Raising the bar for animal care in Fairfield

Against Many Odds, Bob Innes has Turned the Animal Shelter Around

WINNSBORO – It was a dark time for dogs, cats and other Fairfield County animals.

In 2016, two of every three animals brought to the animal shelter were being euthanized. Making matters worse, revenues were scant.

Since becoming Fairfield County Animal Control Director, Bob Innes has made it his mission to turn the animal shelter’s fortunes around. Four years later, he’s done just that.

Bob Innes

Today the shelter’s euthanasia rate has plummeted from 65% to 4.1%, ranking it among the lowest in the state. Only 62 of 1,510 intakes had to be put to sleep, mainly due to sickness or severe injury.

Innes credits county leaders for adopting a more proactive role in safeguarding Fairfield County animals.

“Without the backing of the county administrator and the backing of this County Council, nothing would’ve been achieved,” Innes said.

In addition, Innes’s passion for the animals he oversees has inspired a cadre of volunteers who now donate and fundraise for the shelter.

To that end, animal control revenues have risen dramatically in recent years,

At the September 14 council meeting, Innes reported the shelter in 2019-2020 took in over $53,000 in impound and pickup fees the shelter charges owners for lost pets in its care, up from $40,000 in 2018-2019 and $26,000 the previous year.

Before that, the intake was well below $10,000, county leaders say.

“That is a tremendous increase,” County Administrator Jason Taylor said. “We used to only take in about $7,000 annually.”

The $53,000 is in addition to nearly $60,000 in donations the animal shelter received to cover veterinary and other expenses. Innes told The Voice that many donations come from outside Fairfield County and South Carolina and are raised by Friends of Fairfield, organized by volunteer Samira Yaghi. Friends of Fairfield have brought in donations from as far away as California, New York and Virginia.

“We’ve got some really generous people who donate to this county and many don’t even live here,” Innes said.

Taylor also praised the shelter’s volunteers.

“Hoof & Paw [Benevolent Society] donates a huge amount to the shelter on a regular basis – $1,000 a month plus other donations toward emergency medical funds for the shelter animals. They also donate kennels and other supplies as they’re needed,” Taylor said.” I can’t say enough about the good Hoof & Paw does to support our shelter.”

And there have been other gains.

The county now offers free rabies vaccine clinics, and in 2019, none of the 36 animal bite cases Fairfield County reported to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control involved a rabid animal.

Despite the gains, Innes is far from satisfied. While Fairfield County beefed up its animal control ordinance in 2019, he said more legislation is needed. 

“There has actually been a great increase in neglected animals in this county, which is the biggest problem we’ll try to overcome in the next 12 months,” Innes said. “It’s basically a lack of people being educated on the care of animals.”

Part of that education is now taking place in the schools, where Innes said children are taught proper animal care. The Covid-19 pandemic has temporarily halted those efforts in Fairfield County, though Innes hopes this kind of outreach will continue when the virus subsides.

“Education of pet owners is an important key to animals having better lives,” he said.