COLUMBIA, SC — Petey is the new face and hope of Columbias steady progress toward dealing with pet overpopulation.
The cute Shepherd/bulldog mix puppy with a patch of brown over his left eye represents city governments latest try at encouraging more adoptions from the shelter, located in the southern part of Columbia.
Nicknamed for the once-famous Petey in the Little Rascals comedies of the 1920s and 30s, this 4-month-old is the first to be featured in the city websites new Pet of the Week offering.
The citys shelter has taken in 2,125 fewer strays or abandoned animals from across Richland County than it did four years ago, and adoptions are up by 543, according to figures supplied by Marli Drum, head of the citys Animal Services division.
Even the rate of euthanasia has been reduced by some 2,408 animals during those four fiscal years, Drums figures show.
Still, 11,770 animals went to the shelter during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, the most recent figures show. Thats a 15.3 percent drop from the 13,895 in fiscal 2008-09.
Of the nearly 12,000 animals that went to the pound last fiscal year, 8,533 didnt make it out. That means the number euthanized dropped 22 percent from the 10,941 killed four fiscal years before.
Drum attributes the decline to an aggressive spay/neuter program that began seven years ago in concert with local and national animal welfare organizations.
Spayed or neutered animals that found new homes last year reached 3,160, a 21 percent improvement over the 2,617 in fiscal 2008-09, Drums figures show.
She said it usually takes seven to 10 years before spay/neuter programs begin to reduce overpopulation, research has shown. Its heartening, Drum said, that improvements are showing up in Richland County at the lower end of that spectrum.
We are encouraged by the numbers ... and feel ... we can turn our community into a pet-safe community, she said.
Jim Sonefeld, president of the Animal Mission, which helps raise money for area spay and neuter programs, likens the successes to keeping the waterfall from overflowing.
Sometimes I look at this and I think, this is the biggest success weve had, said Sonefeld, the Hootie and the Blowfish drummer whos now head of one of the areas animal welfare organizations.
If the equation doesnt say, spay/neuter first and then (more) adoptions, the equation doesnt work, he said. Even then, We cant adopt our way out of the problem.
The stubborn oversupply of would-be pets prompted city officials last week to unveil the Pet of the Week program. They hope that using Columbias website to promote cute dogs and cats will tug at heartstrings enough to further raise the adoption rate.
Petey was a hit at City Councils Tuesday meeting in Eau Claire. When he arrived with Drum, nearly everyone attending the meeting stooped to pet the then-unnamed, flop-eared puppy.
Many people familiar with the black-and-white Little Rascals movies referred to him as Petey. When Drum scooped him up to introduce the puppy to council, she said, So, well call him Petey.
As she spoke, Petey licked her face, to a chorus of ahhhs.
Petey, as with any dog at the citys shelter, can be adopted for $73. That price includes having the pet spayed or neutered, vaccinated, wormed and imbedded with a microchip. Cats go for $68.
Mayor Steve Benjamin commended Animal Services progress on dealing with overpopulation. Benjamin said hed like Columbias pound to become a no-kill shelter.
Drum said thats a laudable goal. Nobody would want that more than workers in shelters, she said in an interview.
But no-kill is a misnomer. In the animal welfare world, a no-kill shelter is one that manages to place as many pets in homes as possible, Drum said.
Were still seeing thousands more animals than we have homes for, she said of the citys shelter. Meeting even a professional definition of a no-kill shelters is years away.
Yet, Animal Services is grateful for City Councils support and for promoting adoptions on Columbias website, Drum said.
Another front in reducing overpopulation is the use of grant money to target areas where large numbers of animals are picked up by the city, Drum said.
Animal Services has a $20,500 grant directed at neighborhoods from Elmwood Avenue north to River Drive. The bulk of the money will be used to persuade 380 animal owners to have their pets spayed or neutered for free.
About $1,500 of the grant will go toward offering pet vaccines.
Out of state adoptions
Though adoptions are rising, most of the new pet owners are not in Columbia or Richland County, she said.
Most are considered to be rescued because they have gone to other organizations, many of them out of state, that help find homes. Adoptions directly out of our facility actually have decreased, Drum said.
The number of rescued animals during the four-year period rose from 12 in 2008-09 to 1,435 last fiscal year, her figures show. The shelters first full year of participation with outside groups was 2001-2012, Drum said.
What we have learned is this is not just a shelter problem or rescue group problem, she said. This is a community problem. We need citizens, business owners, everyone to do their part.
If a person thinks that one litter is OK, they are wrong. For every litter born and then sold or given away, another litter is likely going to be euthanized in a local shelter.
So, what about Petey? The dog was adopted on Friday to a city employee, Drum said Sunday.
Were delighted the exposure helped get Petey a new home, and were looking forward to doing the same many more times in the future, she said.
John Monk contributed. Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.