NORTH CHARLESTON — The Charleston Animal Society knew in 2017 it needed to expand if it wanted to better care for pets. The nonprofit’s leadership feared a rise in vulnerable animals would accompany the region’s explosive population growth and rapid development.
A similar need has been heightened during the pandemic, which CAS leadership says brought about a statewide veterinarian shortage, adding to overcrowding at South Carolina shelters.
That manifested in December when South Carolina shelters saw a backlog of 1,000 animals, largely because of the lack of vets to provide spaying and neutering services, Charleston Animal Society CEO Joe Elmore said.
The state’s leader in animal intake, CAS says its plan to expand its North Charleston campus will help address the issues threatening the health and safety of pets.
The society, which runs a shelter at 2455 Remount Road, intends to expand its campus to include an emergency animal shelter, vet clinic and training facility that would be accompanied by a barn.
The animal society is partnering with the city of North Charleston in the effort.
North Charleston City Council unanimously gave approval earlier this month to donate land fronting the city’s Public Works Center to the Animal Society for the expansion.
The expansion project
The plan is still largely conceptual. No fundraising has yet begun for the shelter. Initial estimates project costs at $10 million to $15 million, but the expansion will likely be more expensive than those early estimates, Elmore said.
The expansion focuses on three areas: overcapacity, affordable vet care and education.
A new emergency shelter will be used as an overflow space for shelters across the state, many of which are overcrowded. The shelter itself currently has around 700 pets in its care between its North Charleston shelter, cat sanctuary and foster homes.
A vet clinic would serve a dual role. The space would provide reasonably priced health care services for pets. The clinic would also help to free up shelter space across the state by spaying and neutering animals to make them available for adoption, which is required by law in South Carolina.
The Animal Society is particularly excited about the educational component that’ll be run through a new training center and barn. The new spaces will allow CAS to teach youth the importance of compassion through animals. It will build on ongoing efforts by CAS to teach children important lessons.
Currently, the society partners with local schools to bring animals in. During one recent visit, the society brought three-legged dog Louis to an elementary school. Seeing the dog sparked an emotional response from the second grade students, who felt empathy for the pet, said De Daltorio, director of humane education.
The society’s educational efforts are highly sought out by local educators who understand how pets can pique children’s interests, Daltorio said.
Working with the city
The society cares for between 15,000 and 20,000 animals of different species, mostly canines and felines, each year. Over the past five years, CAS has sheltered between 7,5000 and 9,5000 animals.
Particularly noteworthy is the nonprofit’s spaying and neutering services. The organization has performed about 10,000 surgeries each year for the past decade, leading to a decline in animal overpopulation in Charleston County, Elmore said. It will be able to perform more services once the new facilities are built and more vets are added to the nonprofit.
The Charleston Animal Society had been for several years leasing the land, which runs along Remount Road, for $1 from the city with intentions to develop the property with new facilities. But in order to get the financing necessary for the project, the center needed to own the land.
Mayor Keith Summey vouched support for the animal shelter, citing his own love for pets.
“I have a soft spot for animals, he said. “I don’t mind saying that. I’ve got three wonderful dogs. My daughter’s got four.”
Summey said he can’t think of a better use for the empty stretch of land than to donate it for the purpose of helping pets, also touting the shelter’s educational component.
“They will be bringing animals that the average child in the city of North Charleston never sees,” he said.
Summey praised the overall development of that side of the city, which sits near the Interstate 26 overpass at Remount Road. The land where the animal shelter sits, and much of the property adjacent it, had previously been owned by the Navy. The federal agency handed the land over to the city after the Charleston Naval Base closed in 1996.
Since then, much of the land has been developed for projects that include the city’s Public Works campus, the building housing the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, the North Charleston Athletic Center, and the animal shelter.
The city’s recent decision to donate the Remount Road property falls in line with overall plan for the area to repurpose underutilized property.
“It’s an opportunity for us to share what we received when the base closed and make something wonderful out of it,” Summey said.