Orangeburg County Animal Control wants to implement a program to reduce the feral cat population in the county.
The OCAC is looking to implement a Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) program that will focus on spaying and neutering cats.
"We are not going to fix the issues overnight, but I guarantee you we are going to work towards it together," Orangeburg County Code Enforcement Director Mernard Clarkson told those gathered Wednesday at the Orangeburg County Library and Conference Center on Russell Street. "We are not there yet but we are going to get there."
The agency is in the planning stages of the program and is working with the Elloree-based nonprofit For the Love of a Paw to better understand the program's procedures and workings.
In a TNR program, community cats are humanely trapped (with box traps), brought to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, eartipped (the universal sign that a community cat has been neutered and vaccinated), and then returned to their outdoor home.
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Animal control officials say healthy cats and kittens do not do well in a shelter environment, end up getting sick and having to be euthanized.
For the Love of A Paw Board member Jane Singh explained that the organization started about six years ago to primarily to focus on TNR.
The group found out that over 90% of cats going into the Orangeburg and Calhoun county shelters were being euthanized, Singh said.
"Pretty much it was a death sentence to be taken to the county's shelters," Singh said. "We did not feel that should be happening."
She said it has been a challenge to do TNR lately because the Columbia Humane Society has lost two mobile service vans and a veterinarian, limiting the availability for TNR opportunities.
"Our numbers are lower because of surgical spots," Singh said. "We are chipping away at it but, if we could get done on the county level in a much wider spread accent, it would make a bigger difference."
Orangeburg County Council took the matter up earlier this year and gave second reading to changes to the county's animal ordinance paving the way for such a program. Third reading was never carried forth as the county continues to further explore how other counties have handled the program.
Greenville and Charleston counties have similar programs.
Thursday's meeting was the second Code Enforcement and Animal Services gathering held in an effort on the part of Clarkson to bring together various county animal activist groups to discuss ways to improve animal welfare in the area.
"We are going to be Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle we are going to speak for them," Clarkson said. "Trust me, they are telling us stuff. We got to hear and act on what they are telling us."
The combined "All Things Animals - Orangeburg" group plans to meet again Tuesday, Aug. 30, and then plans to meet quarterly following. The goal is to split individuals into focus groups on animal welfare and then to work in a collaborative way as a whole to address animal concerns in the county.
Individuals from various animal advocacy agencies were present, including those from the Orangeburg SPCA, For the Love of a Paw, Pawsitvely Orangeburg and the Charleston Animal Society.
In addition to the TNR program, Clarkson said the county's animal control is also looking to address the issue of cat overpopulation in several ways.
One is the purchase of a mobile unit.
"My ideal goal is to get that mobile spayed and neutering unit and take it out into the community where we can provide some free services and some low-cost services for folks that can't afford it," he said. "If we don't help the people that can't help themselves, then we have a revolving door."
Clarkson said another goal would be for the county's animal control to get its own medical room and equipment where it can do its own spay and neuter procedures in partnership with local veterinarians.
Currently, animal control has partnered with veterinarians to do about 10 procedures a month. The effort began in June.
"We are slowly trying to get it going but we just need many more surgical appointments," Singh said.
In other matters, county Animal Control volunteer Sabrina Faircloth said animal control really needs volunteers to spend time with dogs by walking them around the yard as well as to help with laundry.
Individuals are also needed to take pictures and videos of the dogs and their interactions with other dogs and cats for placement purposes.
"It is a lot of fun to pet them and get to know them," Faircloth said, noting she enjoys interacting with dogs that perhaps are more skittish. "I get to watch them blossom over the next couple of weeks. This shelter is 98.5% rescue rate in the state."
Faircloth encouraged individuals to call animal control to see about volunteer opportunities.
Local and state laws
Some attendees asked about the status of the county's tethering laws that deal with how a dog is cared for on property.
Orangeburg County Animal Control Manager Dana Lang said currently animal control works with dog owners to educate them on how they can improve restraining conditions for their dogs and that there are efforts underway to get a tethering ordinance drafted for the county.
"We need to review and evaluate ordinances, procedures and policies annually," Clarkson said. "What we did 10 years ago or what the county looked at 10 years ago is not happening today," he said.
Another suggestion made by an attendee is for the county to offer low-income residents a voucher to have their animals spayed or neutered.
A question was asked about the number of animal control officers in the county. Clarkson said there are four, not including the manager and assistant manager.
"We are addressing that too," he said.
On the statewide level, there are efforts to enact legislation that would allow animal control officers to enforce laws and ordinances on the state level as Class 3A officers, according to Janelle Gregory, The Humane Society of the United States South Carolina state director.
A Class 3A officer would be able to carry a firearm and would have greater authority to address animal code enforcement issues should it pass.
"We have a mixed bag in South Carolina," Gregory said. "A lot of our animal control officers are also code enforcement officers and they don't get the benefit of going to the law enforcement academy."
Clarkson said the county is in the process of training all animal control officers and promised that under his watch, animal cases will be tried to the fullest extent of the law.
"For animal cruelty, we won't take you to magistrate court to get a slap on the hand," Clarkson said. "No, you need to go to the big courthouse so you can understand it is not something we take lightly. We are going to use those tools in our toolbox. Pretty soon they are going to know Orangeburg County is no place for you if you are not going to take care of your animal."
There are also efforts to advance legislation on the state level that would address the cost of care of animals seized by the state. Gregory said currently animals legally seized have to be held until a court case is completed.
The cost-of-care bill would place a bond on the animal and require the defendant to pay the bond every 30 days on the animals. A failure to do so would automatically forfeit the animal to the seizing agency, meaning the animal would not need to be held by a county, Gregory said.
For example, Gregory said Horry County did a seizure of about 30 dogs in 2019 and held the dogs for over two years, costing the county $300,000 during that time period. The dogs were all eventually euthanized.