Laurens County Shelter Writing a New Story

May 14, 2024

The Laurens County Sheriff’s Animal Shelter is a typical municipal shelter with too many dogs, only two volunteers, and very little community engagement. But that’s where the similarities end.

Despite having nearly twice as many dogs as the shelter was built to handle, with many becoming long-stay dogs (average length of stay is about a year) and despite nearly all of the dogs are currently being housed outside, the animals we met were healthy, happy, and calm.

That is thanks to the director, Melony, who has only been on the job for a year and who previously ran a restaurant. “I feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing,” she explained. “I love old people and dogs. This is what I should have always been doing.”

The dogs at LCSAS spend time in playgroups and have regular enrichment with nylabones, frozen treats, paper towel tubes stuffed with kibble and peanut butter, and good old-fashioned sticks. This effort goes a long way in explaining why the dogs we met were friendly and sweet, happy and ready to engage.

We always like to meet the longest-stay dogs, Melony asked Michaela (an employee) to bring out Molly and Jess, two sisters who have been at the shelter for a year and a half. Both pups were adorable, friendly, happy to see us, and happy to visit the other dogs around us.

It’s clear they were used for breeding before being abandoned, but both were very people and dog friendly. Molly’s ears were cropped to nearly nothing. She’s also very overweight and Melony told me Molly is on a diet and has already lost three pounds. The extra weight makes her resemble a land seal (or a miniature hippo). She is sweet as they come and clearly a staff favorite.

When Melony started her job at the shelter, she spent two days at Anderson County PAWS with Dr. Kim Sanders the woman who is leading the charge in saving South Carolina’s dogs. Melony says those two days taught her so much and have shaped how she does things at the shelter. (We’re Anderson County PAWS fans, so we could see that!)

Nearly all of the dogs at the shelter were medium and large dogs. Like many of the shelters we’ve talked with lately, they have a lot of puppies and are struggling to find more rescue partners. They do adopt out dogs locally but depend on rescues to move out the majority of their dogs. Melony does not euthanize for space. Instead, she has doubled up dogs as needed.

There were so many sweet dogs in kennel after kennel. We talked about the challenge of placing dogs in homes or with rescue, and of evaluating for behavior risks. Melony said she won’t place a dog that she wouldn’t be comfortable adopting out to her grandchild.

Melony is working hard to rebuild bridges (burned by previous leadership) so that she can engage her community to join her at the shelter. She’s blessed with one remarkable volunteer, Ms Diane, who seems to have a personal relationship with each dog and makes sure that they (and Melony) have what they need, including finishing the outside play spaces, purchasing supplies, and enrichment toys. She also drives transports and helps to find rescue partners.

The dogs are currently living outdoors (except dogs being evaluated for behavior, new intakes, and puppies who are in a separate building), because their kennel is being renovated. It was exciting to see the work being done. The ceiling inside the metal building has sound dampening insulation sprayed on and an HVAC system has been installed. The floors are scheduled to be redone next before the kennels will be installed.

The dogs should move back inside soon, just in time to escape the coming heat of South Carolina summer. The renovated kennel is built to hold 48 dogs, but lately, Laurens typically has 80-90 dogs, so Melony will have to perfect her juggling act.

Laurens County is lucky to have a leader like Melony looking out for their dogs. She’s doing everything she can to keep the animals healthy and sane in a tough situation. The new kennels will help, but what she needs more than anything is community support, volunteers, and rescue connections.

I feel a bit like a broken record, but I’ll say it again. The current system of sheltering is not sustainable. LCSAS does not take owner-surrendered dogs, is dependent on rescue organizations, and has a tiny staff (Melony, one employee, and two inmates). If we want to seriously address the problem of too many un-homed dogs, the community needs to not only help the shelter staff, but take ownership in the shelter funded by their tax dollars.

If you’d like to help, consider shopping from the shelter’s Amazon wishlist.

I’m excited to follow the progress of this dedicated new director and see how she brings change in Laurens County, South Carolina.

#NothingChangesIfNothingChanges

Until each one has a home,

Cara

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To see our Emmy-nominated, award-winning short documentary, Amber’s Halfway Home, click here. If you’d like to see it on the big screen (along with other short dog films), check out the tour schedule of The Dog Film Festival, currently in art movie houses all over the country.

Learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold.

For more information on any of our projects, to talk about rescue in your neck of the woods, or partner with us, please email cara@WWLDO.

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Lauren Burnette Ulmer
8 Days Ago

Thank you so much for the work you do. If you ever feel like not enough people are listening, please know that your words and photos are reaching people who care. I’m in Oregon and I started fostering and donating because of you.