Lancaster County Animal Control animal shelter - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Questions raised about Lancaster Co. animal shelter

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LANCASTER COUNTY, SC (WBTV) -

Weeks ago WBTV started receiving complaints from self-proclaimed animal lovers about one particular county shelter.  The various emailers said they were concerned about a new rule the Lancaster County Animal Control had recently implemented.

"They've changed it so only a 501(c)3 animal rescue can get animals from the shelter to then take, clean up and adopt out," says Kristen Marris, a 23-year-old who says she recently started her own rescue called Ruff Life.

Marris says getting that status is expensive and she'd rather spend the money it would take to become 501(c)3 on vet bills and saving dogs.

"It's a huge issue," she says, "because now we can't save the animals!"

We went to Lancaster County's Animal Shelter to ask about this rule.  Director Joel Hinson, who has been at the shelter 18 years and director the past five, says he can explain.

"Any rescue can get in touch with us that is a 501(c)3," he said.  "We just need the paperwork from the IRS to see that rescue is legitimate.  That's just something we, as a small facility, are using as our standard.  We don't have time to go out and spend a lot of time checking on those things when we need to be answering calls, cleaning up and feeding animals.

Hinson said the rule has always been in place, but he used to turn a blind eye in order to get more animals adopted out.  Recently his boss – the county manager – came in and said he needed to follow the rule more strictly.  The shelter is 100% taxpayer-funded.

"Whenever I talked with a county administrator about it, he said we needed to do it with just 501(c)3 groups," Hinson said.  "So we now are.  I understand why."

WBTV received other complaints about this shelter as well… mostly about the number of dogs and cats killed.  

We obtained numbers for the past five years.  In 2008 and 2009, over 4,000 animals were euthanized.  In 2010, it was over 3,727.  Last year, over 3,679.  In the past fiscal year, it was 3,394.

Each year it drops.  Hinson says he's proud the numbers are getting better.  But, the fact remains each year there's more than twice as many put down – sometimes three times as many – than saved.

"At one point we were probably at 75% of dogs being put to sleep," says Hinson.  "This past fiscal year looking back at these numbers, it's like 43% were rescued.  That's been a big difference."

Hinson credits Facebook to helping get the word out about more dogs and cats.  Individual pictures of cute dogs and cats help with adoptions.  (You can find them on Facebook under "Lac Lancaster SC".)

Hinson also admits Facebook has been a real problem recently.

"We started getting bashed and having a lot of stuff online," he said.  "Then we started having people calling us saying, ‘please don't kill this animal, don't kill that one.  We saw online you're going to kill this one at 8-o'clock.'  And those things were totally not true."

We went back and looked at Facebook posts.  There were lots of words shared on Lancaster County Animal Shelter's page. The shelter – and Hinson -- seemed to fuel the fire by also posting on various rescue groups' pages in response. 

We asked Hinson why he didn't just ignore online comments.

"Well," said Hinson, "when people start calling us here and it starts getting around to different county offices… it's hard.  The whole county building knew what was going on here [through Facebook]."

When it comes to the complaints about the 501(c)3 rule, Marris says she knows she's a new rescue, but she says she's vocal because she's passionate about saving dogs.  She says rescues should have to fill out an application, give references and do vet checks.  She believes there should be a lot to it... just not a required 501(c)3 status. 

We checked surrounding counties for a comparison -- the rule is common, though not necessary.

Besides Lancaster... Chesterfield, Union, York, Gaston & Cabarrus Counties require a rescue to be 501(c)3 before they can pull an animal.

Shelters which do not require this status include Catawba, Cleveland & Mecklenburg.

For more information specifically on the Lancaster County shelter, go to www.mylancastersc.org.

NOTES on adopting some of the dogs seen in story:

  • The camel-colored puppies you see in the story at the Lancaster County Animal Shelter were picked up this week by a separate rescue.  They are 4-months old.  They are siblings.  One is a boy and one is a girl.  If you're interested in adopting one, please contact: www.halfwaythererescue.com.   
  • The black dog licking Molly's hands in the story was adopted!  Hinson says it now has a home.
  • Kristen Marris says the puppies she showed in the story will be available for adoption December 14th.  She got them from the Duplin County Animal Shelter in North Carolina.  She says there were originally 8 puppies, but one died.  Of remaining 7, one had to have its leg amputated.  She says to adopt you can go to her website, www.rufflifeanimalrescue.com and click the "adoption" tab.

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