HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – More than 34,000 cats and dogs were euthanized at the Horry County Animal Care Center from fiscal year 2011 through March 2016, according to statistics provided by Horry County.
"The definition of a shelter is that you take in an animal to give it a second chance at life," said Karen McGranahan. "That's not what they get at Horry County."
McGranahan founded Bikini Beach Cat Rescue several years ago to curb the population of homeless cats in the area by introducing spaying and neutering programs.
"The cat haters and the cat lovers, we want the same thing," she said. "We want to decrease the numbers. We want to see the number of cats go down. We want to see the numbers of euthanasias go down."
She said she was surprised to learn just how many animals are euthanized at the Horry County Animal Care Center.
"I don't think anybody was really aware of how bad the statistics are here in Horry County," she said.
McGranahan created the Humane Voters of Horry County Coalition and launched a website last week to educate people about those statistics, while also encouraging the county to make the shelter no-kill.
She said Target Zero, an organization with experience in working with shelters to make the transition from high to no-kill, offered to help the Horry Animal Care Center for free.
"They would come in and basically assess how to increase your adoption rates, take a look at ways to stop the euthanasia," McGranahan said.
She said several strategies can decrease euthanasia rates, including offering spaying and neutering to the public at a low cost to stop breeding, encouraging off-site adoptions, which she said are most effective at getting animals in good homes, and also trapping, neutering and returning feral cats back into the field, a process called TNR.
"Because now they're fixed, they can't continue to breed, so the colony shrinks over time," she said.
However, McGranahan said her proposals about this free offer to county leaders have been ignored.
"First, you have to say we have a problem," she said. "You have to identify the problem, then you have to look at ways to solve it. None of that has been done."
McGranahan said 90 percent of the eligible, adoptable animals would be saved in a no-kill shelter.
Statistics from Horry County show the average live release rate, or the percentage of pets leaving a shelter alive, is 22.5 percent for the past five fiscal years, improving from 16 percent in 2011 to 36 percent in 2015.
Euthanasias decreased over time as well, from 8,332 in 2011 to 4,226 in 2015.
McGranahan said the numbers are still unacceptable.
"You're burying $400,000 to $500,000 a year in the landfill just in cats' bodies," she said. "You think the county would be able to come up with some type of funding to address the root cause of the problem and that is the breeding."
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said he believes the policies and procedures at the Horry County Animal Care Center are very good and they've been reviewed by staff members many times.
He added the animals being killed are not people's pets due to a 72-hour holding policy. Plus, Lazarus said the help from Target Zero would eventually end, so the county would have to come up with the funding for the programs on its own after that.
Horry County Police Department Chief Saundra Rhodes oversees the Horry County Animal Care Center. She released the following statement Thursday afternoon:
"The Horry County Animal Care Center shares in the concern about the euthanasia rate at the HCACC, and we have taken very proactive steps to incrementally decrease those rates.
As you can see from the attached information, we have been successful in increasing our adoption and rescue rates, which decreased our rates of euthanasia.
Our ultimate goal, of course, is to have a 100 percent release rate of all animals that are eligible to be adopted or rescued. However, we realize that to accomplish this, numerous construction additions will have to be made in order to house more animals for a longer period of time. Also, there will have to be an increase in the provision of food, supplies and medication, as well as a significant increase in the number of personnel employed by the HCACC. These are our goals; however, we are cognizant of the fact that this cannot and will not happen overnight.
We are always considering options that will help us increase our live-release rate and, although we have decreased the euthanasia rate by over 49 percent over the course of the last 5 years (2011: 8,332; 2015: 4,226), we will not be truly satisfied until we see that number decreased even further."