The Horry County Animal Care Center has been operating as a ‘no-kill’ shelter. But overcrowding threatens that

She doesn't bark. She wags her tail until the her rear legs lift with each tail swing. She shoves her nose between the slats of the cage and stares while waiting in a tent at the Horry County Animal Care Center. “This is puppy and kitten season,” said center director Kelly Bonome. The shelter is filled to capacity with a majority of the dogs and puppies being held as part of pending abuse cases. The overcrowding has forced the shelter to use a tent from Horry County Police Department and an air conditioning unit/generator from the North Myrtle Beach Department of Public Safety. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Pups bark on the Horry County Animal Care Center grounds in an air-conditioned military tent first used Thursday to help with overcrowding. 

Nine of 16 additional kennels the center purchased are in the tent that belongs to the Horry County Police Department and is able to utilize an air conditioning unit/generator courtesy of the North Myrtle Beach Department of Public Safety.

Only one of those 16 was vacant the following day.

While the center has been operating as a “no-kill” shelter for a couple years — meaning it does not euthanize adoptable or treatable animals — overcrowding could result in the shelter no longer using that model.

“We're going to do everything in our power to make sure that that doesn't happen,” said the center’s director Kelly Bonome, adding this might result in the shelter finding more rescue partners or holding more adoption events.

Within the last month or so, the center located near the county jail has seen an influx of animals. Situations like 30 dogs recently being seized from a home near Loris, some of which have since died, hasn’t helped.

“We've been playing this walking on the fence post game for over a month now,” Bonome said.

From Monday through Thursday afternoon of last week, the center took in nearly 200 animals, Bonome said.

Bonome said this part of the year, for the shelter and others across the country, is “high intake time.”

“This is puppy and kitten season,” she said.

College students may not be able to take his or her pet home. People who go on vacation may bring their dog in or a pup may have had a litter.

Bonome and Kelsey Gilmore-Futeral, State Director of the Humane Society of the United States, both said economic hardships could lead to more animals at a shelter because people may be unable to afford adequate care for their pets.

Many of the animals are being held at the center as cases move through the legal system.

Bonome pointed out kennels holding those animals can’t be “doubled up,” noting some may be dangerous. Also, dogs with parvovirus must be cared for while the staff makes sure other shelter residents aren’t affected.

Bonome said it can take months or even more than a year for a case to make its way through the system, though officers have aided in speeding things up in addition to stepped up enforcement when it comes to animal cruelty.

While the center is able to house around 150 animals and typically houses dogs and cats, Bonome noted that Friday morning the shelter had more than 280.

She said the shelter works to rotate animals in and out of the center, either through adoption, people reclaiming their lost pets or other means.

One way to handle the overcrowding is by working with the center’s many rescue partners on the East Coast.

Transport can be arranged in order for animals able to be moved, and Bonome mentioned that disaster events have led to the Humane Society of the United States helping transport animals.

Before a transport, the center must make sure the animals are healthy enough to be transportable.

“We have to be very careful,” Bonome said.

Additionally, she said, as animals are transported to other facilities and those facilities become overloaded, the center’s resources can become drained.

Stray intakes must be kept at the center for at least five days, including the day the animal is brought in.

The overcrowding can also put a strain on staff members.

In addition to purchasing the 16 new kennels, to deal with the crowding, the center has employed use of overtime.

The more animals the center has, the more time is spent caring for them.

The center does not turn animals away that are brought in, and must find a way to house animals once the max capacity is reached because of this.

When the center first opened about 10 years ago, Bonome — who’s also served in roles like animal control officer — said her goal was to have the shelter be “no-kill.”

Two decades ago, however, it didn’t seem possible.

Shelter standards have changed, and Bonome said that the center’s medical and behavioral programs improving have been crucial.

The shelter has also been working toward partnering with more cat rescue groups.

Though times can be frustrating, she remains upbeat.

She said things like taking in animals during Hurricane Florence so that locals can get to safety — and subsequently spaying and neutering them if the owners choose to have it done — helps her stay positive.

“When you see an adoption and you hear from adopters a year to three years down the road, you hear, ‘You know, that animal has made a big difference in our lives.’”

Notably, 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.

Bonome said the shelter being “no-kill” has resulted in significantly less animals being euthanized.

The center offers owner-requested euthanizing, which lets an animal be put to death humanely when its quality of life has been greatly reduced.

How to help

Bonome stressed it is key to make one’s pet identifiable. Those with microchips can be reunited with owners quickly and owner information on a collar can help.

She also emphasized the importance of spaying/neutering. The center routinely has spay/neuter clinics where the services are offered at lower costs.

If one in the area has a missing pet, he or she is encouraged to come to the center at 1923 Industrial Park Road, Conway.

Photos of adoptable and stay animals at the center are posted online.

Adoption events are also planned.

In honor of the center’s 10-year anniversary, an adoption event is being held 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Adoptions will be offered for $10.

The center is open 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday. The phone number is 843-915-5172.

Janet Morgan is the editor of the Myrtle Beach Herald. Contact her at 843-488-7258 or at janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com.

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