Local animals have a “Bridge” to a brighter future

Sleeping newborn pups born to the unofficial Bridge mascot, Nicole. Photos by Samantha Lyles

Sleeping newborn pups born to the unofficial Bridge mascot, Nicole. Photos by Samantha Lyles

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Tucked into the rolling green hills just north of Hartsville, a little patch of land measuring less than four acres is having a rather large impact on the future of dogs and cats in Darlington County. Hosting 102 kennels and a few dozen cat pens, this facility – known as The Bridge – offers a safe holding area for pets that are promised for rescue or adoption.

Founded by the Darlington County Humane Society and funded entirely by private contributions, The Bridge has been up and running for over a year, but the facility still has a rather modest public profile. DCHS treasurer and Bridge volunteer Kathy McDonald plans to change that with an “Open House” event this fall, throwing open the gates and letting the public see what Bridge is all about. Which is, in a word, hope.

Bridge sign

“There’s no PTS list here,” says Kathy, referring to the “put to sleep” list that is the ultimate fate of many of the 4,700 animals taken in by the Darlington County Animal Shelter each year.

Kitten siblings hang out in their pen, conveniently located right next to mom.

Kitten siblings hang out in their pen, conveniently located right next to mom.

Bridge provides housing not just for animals awaiting transfer to new homes, but offers medical care and socialization for animals who require healing in body or spirit. Since there’s no clock ticking on how long they can remain at Bridge, the animals have time to mend and grow strong, to ready themselves for a fresh start. Housing these dogs and cats at Bridge results in less euthanasia and overcrowding at the county animal shelter.

With help from patient volunteers, Bridge also offers a second chance for animals that could make great pets, but may need a little time to work through their issues. McDonald cites the case of Katie, a black and tan coonhound once prone to nipping at strangers. When Katie came to DCHS, she had recently lost her human family and been separated from her litter of puppies, and she was lost and anxious around new people. At Bridge, Katie has time to calm down and learn to trust again, and she’s already made great strides. When she’s ready, Katie will be transported to an out-of-state coon hound rescue.

Success stories like Katie’s are the result of many hours of volunteer service. Kathy credits new Bridge facility manager Erika Manko and volunteers like Erin Maguire, Howard Trout, Sam Watson, and dozens of helpful folks – like the crew of volunteer dog walkers from Sonoco – for putting in the hours and the dollars to keep Bridge going.

Though modesty would prevent her from putting it so bluntly, Bridge would not be possible without Kathy and Richard McDonald, who sold their developed kennel and training facilities to DCHS (foregoing payments on that 0-percent interest mortgage when times are lean), and ran Bridge themselves, footing a significant portion of operating costs, for the first year. During that year, Bridge had about 30-60 dogs and 5 -25 cats housed there all the time.

“If Richard and I had been able to make this an outright gift to DCHS, we would gladly have done so,” says Kathy. “That was not possible so we did the next best thing by cutting the price and costs associated with the purchase.”

To avoid any conflict of interest, Bridge funds are held in a separate account managed by two other DCHS volunteers and McDonald has no access. She also took no part in DCHS Board of Directors discussions about the property purchase and did not vote on the issue.

The Bridge property borders kennels owned by Richard, who trains bomb-sniffing dogs for law enforcement and military agencies, and neighbor Rhett Riddle, owner of Bay Creek Kennels. Kathy notes that while the three businesses share a common access road and parking lot, the Bridge kennels and the private kennels are separated by fence barriers, and the kennels do not share utilities or equipment.

Due to strict code requirements by some European clients of Richard’s detection dog business, many of the Bridge kennels are constructed to exacting specifications: all kennels are constructed of 9 and 9.5 gauge wire; all are under roofs and are connected to subterranean septic systems; all have chain link tops and medium-sized Dogloos attached; most feature stainless steel buckets, name plates on gates, and a removable plastic resting pad; all kennel runs have incandescent lighting, and flood lights at all roof corners.

The Bridge has a few modest buildings as well, including a wash house with donated washer and dryer and a dog bath, a storage building for pallets of dog and cat food (much of it bought at deep discount through charity Rookie’s Reward), and an office / cat and kitten ranch. The office is currently home to a litter of potato-sized puppies recently born to Bridge resident Nicole, a jovial mutt who never met a stranger. Rest assured that once the pups are ready, they’ll be adopted out to new homes, and, if they inherit their mom’s personality, they’re sure to bring joy to their new families.

Needs at Bridge – and at other branches of DCHS – are never ending. Due to animal overpopulation in Darlington County, the shelter is constantly taking in newly abandoned, lost, or abused animals. Paying for housing, food, medical care, sanitation, and organizing rescue transports to out-of-state organizations takes a lot of money, and only a fraction of it comes from county funding.

For the year 2013, DCHS reported total expenses of $692,991 and revenues of $679,764. In their recently approved budget for fiscal year 2015/15, Darlington County funded DCHS at $148,345, even though county staff had initially proposed cutting that amount by about $48,000.

Donations to DCHS can be directed to the donor’s choice of four branches: rescue efforts, shelter operations, spay-neuter outreach (providing financial help for those who cannot afford to spay or neuter their pets), and The Bridge facility.

To learn more about The Bridge, visit www.dchsbridge.com, or write to dchsbridgekennel@gmail.com To see more photographs, mobile users please click here: The Bridge

Author: Duane Childers

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