Taking Care of BUSINESS
After 25 years with the sheriff ’s office, Toni Lytton now sits in the director’s chair for Beaufort County Animal Shelter & Control. Lytton, a native of California who lived in Hawaii after her father retired from the Marine Corps, came to the Lowcountry as a Marine wife in 1977. “Before I came here I worked for a veterinarian, but none of the vets were hiring,” she said of her career path. “I knew somebody who worked here and applied for the job and got it.”
When she started with the department, animal control officers didn’t carry guns even though they were certified deputies. “That came later,” Lytton said. “The incident reports haven’t changed, we just get more of them now. A lot, lot more compared to the ’80s and ’90s.”
The shelter serves all of Beaufort County, including Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Pritchardville and everything north of the Broad to the borders, she said. And population growth and development have increased the pressure of the job. “The people coming into Beaufort County are more demanding,” she explained.
And she’s seeing a lot more stray animals. “When you take their stomping grounds away [through construction] you’re going to have problems,” she said. Summertime usually brings many more animals to the shelter than are adopted out, she said. And Lytton sees something of a “viscous circle” with military families new to the area adopting pets and then returning them to the shelter after a deployment or transfer.
Lytton is, of course, a pet owner herself with an African gray parrot and two dogs, ages 12 and 15. The three get along famously, Lytton contended. “The bird likes to feed the dogs,” she said. “She throws her feed out of the cage.” But Lytton admitted the parrot will bite the dogs’ tails if given the opportunity.
In her 26 years with Beaufort County, the most exotic and the most difficult animal she’s had to deal with was a 25-foot python taken from a traveling carnival in a cruelty case. “It took seven or eight officers to get him out of the trailer that night,” she recalled.
The snake was part of a contingent that included a 15-foot python and three others 10 feet in length. Several iguanas were seized as well. Lytton said the shelter had to devote an entire building to housing the reptiles in a climate-controlled environment. They weren’t offered to the public for adoption, but they were transferred to a researcher in Charleston who “knew what he was doing.”
SHELTER PROTOCOLS AND PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
All animals brought in to the shelter are evaluated for their friendliness and overall health. If they pass the assessment, they are then spayed or neutered and put in the adoption room in hopes that they’ll find new owners.
“We don’t have a set time,” Lytton said of keeping pets up for adoption. But as the shelter nears its capacity of 130 animals, the risk of disease spreading in close quarters rises. And euthanizing animals is a necessary, but disliked, chore that all of the shelter’s 12 staff members are certified to perform.
An ordinance going into effect this summer will result in higher adoption fees to cover the cost of microchipping pets. Licenses are required for all cats and dogs in the county and can be purchased to cover one year or three years.
Lytton hopes to eventually see a bigger facility for the animal shelter and an increase in staffing. “We always have a wish list,” she said. “Sometimes that’s just not possible.” She’s also hoping to move the shelter into the computer age with “decent animal control software,” that’s user friendly for staff members and will facilitate tracing tags and microchips.
The shelter welcomes donations of cash, food, treats, toys, blankets and towels. Volunteers also help out around the shelter and give the animals some needed TLC. For more info: (843) 846-3904, co.beaufort.sc.us/ Animal_Ctrl/
Additional Assistance through. MARANATHA FARM
When the Beaufort County Animal Shelter runs out of room, Maranatha Farm, a non-profit animal rescue group staffed by volunteers, gives mistreated, injured and homeless animals - from horses to hamsters -another chance to live and possibly find a new, loving home.
To learn more about how you can help save the life of a needy creature or about Maranatha’s upcoming fundraiser, please call Laura Hobbs, (843) 338-0116, visit maranathafarm.org and watch the next issue of Monthly.