Lifesaving Icon Helen Bradham

“We can’t change an animal’s past, but we can rewrite their future,” is the motto of Hallie Hill Animal Sanctuary. Nestled in Hollywood, SC, the sanctuary is acres of rolling hills filled with dog runs and cat houses that are home to animals living out their final years in peace and tranquility. The force behind this animal Shangri-La is Helen Bradham who has rescued animals since her childhood in the 1930s. As Charleston Animal Society celebrates a legacy of care of 150 years – we want to hear from partners like Helen who have made Charleston a beacon of lifesaving success.

CAROLINA TAILS: How amazing is it that Charleston Animal Society is turning 150 years old?

HELEN BRADHAM: I think it’s wonderful. Wonderful. And it speaks so highly of those of you who care for animals.

CT: You are 94 years young! When did you first start saving animals?

HB: Well, my entire life. I grew up part of my life in the country, and I brought home puppies, kitty cats, anything I could get my hands on, and I drove my mother crazy.

CT: Take us back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s when you were this animal rescue pioneer in the Lowcountry. Talk to me about the attitude that people had towards animal rescue.

HB: Well, I was a little strange to people. And for instance, I had one person laugh and say to me, everybody’s going to find out about that place where you keep dogs in the country, and they’re all going to drop off their dogs. And I said, wonderful. I hope they do. People thought I loved animals to the extreme, and maybe I did to them, but to me it was natural.

CT: In the 1970s, you are in your barn on a tract of land called Hallie Hill in Hollywood, when something happens that takes your animal rescuing passion to a whole new level. What happened?

HB: As you mentioned, I had land in the country that was very high, very elevated, called Hallie Hill. I was out there one afternoon in the tack room, and I heard this little tapping on the floor in the door, and I looked around. It was a little dog, so thin every bone was showing, with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen. But she began to wag her tail. And that was the beginning of Hallie Hill Sanctuary. I mean, it was just beautiful the way animals continued to come, those that needed a home and even a baby calf came up through the swamp. And I found out later that there had been an accident on Highway 17, and this black mother cow had been killed. So this was obviously her baby. Anyway, Momo lived with us for 12 years before she died from cancer.

CT: People may think concerns about carriage horses downtown are new, but you yourself had concerns 50 years ago in the 1970s. What happened?

HB: I saw a small pony, a small Morgan on the streets of Charleston pulling a carriage with tourists on board. And I could tell he was lame in his leg. So I continued fighting with the owner of that particular carriage company until finally the only way they could get rid of me was to let me buy Burt. That was the horse’s name.

CT: So Burt moved to Hallie Hill?

HB: Yes, he spent the rest of his life there at Hallie Hill. He was the most expensive horse ever because the carriage company owner charged me
a fortune for him. But I had to have him. Had to have him. Anyway, he had a happy life there. I ran Hallie Hill in the beginning with just two men helping me, Clarence and Harold, and we had the time of our lives.

CT: Through the years, what was your involvement, if any, with Charleston Animal Society? How did you view Charleston Animal Society?

HB: Well, I didn’t have a very good beginning with them.

CT: That’s interesting. Why?

HB: Because I had four puppies brought to me. And at that time, in
the 1960s I had horses there too. And I mean, I was just overloaded. We took the puppies to the shelter and instead of finding homes, those little pups were put to sleep. And it killed me. And I felt very guilty. I felt very responsible.

CT: Throughout sheltering history, euthanasia was relied on way too much and that’s the reality that people need to hear. But then, decades later, you watched Charleston Animal Society lead Charleston County to become the first No Kill Community in the Southeast, when your daughter Elizabeth was the Board President in 2013.

HB: I have seen Charleston Animal Society change completely. And it’s on the top of my list. I think y’all do so much to help animals.

CT: What’s the most complicated part of rescue, in your opinion?

HB: I guess the most complicated thing is to sort of change that animal’s life. To convince “little Joe” that you’re never going to be hurt again. I find that sometimes you can’t ever do it.

CT: So is Helen Bradham a dog person or a cat person? HB: I’m both. I have a cat and three dogs. I love cats too. CT: So you don’t have to be one or the other?
HB: Heavens no.

CT: When people think of a shelter or a sanctuary, they think of a sad place. But visit your sanctuary at Hallie Hill and it is just so peaceful.

HB: Well, that is it. We have big runs. We have wonderful volunteers. We keep a trunk full of treats. And I’ve always felt like people, if someone goes to Hallie Hill with a sinking heart, when they leave, they will leave with a bright heart. Hallie Hill may have benefited from me, but I have benefited a thousand times more.


Dogs lounge and relax together at the sanctuary founded by Helen Bradham.