Written By: Leanne Cobb
When Dr. Kim Sanders was hired as the new Executive Director of Anderson PAWS in 2016, she had no idea how one job would change her life’s trajectory. Growing up with dogs, cats, goats, horses, parrots, and an assortment of other animals, it was natural for her to have a genuine love for animals and to be inspired to be a veterinarian. But taking over PAWS, considered to be a struggling, if not failing, animal shelter at the time, has led her into an unexpected season of growth and improvement for PAWS, the entire Anderson community, and most importantly, our animals.
Sanders was born in Anderson and moved to Greenville when she was 5 years old. Upon graduating from vet school, she moved back to Greenville and bought the house next door to her mom, who she credits with inspiring her passion for animals.
“My first love has always been horses and I spent most my youth in the saddle. I can’t remember a time in my life in which I didn’t know that I would be a Veterinarian,” says Sanders.
After moving to Greenville, Sanders was introduced to shelter medicine and spent what she describes as a heartbreaking year learning how not to run a shelter. She spent the next 6 years working in private practice and providing spay/neuter services in local clinics.
Sanders’ path to Executive Director of PAWS started with her outspoken dedication to the welfare and humane treatment of animals. In 2016, Anderson County PAWS had been euthanizing nearly 60% of the animals in their care and the public was furious. They were demanding change and rightfully so. The Veterinarian on staff quit, so Sanders began providing spay/neuter one day per week.
“It was obvious by the overcrowding, the high euthanasia rate and the frustrated staff that PAWS needed some serious help. I’ve never been the quiet type, especially when it comes to animals, so I did what any animal loving Veterinarian would do. I printed animal shelter best practices, purchased DVDs on shelter management, and gave the County Deputy Director a stack of homework. There were lots of “passionate” discussions along the way, but to this day I tell people my boss totally suckered me into taking the Executive Director position,” recalls Sanders.
Anderson County is one of the greatest “no kill” communities in the country. On average there are at least 150 animals in the shelter daily that staff are responsible for 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
“Working in the shelter is extremely rewarding. I get to be the voice of the voiceless and there is no greater gift. At times, the work can be heartbreaking. We see the absolute worst in people during cruelty cases. We see animals suffer when left without medical care or when mental illness leads to hoarding situations. It’s during these times that we pull together and do all that we can for every animal. We nurse them back to health. We show them love and kindness and watch them blossom in their new homes,” says Sanders.
Under Sanders’ leadership and lots of hard work, PAWS has been designated a “no kill” shelter by saving more than 90% of the animals in their care. Best Friends Animal Society states “no kill” means healing animals who can be healed, treating treatable behaviors, and prioritizing the safety of pets and people in the community.
“When we value those objectives, humane euthanasia is used as a last resort in instances when an animal is deemed too ill or too dangerous for rehabilitation,” notes Sanders.
Sanders has established PAWS as an important and vital part of safety in Anderson, providing a safe place to trick or treat for 2,500 people in 2023, a dog park for people to let their pups play and socialize, and keeping people safe by taking in potentially dangerous large dogs or animals that have been exposed to rabies. PAWS provides a safe environment for lost/injured pets and reunites them with their families.
“We cherish the human/animal bond and work hard to keep pets in homes by providing medical care, spay/neuter, food bank, fencing, dog training, and more. When a family loses their home due to fire or eviction or a woman enters a domestic violence shelter, we are there to comfort them and offer their pet a place to stay short term until they get back on their feet. PAWS serves every citizen in Anderson County in some capacity and we look forward to continuing our mission,” says Sanders.
2024 is going to be an incredible year for PAWS, with Sanders and her team working toward some big goals. With the pet overpopulation, they are hoping to strengthen ordinances to stop puppy mills and pet stores. Additionally, they are going to shift from spay/neuter focus and provide more surgeries for large breed dogs to decrease the number of large dogs in our community. They are also working to secure grant funding to host more vaccine clinics this year so that more pets have access to care.
PAWS and its success, is a community effort and there are ways that the community can help with ensuring its continued success.
“We are always in need of foster homes, donations, and volunteers. Fostering increases adoptability, donations help provide lifesaving care that owners have not been able to provide due to inflation, and every task a volunteer does allows staff to focus on the animals. The public can also help by being compassionate and kind,” Sanders states. “We also really love donuts and chocolate.”
Animal welfare is an extremely challenging job filled with ups and downs. Anderson County is beyond lucky to have Dr. Sanders and her team at PAWS leading our community through the ups and downs of keeping animals safe.