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Our best friends
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It’s raining cats and dogs -- time to talk about our animals.

On our second day in Camden in October 2005, our little dog Tiger, a sweet, probably inbred bichon frise who didn’t much appreciate boundaries, wandered off the property in a snit, marched down to DeKalb, and was promptly run over. Joy was inconsolable.

On that day, the soul of the city opened to us. Our new neighbors, most of whom we had never met, poured forth food and sympathy. With the loss of Tiger, we discovered Camden’s profound connection with the animal world. The truth is, our animals ground our community. Our horses bestow grace and quicken our spirits; and with our cats and dogs, who are everywhere among us, our hearts sing. Sadly, with the poverty that overtakes too many these days, comes a dark side -- the abandoning of unwanted and sometimes abused animals, especially our dogs, who have shown us unconditional love.

As it so happened, a good Samaritan had carried Tiger’s body to the Walter M. Crowe Animal Shelter. When I called the shelter to check if they’d seen him, the compassionate Sharon Jones in the front office asked me to come retrieve him. At the shelter, I witnessed the professionalism of a staff in a facility overcrowded only because too many well-meaning pet owners and a few who are deliberately cruel do not believe in neutering their pets -- and following the 2009 recession, increasing numbers of animals, mostly dogs, have been abandoned. Recently, the sheriff’s office rescued 21 pit bulls from a criminal dog fighting operation. Some of these dogs come from “backyard breeders.” The Kershaw County shelter now receives an annual average of 5,000 animals. Sorry to say, the facility is bursting at the seams with homeless dogs and cats. There is no room to expand.

The only solution to the problem to the unwanted pet population is spaying and neutering. Not only will we have happier and healthier animals, we will be doing our part in making sure that one day there will be no more homeless pets.

Every year in this country, 3.5 million dogs and cats are euthanized, many in Kershaw County, mostly because they are sick, injured and or exhibit intolerable behavior, often after severe abuse. To encourage adoption, the shelter offers a low cost adoption fee: $80 for cats/kittens and $95 for dogs/puppies to cover the costs of vaccines, de-worming, care, and neutering your pet.

In an outstanding development, Judy Thiel, the Kershaw County Humane Society’s board president, has bought and donated a new 16,000-square-foot building on Black River Road. The new facility, The Meyer-Thiel Animal Adoption Center, managed by the Society, will care for abandoned animals, and offer spaying/neutering services, an adoption center, and an education area. It will include indoor kennels with outdoor runs, an intake/animal control wing, luxury suites, a cat cottage, administrative offices, and a garden.

A generous Columbia software developer, Austin Meyer, creator of the X-Plane flight simulator, and his wife, Lane, are sponsoring a “Double the Love” campaign on behalf of the Shelter that will pay for renovations, new equipment, and operating expenses. For every dollar you and I donate, the Meyers will match it, up to $1 million. When we make a donation, our contribution will double. A $20 donation will become $40. A $10,000 donation becomes $20,000 -- automatically! The building campaign will run through the end of 2013.

To contribute to the campaign and for more information, visit the website, www.kershawcountyhs.org and click on the “Double the Love” link. Or, mail checks to the Kershaw County Humane Association, P.O. Box 428, Camden, S.C. Checks should be made out to the Kershaw County Humane Society Building Escrow Account.

The county, the city, Target, Walmart, Pedigree, and Natural Balance food all contribute. We need to join them. Our cats and our dogs are the best friends we will ever have.

Postscript: Joy and I now have two rescue dogs, Ozzie and Dolly, thanks to the shelter and to Camden’s wonderful puppy maven, Squeaky Wangensteen, who sets an example for all of us. Along with many, many other volunteers, especially the magnanimous Sue Sensor, and two others in particular, Susan Heath and Patsy Topping, who have set up connections with northern adoption centers. In addition, Ron Danta and Danny Robertshaw of Ron and Danny Rescue continually go out of their way to place hundreds of animals in new homes.

Thank you to everyone who understands the importance of this mission. We’re with you.