Stray animals are everyone’s problem.
That’s the opinion of one animal advocate who doesn’t think it’s right for Pageland officials to refuse to help pay for operating the Chesterfield County Animal Shelter — especially since Pageland is the biggest contributor to the problem.
Sheriff Sam Parker has an ally in Jerry Gaskins, founder of the local Paws and Claws rescue organization. She works closely with the shelter to help find the dogs and cats new homes.
“Every year, the animal control officers pick up more from Pageland than anywhere else,” Gaskins said. “Since they are the biggest contributor to unwanted pets, I find it a little bit on the ironic side that they’re not willing to help solve the problem.”
In May, Sheriff Parker made a formal request of the county’s five largest municipalities, asking that each kick in some money to help fund the costly operations at the county animal shelter.
According to county records, in the last fiscal year of 2009-2010, it cost nearly $135,000 to run the animal shelter.
Parker asked Pageland officials for $500 a month to help offset the costs of collecting up to 25 dogs, plus an additional $10 per animal above 25.
The Pageland Town Council last week denied the request, basically telling the sheriff that animal control is a county function.
In a letter penned to the sheriff, Pageland Mayor Brian Hough said, in part, ” … Council members were all in agreement that animal control is a county responsibility … Our town citizens pay county taxes, and we feel we are already paying our fair share.
“Since animal control is a countywide problem, our council believes it is unfair to ask citizens of the town of Pageland to pay an additional fee for this service, particularly since only the larger municipalities in the county are being asked to contribute,” Hough wrote.
Parker said he asked the towns of Pageland, Cheraw, Chesterfield, McBee and Jefferson to contribute to the operations of the animal shelter.
The sheriff said 70 percent of the calls responded to by his animal control officers are made to the Pageland area.
Hough questions that assertion, and wonders exactly where the “Pageland area” is.
“I’m not sure that all those calls originate in the town limits … Pageland town limits is only one mile out in every direction. I find it hard to believe that 70 percent come from Pageland area — there’s no way of knowing,” Hough said.
Hough, speaking for himself and not on behalf of his town’s council, suggests a county-wide tax to pay for the county animal shelter.
The town of Cheraw has stepped up and recently approved an agreement with the Sheriff’s Office to pay $300 a month toward the animal shelter, said Mayor Scott Hunter. That will cover up to 25 dogs, with $10 per dog for any above the 25.
Cheraw closed its own animal shelter last year in a cost saving move. It still employs its own animal control officer.
“We feel it’s better to have a centralized animal shelter,” Hunter said.
Asked for his reaction to Pageland turning its back on the sheriff’s request for help, Hunter declined the question.
“It’s hard to answer that, not knowing the full details,” Hunter said.
The town of Chesterfield has joined with Pageland and denied the sheriff’s request for funding, expressing a belief that animal control is a county function and that taxpayers in town already pay county taxes.
Chesterfield Mayor John Douglas said the town council did agree to chip in for operations of the animal shelter but only if all municipalities in the county did as well.
Douglas told the Chronicle on Tuesday that Chesterfield council members would be in favor of “anything done fairly across the board,” but would not favor “putting an extra burden on the backs of the towns in the county.”
The sheriff has stated in previous interviews that he inherited responsibility of the animal shelter about four years ago, and Parker has complained of little to no funding since. The shelter has also come under harsh criticism by some animal advocates who alleged mistreatment of animals, improper methods of euthanasia and more. Earlier this year, state investigators were brought in to investigate shelter operations following the discovery of dead dogs with gunshot wounds buried in a field near the facility. The investigation results are currently in the hands of the the South Carolina Attorney General pending final determination.
There is not enough room at the shelter, which can house anywhere from 75 to 100 animals. The sheriff says the animal control officers are taking in anywhere from 400 to 600 animals every month.
Experts say the biggest reason that the animal control population is out of control in Chesterfield County is due to the lack of affordable spay and neuter programs, lack of education among members of the community regarding animal population and back yard breeding.
In the end, animal advocate Gaskins still sides with the sheriff on the funding issue.
“The operation of the animal shelter is not a cheap venture — it costs money to do that,” she said. “It costs money to feed them (the animals) and house them. It costs money for gas for the animal control vehicles, and so much more.”
Gaskins, who founded the local Paws and Claws 12 years ago, said whether you are a pet owner or not, controlling the animal population is vital to all people and animal control should be everyone’s responsibility.
“Even if you don’t own a pet, I’m sure at some point in time you’ve had a animal dropped off in your yard or neighborhood, it got into the trash can or you’ve found a litter of puppies under the house.
“Animal overpopulation is a problem for everybody. Strays running through the neighborhood pose a problem. In order to fix any problem, people have to be willing to work together and do their fair share, and do what needs to be done,” Gaskins said.