On Tuesday evening, with the County Council meeting about to begin, half a dozen FOTAS volunteers passed around a small piece of pale blue paper before handing it, ceremoniously, to Assistant County Administrator Andy Merriman. It was the largest check FOTAS had ever written and probably the largest check most of them had ever seen.

Jan. 15, 2013, marked a huge milestone for the FOTAS/County partnership. And the presentation of a $125,000 check to Council that night, in front of a packed chamber audience, was only one symbol of the accomplishments to date.

In the summer of 2011, following the renewal of the one-cent sales tax that assured at least $1 million for a new public animal shelter, FOTAS entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Aiken County to pay “up to $100,000” toward the architectural and engineering plans for a new County Shelter.

As the needs assessments unfolded, it became clear that both figures were going to fall short of the funds needed for each purpose. By the end of the year, County Council began closing the gap with another half-million dollar allocation. In return, FOTAS ramped up its outreach, and the Aiken County community helped FOTAS triple the previous year’s revenue.

Last year, the perfect architectural firm was hired, and the initial images of “The Dream” began to emerge: a simple, practical, appealing design that would support our community’s commitments to the public and our animals.

The building is designed to take present fiscal realities into consideration without undermining the potential for future improvements. Architecture and engineering for such proactive thinking cost a little more, and FOTAS elected to cover the difference.

The mood in the room on Tuesday took all of the good will into account. Chairman Ronnie Young expressed heartfelt appreciation of FOTAS hard work and achievements.

Councilman Scott Singer reflected back over 10 years to dysfunctional committees and Council’s frustration at being unable to effectively address an obvious need. He commended the previous Assistant County Administator Todd Glover for helping FOTAS to emerge as the animal advocacy partner to Animal Services that the Animal Control Advisory Committee was never intended to be.

LaWana McKenzie remarked that while FOTAS is saving taxpayer dollars, they are helping look out for God’s creatures. She credited FOTAS with “The wrong numbers … going down, and the right numbers … going up,” and encouraged everyone to adopt a shelter pet.

Council’s newest member, Andrew Siders, commended FOTAS volunteers’ passionate commitment and reminded listeners that they are all members of our Aiken County community.

The incredible progress of the celebrated partnership was then further honored with a unanimous decision by County Council to hire the contractor for our New Aiken County Animal Shelter. We anticipate groundbreaking next month.

When Councilwoman Kathy Rawls notified FOTAS of the Council’s action, she said, “After the meeting several people from the audience came to me and said what a great thing you are doing for the county. (Usually people come up to me after a meeting to complain.)”

What a grand and blessed adventure!

FOTAS volunteers work with the Aiken County Animal Shelter, 411 Wire Road. For more information, email info@fotasaiken.org or visit www.fotasaiken.org.