Rick Tebbs believes innovative leadership could drastically reduce the number of animals that are euthanized at the Horry County Animal Care Center, but at least one Horry County Councilman says the number of kills is already going down.

As a member of the Horry County Humane Voters Coalition, Tebbs wants to save as many of his animal friends as he can. He founded the Circle of Life Cat Sanctuary where 14 felines enjoy a good life on his property near S.C. 905. He and his wife began rescuing cats after moving to the area, and have cared for as many as 27 at once.

“We do it because we feel we have an obligation to animals,” he said. “There’s a definite need for it. I feel like God’s looking down on me and saying ‘thanks for what you do for my animals.’ ”

Tebbs recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how many animals are euthanized at the Horry County Animal Care Center. He was flabbergasted to find out more than 32,600 cats and dogs have been euthanized there since 2011.

“I knew the kill numbers were high, but once I got the numbers back my mouth dropped,” he said. “I had no idea they had killed that many animals...That’s totally unacceptable.”

According to statistics supplied by the county, the Center took in 48,771 dogs and cats from 2011-2015. Of that number, 5,576 were adopted, 2,291 were reclaimed, 2,686 were rescued and 32,654 were euthanized.

According to Horry County Animal Care operations manager Kelly Bonome, the center’s history proves not only the reasons euthanasia was necessary, but also the trend to euthanize less for time and space.

“It should be obvious that no one wants to perform euthanasia,” she said. “However, there are only so many people who will adopt and most only want puppies and kittens. This is the sad reality we have to deal with and, honestly, it is a community problem. We don't breed animals here. We don't create the medical or behavioral issues. They are the reality of what is out in the community.”

According to Bonome, there are several ways to reduce the problem. They are responsible pet ownership, and spaying and neutering pets.

“There are several low-cost clinics in the area so this should not be a problem,” she said. “The true problem is that people believe it should be free.”

Bonome also recommends that owners identify their pets.

“Only about 2 percent of the animals we get in here have identification,” she said. “When the 2 to 4 percent of animals do come in with identification, they are usually reunited with their families within 24 hours.”

Bonome said the Center does all it can to encourage adoption.

“We post on the Government Access Channel, on our website, on Facebook. We do adoption events, attend schools, have reduced adoption fee days, reduce or waive adoption fees for animals on the adoption floor for more than 30 days, and we have cats available for adoption at Petsense in Conway,” she said. “We are open to other ideas, but basically the market is flooded.”

According to Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught, everything possible is being done to reduce the numbers. He said state law won’t allow the county to adopt out feral cats.

“We feel like we’re doing a good job,” he said. “We’re incrementally bringing it down every year. We’re taking steps. We’re doing everything we can to minimize the numbers that are euthanized.”

According to statistics released by the Center, the number of animals euthanized was cut almost in half from 2011 to 2015.

n In 2011, 11,638 animals were taken in during 2011 when 8,332 were euthanized.

n The Center reported 11,859 intakes in 2012 with 8,145 dogs and cats euthanized.

n The 2013 figures show that 9,870 animals were taken in and 6,624 were euthanized.

n In 2014, there were 7,544 intakes with 5,327 being euthanized.

n The 2015 figures show that 7,860 animals were taken in and 4,226 were euthanized.

Monthly clinics discussed

Horry County leaders are considering hosting a monthly spay/neuter clinic to help reduce the euthanasia rate at the county animal shelter.

The proposal, which was made during the council’s budget retreat this past week, comes after an animal rights activist obtained records about the shelter’s kill rate through an S.C. Freedom of Information Act request.

The records showed the county had euthanized 32,500 cats and dogs since 2011.

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus called the numbers misleading and said many of the cats and dogs are not lost pets, but feral animals that would never be suitable for adoption. Lazarus said about half of the animals euthanized at the shelter are feral and some of the others so sick that their owners want to end their suffering.

The chairman said the best way to keep animals from being euthanized is to educate people about the importance of spaying and neutering their pets.

Still, he said, those surgeries can be expensive and many residents can’t afford to take their animals to a vet.

“It comes down to putting food on the table or spaying or neutering my animal,” Lazarus said.

Not enough

Tebbs doesn’t think the Center tries hard enough to save the animals.

“I’ve been fighting these people eight years and in that eight years about 80,000 animals were killed up there,” he said. “It’s too easy for them to kill.”

Tebbs believes there is a lot the Center could do, such as finding foster caretakers for the animals for a month or two.

“One hundred fosters would cut the kill rate in half,” he said. “They don’t advertise for fosters. They don’t want fosters. There are all kinds of methods they could use to reduce to no kill.”

Tebbs, who also formed a group called Horry County Stop the Killing, believes there are plenty of rescuers who would take many of the animals and find them new homes in other parts of the country.

“There are transporters that would take them from New York to California,” he said. “There’s no excuse whatsoever for not saving these animals. There’s thousands of shelters out there.”

Tebbs believes a change in direction could save numerous animals.

“No kill is not something you can achieve in a week or a month,” he said. “It takes a long time, but it can be obtained. Every day that nothing changes out there, 15 animals die.”

Tebbs hopes the new Horry County police chief will implement changes for the better.

“We hope the new police chief is somebody who is more kind and more open to animals,” he said. “They do not have the no kill mentality in their heads. There are plenty of people out there who could change that place for the better.”

Myrtle Beach Herald reporter August Dittbenner also contributed to this story.

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