BY LISA PEARCE / PHOTOS BY WILL HOWELL
An exciting opportunity for animal loving families living in the far reaches of Charleston County will continue thanks to PetSmart Charities. Helping Hands for Rural Paws (HHRP) extends quality services beyond clinic walls and shelters. Paused during the pandemic, this outreach program offers a connection to affordable veterinary care where little to none exists.
The Charleston Animal Society project is an initiative of PetSmart Charities seeking to break down barriers across the country giving access to veterinary care to thousands of animals living in rural communities.
Charleston Animal Society was awarded grant funding to connect outreach and medical services via Simon’s Rig, a mobile, spay and neuter clinic. Four resource-sparse communities were identified to help people and their pets. Two (Johns Island and Wadmalaw Island) are in southwest Charleston County and will include service to barrier island families and the other two areas in are in adjacent Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Each area has vulnerable populations with nearly 26% living below the poverty level (US Census 2020) with limited or no access to veterinary care.
HELPING HANDS REIMAGINED
Since 2018, Helping Hands for Rural Paws has been there to connect thousands of families with reduced-fee or free veterinary services including, spay/neuter, vaccines, microchips, and wellness exams. Each clinic event is staffed by Charleston Animal Society’s medical team, Pets for Life team and trained volunteers.
“PetSmart Charities’ generous grant has allowed for a reimagining of how HHRP can help even more people and their pets,” said Charleston Animal Society Vice President of Operations and Strategy Aldwin Roman, CAWA.
Charleston Animal Society Director of Veterinary Care Margaret Morris, DVM loves the program because it takes services beyond the walls of the shelter and into the community.
“It’s gratifying to be there for a person who rescued two kittens that were born in his neighborhood,” said Morris. “I was able to start the conversation about recommended care and things to watch for that may require a visit to the vet. We’re out there helping the overall health of the community, it’s a good feeling.”
THE IMPACT OF HELPING HANDS
Charleston Animal Society’s outreach and shelter medical teams are familiar with the symptoms of the lack of care available to families. In 2021 alone, they helped 1,209 people care for their pets providing medical consultations and treatments to 826 grateful families.
“The two most prevalent obstacles facing the public in our service area are accessibility and affordability, especially in our rural communities,” Roman said.
Charleston County is a sprawling 1,000 square mile area whose rural outreaches include farmland, pine forest swamps and coastline. Veterinarians are clustered in urban areas, leaving rural residents with travel challenges if they need a vet appointment. Further, the influx of human population to our municipalities and state has done little to address the shortage of veterinarians as South Carolina ranks 46th in veterinarians per capita.
“Our aim is to problem solve. The Helping Hands for Rural Paws team seeks to be a remedy to the negative impact on animals and their people who face barriers to accessing affordable veterinary care,” Roman said. “We recognize that people will sacrifice meeting their own basic needs before their pets who are seen as family members.”
Thanks to PetSmart Charities, Helping Hands for Rural Paws will connect isolated and often forgotten communities to affordable or free veterinary care improving the lives of pets and their people.
Lisa Pearce is Charleston Animal Society’s Senior Grants Administrator and the President of the South Carolina Chapter of the Grant Professional Association.