JAMES ISLAND, S.C. (WCIV) – You could call her the crazy cat lady and she wouldn't care. Carol Linville has a soft spot for all animals. But the promise she made nearly 30 years ago, certainly seemed crazy at the time.
"I read in the Post and Courier newspaper one morning, an article that said more than 8,000 cats and dogs were being killed annually at local shelters," said Linville. "I was just so upset."
Her crusade to save them started small.
"I decided to do something to help make a difference and started a Pet of the Week column in our local James Island Newspaper," she said.
It was 1976. Carol had just moved to Charleston to be with her husband Bob Linville. The two had a new business venture, Linville Car Center. But little did they know, Carol was slowly building a new life long career.
She had convinced the publisher of the James Island Journal to donate column space. She found a volunteer photographer to take pictures of adorable, adoptable animals at the local SPCA. Weekly she told readers why these animals should go to good homes, instead of being destroyed.
Two years later, a kitten she called "Wappoo" stumbled into the couple's business. It had been hit by a car on the Wappoo Bridge. She had no money to help the struggling animal, so once again she went to the local newspaper.
"I asked for a story to raise medical funds to help fix the kitten and so Pet Helpers was born, a name I just picked out of thin air."
The Pet Helpers stories, now highlighting injured animals, multiplied as quickly as the calls.
"We had more than 2,000 calls pouring into our home and business by 1983."
The business of writing about and saving animals was getting big. She and her husband were already working their regular job seven days a week, and often found themselves picking up the tab for stray animals. Life was getting hectic and expensive.
So Carol decided to incorporate Pet Helpers legally, as a non-profit. That's where the promise came in.
"I made a commitment to those animals that came to us that they would be cared for however long it took, until a home was found. No euthanasia ever, unless it was a critical, fatal health or unsolvable behavior issue. That has not changed."
Anyone who visited the Linville home in those days likely remembers it well. There wasn't a room without a perfectly groomed cat, comfortably perched upon a piece of furniture, just like it belonged as part of the well decorated house.
Bob Linville, who would later go on to become the mayor of Folly Beach, knew what he had to do.
In 1983, he began building small warehouse spaces, to house more animals. He and Carol hired volunteers to feed and clean them, and interview adoptive prospects. All the while, Carol kept writing for the local newspaper.
"I never intended for this to be more than helping a few cats along the way as a private citizen," she said. "But the plight of homeless cats and dogs back then in Charleston, with no one doing anything to help them, no animal welfare law in place, was horrendous."
In 1992, the couple found a little house, not for themselves, but for the animals they promised to find homes for no matter what. More volunteers moved in as well.
Six years later, Carol envisioned a real animal care clinic with a spay and neuter center. Perhaps not a house, but a 14, 000 square foot facility. Maybe there would be veterinarians on hand. It would be a place visitors could come visit, play, socialize and adopt seven days a week.
That was the vision. The reality required much time, money and work.
In 2008, Pet Helpers opened the doors to its dream home, a $6 million dollar state of the art facility at 1447 Folly Road on James Island.
Today they have 24 employees, as well as 100 active volunteers. They house anywhere from 150 to 180 animals each day. All get full medical care. Veterinarians are on hand as planned, providing spaying and neutering services.
The dream home, of course, is more expensive, roughly $1.5 million a year. That money comes from private fundraisers, donations and community events.
The dream has grown, but really says Carol, it has stayed the same. That is to save animals, really save them, and as many as you can.
"Today, almost 30 years later, more than 25,000 lives have been saved with so many special stories along the way."
If you would like to be a part of Pet Helpers story, and help, just visit their web site at www.pethelpers.org.