Hallie Hill Animal Sanctuary helps to heal animals that arrive with a broken spirit
A volunteer spends quality time with the animals.
Hallie Hill Animal Sanctuary is for the misfits. Like the bulldog mix that executive director Jennifer Middleton found in a ditch one day when she was leaving work. It likely had been hit by a car and had several broken bones in its legs. Like the hound mix who had hip surgery and the schnauzers that had lost their eyesight to age and diabetes, and the myriad dogs and cats whose behavioral or health issues made them unlikely to be adopted. “Some of the animals that wandered up were so badly broken, they had bad scars and hair loss, broken bones,” Middleton says. “They had broken spirits, too, and it took them a long time to trust people again.”
The organization was founded by Helen Bradham in 1988, before the Charleston Animal Society became such a force. Worried that these dogs and cats would likely be euthanized if she turned them in, she transformed a 30-acre former horse farm in Hollywood into a sanctuary, where 150 dogs, 50 domestic cats, and 30 feral cats are welcome to live in safety and comfort for the rest of their lives or until they are adopted.
Dogs of all breeds and sizes nap in hay beds, cool off under a shelter, swim in the pond, or wade into baby pools. Each newcomer is
assessed for its physical health, using local veterinarians who charge a reduced rate, as well as its emotional state and habits. Dogs are matched with each other in different areas with the care of a dating service to minimize conflict.
Cats of all colors and stripes stretch out on cool concrete or swat at “enrichment toys” scattered about for play. “Working cats” (“we don’t call them feral,” Middleton explains) are provided cat food and water daily, but are free to roam nearby woods, hunting lizards and mice, if they prefer a fresh catch. There’s a loft where they can jump to escape wildlife, if needed.
(Clockwise from left) A couple of the feline residents of Hallie Hill; Executive director Jennifer Middleton pets a dog; The bucolic grounds of Hallie Hill.
While some animals are dropped off by people who found them or can no longer care for them, others arrive from shelters. “The last dog was from a nearby shelter; he was 10 to 14 years old and had skin issues,” Middleton says. “They weren’t going to get him adopted, no way. We took him and that cleared out a kennel so the shelter could take in another dog. He would have been the first one they would have had to euthanize if they ran out of space.”
At Hallie Hill, five full-time staff members and about 30 volunteers spend quality time playing with each dog and cat. “The volunteers take the time to get to know an animal’s quirks, and they work to rehabilitate it physically and emotionally,” she says.
Of course, the goal is to rehab the skittish animals into cuddly pets and place them into forever homes with families. Hallie Hill adopts out an average of 130 pets a year, which is low compared to shelters and other rescue organizations, but it doesn’t have the pressure of rapid turnover faced by shelters that must take every dog or cat delivered by the public or animal control.
The animals who spend the rest of their days at the sanctuary before they cross the “Rainbow Bridge” are given a tranquil resting place at “Angels Crossing” cemetery. “When an animal dies, everybody stops what they’re doing for the day, then we all meet at the burial site,” Middleton says. “We say what was most familiar about the dog or cat, we share funny stories or anecdotes about the fondest memories we have. That way, we feel like they’re always a part of Hallie Hill.”
The sanctuary is funded by donations and fundraisers, including a golf tournament, an online auction, and e-cards that supporters can buy in memory of beloved pets. “We can’t close,” she says. “We are promising these animals a place for life.”
And Brisco, the bulldog mix in the ditch? He was adopted after a lot of medical treatment and “has a happy home,” Middleton reports.