AIKEN -- They don't like to do it, but a lot of the time the operators of the SPCA shelter have little choice but to put animals to sleep.
The shelter run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is usually packed to capacity, and there is no other way to make room.
It takes in about 5,500 animals a year, mostly dogs and cats, said Tom Caniglia, SPCA director. They normally adopt out 700 to 1,000 per year.
A week ago Saturday, the kennel got swamped with dogs.
"We had 26 animals come in here," Mr. Caniglia said. "Before, we had empty kennels. That afternoon, we were having to euthanize to make room."
But Mr. Caniglia did find a new way to adopt out some of the animals. He found the addresses and phone numbers of other SPCAs across the country. He eventually found a shelter in Massachusetts and one in New Jersey that never had enough puppies to meet adoption demands.
Now he ships about 24 puppies a week to the Northeast, via Delta Priority Freight.
"We're charged by the pound. For 12 puppies, that's just under $200," Mr. Caniglia said. "That doesn't sound expensive at first, but we're doing it eight times a month."
The puppies that are shipped are still pretty small, about 10 pounds each. They are usually 8 to 9 weeks old and still have their puppy fur and milk teeth.
The northern animal shelters pay the shipping costs. The Boston shelter even pays to have the puppies spayed or neutered before they arrive.
Demand for the animals results from stricter leash and breeding laws in the North, Mr. Caniglia said. Those laws reduce the number of strays, so animal shelters aren't filled to capacity with adoptable animals.
But shipping the puppies north is just a temporary fix, because eventually their demand will be satisfied, Mr. Caniglia said.
"This is kind of like a Band-Aid," he said.
The SPCA isn't the only animal shelter in the county that's packed to capacity. The Aiken County Animal Shelter normally takes in about 4,000 to 5,000 animals a year, but the vast majority of them are not adoptable, said Shirley Harden, chief enforcement officer for Aiken County Animal Control.
While the SPCA and humane societies usually get animals that people can no longer take care of, the county gets animals that have come in conflict with the law. Those animals often are too sick, injured or of bad temperament to be considered for adoption.
The county also receives livestock from cruelty cases. Last week, the county confiscated a horse, some pigs and goats from someone who wasn't feeding them. The horse was sent to a specialist. The rest of the animals will join the other county-maintained livestock in what has become a county petting zoo.
State law does not require people convicted of animal cruelty to give up their animals, but the county usually keeps them anyway, Ms. Harden said.
"Seventy to 80 percent of the animals we get are not adoptable," Ms. Harden said. "Of those that go up for adoption, 80 to 90 percent are adopted."
It used to be that all the county did was pick up strays and injured animals, she said.
"Ninety-five percent were euthanized, and we had no adoption program," she said.
Aiken County currently has the highest adoption rate of any county-run animal-control agency in South Carolina, for which it won an "Agency of the Year" award.
But the critters just keep coming in. It seems like the bigger the county gets, the more strays they find, Ms. Harden said.
The ultimate solution lies in encouraging people to get their animals spayed or neutered, Mr. Caniglia said. Larger fines and fees for breeder licenses would be a long-term solution, but for now, the SPCA is trying to get local vets to offer free spay and neuter services.