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Barks and meows are heard from the exterior of the building before the front door is opened.
A small dog and its owner are greeted at the front desk on the left, while multiple cats watch through a large window on the right. It's 8 a.m., and customers are already dropping off their pets to either get boarded or groomed at the Sumter SPCA's My Buddy Boarding Inn.
"Boarding gets busy during the holidays, but that's a separate business," said Cindy Cook, SPCA manager. "A lot of people board, but there's a lot of adoptions during the holiday season."
Cook said November and December are the busiest months for the animal shelter on 1140 S. Guignard Drive because people come looking to gift a pet or board their animals while traveling.
During the holiday months, Cook sees about four to 12 animals adopted a day, and they get about 20-60 strays (dogs or cats) dropped off daily. It's all hands on deck with this job, even on holidays and days they're closed to the public.
"We already have the holiday schedule made out," Cook said. "There's somebody here seven days a week."
Cook is on the facility grounds 24/7 with her house right in the SPCA's backyard. Channeling her inner watchdog, she looks over the facility and its occupied furry friends at all times.
With only 14 staff members at the SPCA, employees work hard throughout the week for the heart of every puppy, dog, kitten and cat, whether they are sheltered or boarded.
Every day, SPCA employees clock in at 7:30 a.m. to start cleaning and feeding the dogs and cats before opening to the public at 11 a.m.
"You get lost on your first day alone," said Mary McLeod, an animal care technician.
The shelter is like a maze. There are rooms for each size dog, isolation rooms, cats filling cages floor to ceiling and more. And that's just the SPCA side of the building. There are more rooms sectioned off for boarding and grooming.
The SPCA is filled with some empty kennels and cages, but it seems impossible to think the animal quantity triples during the holidays like McLeod said.
Since opening in 1976, the shelter has cared for more than 209,000 animals. The SPCA even has a dog that has been there for more than five years.
Other than adoption fees, donations ensure the shelter stays open. The SPCA does not receive city, county, state or federal funding.
"They stay as long as they need to," McLeod said, "until they get adopted."
Hard work prepares animals for forever homes
Passing the maze of kennels, McLeod meets Jeremy Cobb, her assigned partner for the morning tasks at the large dog kennels.
Two rows of kennels stretch out, and piercing barks come from each one.
"In the morning, we clean every single kennel," McLeod said.
Dogs run back and forth with excitement as Cobb lets them out of their cages and leads them to the outside fenced-in area for their daily exercise.
To work here, you must be willing to get covered in fur, slobber and even feces by the end of the shift. It's also a perk to have a strong tolerance to disagreeable smells.
Once the dogs' kennels are clean, the animals race back to their cages, ready to chow down on their breakfast.
This is the routine every morning for every kennel, except for the daily scrub shift kennels where a portion of the kennels are cleaned top to bottom.
With the dogs back in their cages, McLeod gives specific dogs a blanket, the dogs that wouldn't tear up the fabric. As she walks past every kennel, she greets the dogs by their names. McLeod knows almost every dog in the SPCA and their significant characteristics, as if they are more than even coworkers. They are her friends.
By the time the morning chores are completed, McLeod's leggings are covered in everything imaginable, but she didn't seem to mind. After finishing up, she heads to the back room where she prepares medications for deworming, shots and more.
A doorbell rings from the back entrance, and McLeod says it's probably the first dropoff of the day.
Opening the door, a woman says she has a large bag of new toys to donate, and McLeod takes them gratefully. McLeod is shocked it isn't an animal because they usually have several dropoffs before noon. This day, there were none so far.
Not shortly after, though, the doorbell rings again. A woman is with a 9-month-old hound mix named Scout.
Scout is her dog, and she is dropping him off because she can't care for him anymore. She didn't have him long either; she adopted him from the SPCA.
McLeod reminds the woman it is not a refundable return and that she is signing his rights over to the SPCA. The woman signs the papers and leaves with only a leash in hand.
After being taken to the back, Scout is shaking, his head hung down low. It's like he knows he is back to square one.
McLeod said it's common to see people return dogs, and it can be heart-aching.
With the holiday season being a time of giving, dogs, cats and other animals need a permanent home, not a temporary home. The SPCA's doors are always open to a dog or cat in need, whether that's to find them that new home or care for them in the meantime. The shelter's employees would always rather a pet be returned than its owners neglect it.
The SPCA is open daily except Wednesday and Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
For more information on the Sumter SPCA and available adoptions, visit www.sumterscspca.com.
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