/neuter ordinance, which would be difficult to enforce," said County Councilman Jerry Stewart, chairman of the committee, which voted Monday to forward the recommendations to County Council.

The fees to reclaim impounded animals would be cut in half -- to $50 for the first offense, $125 for the second and $250 for each additional offense. However, the committee agreed that the shelter's director should no longer have the authority to waive those fees. Also, identification microchips should be implanted in reclaimed animals, at a cost to be determined later.

Another amendment would prevent any pet owner who turns in an animal from adopting another one from the shelter for at least 90 days. If an owner returns more than one adopted animal in a year, that person would no longer be allowed to adopt from the shelter.

Public safety director William Winn and shelter director Toni Lytton said despite the shelter's interview and trial process to ensure a good fit for animals and owners, the new measure was needed.

"We do have occasions where we have some chronic people who are just continually changing animals," Winn said. "This is not fair to the animal. It puts it under a lot of stress."

Committee members agreed that the shelter's five-day holding period before euthanasia could be waived for animals that are "terminally ill, critically injured or a threat to the shelter staff and/or other animals ... at the shelter." Winn said the decision to euthanize an animal before the holding period expires would have to be made by a veterinarian, except for vicious dogs.

Euthanasia rates at the shelter have fallen since the county changed its ordinance in April and began making a concerted effort to reduce the kill rate, but it's still a work in progress, Winn said. The rate went from 72 percent from January to November last year, to about 60 percent from January to October this year, according to the shelter.

The average number of animals taken in per month also has dropped, from about 460 to about 400. The number of pets adopted or sent to rescue groups has risen from about 85 per month to about 108, although the number reclaimed by owners has fallen from about 30 to less than 24 each month.

Winn said the shelter has benefited from new free spay and neuter clinics, as well as help from partners like the Palmetto Animal League, PetSmart in Beaufort and the Hilton Head Humane Association.

All three help house animals waiting for adoption and assist with some of the county's programs. PAL, which will open its new adoption shelter later this month in Okatie, also has sent pets out of the county to help them find homes.

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