March 3, 2009 § 5 Comments

by Larkin Vonalt

I took a dog to the animal shelter today.  This is an unusual experience for me. When my dog was lost last fall I was a frequent visitor to the excellent Montgomery County Animal Shelter, searching for Macy’s lovely face in every immaculate run.  In my efforts on behalf of Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief and Rescue, I have sprung dogs from shelters, an essential cog in the works to get the dog to their forever family. Today, driving to the shelter with the little beagle sitting on the seat next to me, I tried to remember if I have ever taken a dog to a shelter before and in fact, I don’t think I have. 

We found this little beagle the Sunday before last, deep in the South Carolina woods, deep in the middle of scrub pines and clear-cut.  Years of watching for deer on the roads has made me alert to any movement alongside the highway, and that’s how I happened to see a very small dog sitting by the edge of the road. When I slowed the car, she came running for it. Concerned that I had just rounded a blind curve, I put on the blinkers, opened the door and helped her in, depositing her rather unceremoniously on the lap of my Aunt Margaret.  

She smelled to high heaven. (The dog, not Margaret.) It wasn’t skunk, more like some kind of oily residue from something long dead. We raced back to my mother’s house (and bathtub) drawing breath through mouth only. The little beagle was so bloated from malnutrition that we initially thought she was pregnant, but over the course of a day or two of regular feeding, her belly returned to its normal size. 

We took her out to the shelter last Tuesday, and arranged to foster her during her five day “stray-hold,” with instructions to bring her back on Monday. She would then be spayed and immediately offered for adoption, no hanging around.  In the meantime, we plied every friend and relative who might like to have a winsome beagle in his or her household. We had no takers. That was okay; this sweet little girl deserves a life with someone who is thrilled with her. 

So this was Monday, and we were on our way to the shelter. Sitting on the passenger seat, she placed her paw on my arm and looked up at me. 

“Oh, come on now,” I said. “You have to be a brave little dog. This is a great adventure you’re going on and when it’s all said and done, you will have for your very own, someone who will love you dearly all of your days.” She made a little hiccup sound and looked out the window. 

It wasn’t just idle talk. The women at the Newberry County Animal Shelter not only thought that she would quickly find a home, they already knew of someone planning to come see her on Wednesday morning. 

They do a remarkable job there, operating out of a singlewide trailer and a long higgledy-piggledy set of runs and sheds. The dogs don’t mind that it isn’t fancy. Kenneled together as their personalities permit, they look relaxed and happy. There is very little barking. Their longest term “resident,” was George, who was there nearly three years before being adopted by a local news anchor. Their website pages tell stories of dogs treated for mange and heartworm, gunshots and other injuries, nurtured back to health, made whole again.

They embody the very definition of the word “shelter:” 

  1. Something that provides cover or protection, as from the weather.
  2. An establishment that provides temporary housing for homeless people or stray animals.
  3. A refuge, a haven, a sanctuary.

Contrast that with the actions of the Columbia (SC) Animal Shelter, the most egregious of which has made news recently.  

On Christmas Eve, a park ranger in Columbia’s Granby Park found a big Foxhound wearing a tracking collar and tags. He called the number and left a message for the owner and called the Columbia shelter to pick up the dog. 

The dog, Big Hitter, had been lost during a hunt four days earlier twenty miles away. He was a well-regarded hound among hunting circles, and was sought after as a stud dog. When his owner came to claim him, he was told that the dog would have to be neutered before he could be released, as per city ordinance. 

Now there are three exceptions to the law: sick dogs (I don’t get the rationale for that), seeing-eye dogs (or the rationale for that) and show dogs. Shelters in counties surrounding Columbia will release hunting dogs to their owners with proof of a hunting license, but not Columbia. Big Hitter had placed in some National Trials and his owner scrambled to pull together the paperwork to prove it  in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. When he got the papers together, the shelter director said that those placements “didn’t meet the criteria” and that the dog would still have to be neutered. 

On Friday, December 30th, a friend of the owner’s tried to adopt to the dog, but was not allowed to as shelter personnel felt he was doing so to avoid the “redemption fees” and anyway, the dog would have to be neutered before he could be adopted.  When the owner came back in on Monday, January 2nd, he was told the dog had been euthanized

Yes, put to sleep after being at the shelter 9 days, four of which were Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s. The shelter director, Marli Drum, said in a memo that the dog had developed “kennel cough” and “because of this the dog could not be held any longer. To do so would have put many other dogs at risk.” 

You know how when you’re hearing someone tell a story and something they say sends up a red flag, something that tells you that they are full of, well, you know what they’re full of. This was that defining moment for me in this story.

Kennel cough, my friends, is the canine equivalent of the common cold. There are more than 1000 identified strains of it, and a vaccine that covers about thirty percent of those strains. Only very elderly and infirm dogs and occasionally young puppies require any treatment for kennel cough, as it spontaneously resolves in most cases. Just like the cold.

To euthanize a dog, whose owners are actively seeking to reclaim him, is vindictive, an abuse of power, and surely ought to grounds for immediate termination. (Where is Ahnold when you need him?)  It is, in fact, sickening. 

The Columbia Animal Shelter’s director, Marli Drum, at whose behest this terrible miscarriage of “sheltering” occurred, is a very busy woman. She claims (erroneously and with great exaggeration) that the Columbia Shelter “handles” 10,000 animals a year, or 42 unique individual animals every single day. Ironically, 42 is also the number of other dogs that were euthanized that Monday alongside Big Hitter. 

(The number of animals “handled” is inflated by counting owned animals that come in for spay-neuter and vaccination programs as part of their intake. PeTA uses similar tactics to try to hide the fact that they euthanize more than 99 percent of the animals that are surrendered to them, by far the highest percentage of any “shelter” anywhere.) 

Marli Drum’s busy days are made more so by her tasks as Madam President of the South Carolina Animal Care and Control Association and an Executive Member of the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators. If you’d like to call her to tell her what you think of the way she “handled” Big Hitter, here’s her number: (803) 776-7387. If you’d rather send an email, it should go to

But it isn’t just about Big Hitter or even about Marli Drum. It’s that our rights as dog owners are being eroded every day. Though we regard dogs as members of our family, we must continue to see them legally as “property.”  Because when they are our property, what the City of Columbia, the Columbia Animal Shelter and Marli Drum did to Arnold Jones and his lovely dog would be considered theft, and prosecuted accordingly. You have more rights to your lost umbrella than you do to a lost member of your family. 

We don’t set up the likes of Marli Drum to be the arbiter of what is our right to do with our dogs, whether we choose to breed dogs or hunt with dogs or just enjoy them; they belong to us and decisions regarding them and their welfare should belong to us, not some lower-level bureaucrat. It is imperative that you make it clear to your city councillors, county commissioners and state legislators that you regard your dog as yours and the decisions regarding his health and welfare as yours alone. Not Marli Drum’s. Or anyone like her.

Big Hitter came in wearing a tracking collar and tags. His owner came in to get him. They wouldn’t give him back without rendering him surgically sterile and when the owner made a fuss, they killed the dog. If that’s “shelter,” I’d rather my dog was lost in the woods. 

And as for the little dog found in the woods, we are grateful that she’s temporarily housed in a refuge, a haven, a sanctuary. Somewhere where they understand what “shelter” means.


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§ 5 Responses to Shelter

  • Jeanne MacKenzie says:

    Wow! I can’t believe it! It’s certainly an outrageous act they pulled and they/she should be charged accordingly. What a sad situation it is. You have opened my eyes wide, in more ways than one. Oh, and poor Margaret. That was just precious, that was. 😉

  • Elmer Lieu says:

    Marli will get her just due. You can bet on it, evil people have so much bad karma you know it will come back around.

  • Trevor Bedell says:

    Thank you for your support. This has been a truly disheartening experience. My hounds are much safer in the woods fending for themselves than in the hands of “care”

    • larkinvonalt says:

      We raise American Foxhounds (for the AKC) but one of my dearest friends in Georgia, Judy Lovell Rea, grew up with Field and Bench hounds. I can’t tell you how furious I was when I found out about Big Hitter’s fate. It’s just sickening. I hope that you and Arnold Jones will go after the Columbia shelter and if there’s anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to let me know. My thoughts and sympathies are with you.

  • Kathryn Baxter says:

    I raise American Foxhounds and Plott hounds. I am also friends with Larkin Vonalt and with Judy Lovell Rea from Georgia. I am outraged that such an incident even happened. That was and is inexcusable and certainly could have been avoided. That facility is not a shelter, it is an animal Auschwitz. They knew that Hitter was valuable but someone wanted him out of the picture. I have been down a similar pathway. Please take whatever actions that you can against those grossly incompetent people. If there is anything that any of us in the Foxhound community can do, let us know. I am saddened at your loss.

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