Two speakers, one from County Council and one representing FOTAS, invoked Gandhi’s quote about a people’s moral progress to mark the significance of the groundbreaking ceremony for the new county shelter last Sunday.

It was Gandhi’s belief that how a nation treats its animals reflects its moral progress; it was the speakers’ contention that, with our new county shelter, our Aiken County community’s moral progress has taken a great leap forward.

So last Sunday’s groundbreaking was a huge celebration of a major milestone.

In 2005, more than 6,000 animals came into our county shelter, and almost all of them died there. The facility was the county government’s response to a 1990 problem: 100 animals per month, not thinking that eventually they would have to contend with more than 100 animals per week.

In fulfilling competing responsibilities to public welfare, no time or attention allowed animal welfare to be considered. No provisions were made for adequate ventilation, waste management or disease containment. No future was considered for the animals or the facility that housed them.

Until 2009, the unclaimed animals that could not be crowded into our current shelter still lived their five days in roofless open pens in the dirt. While the building’s air and trenches spread disease inside, the ground held the diseases outside.

It wasn’t that members of County Council weren’t aware that something needed to be done. Kathy Rawls knew. But the moral outrage can’t come from our elected officials; it must come from their citizens. It was that moral outrage that gave birth to Friends of the Animal Shelter, known as FOTAS.

FOTAS began in spring of 2009 with a benefit breakfast that raised $2,700. That summer a concrete pad was roofed over for the dogs in the overflow pens. A year later, C.A.T.S. (Cats at the Shelter) opened as our county’s new indoor/outdoor adoptable cat colony.

As the FOTAS family grew in numbers, we championed the renewal of the county’s 1-cent sales tax, helping secure $1 million toward an adequate county shelter.

FOTAS paid for the county to hear from a nationally recognized shelter expert to determine the scope and best direction for the project. In 2011, FOTAS committed $100,000 of private funds for the architectural and engineering plans for a new county animal shelter, then ultimately paid $125,000.

On March 3, ceremonious shovels went into the ground at May Royal and Wire Road, as members of County Council lined up with FOTAS officers, our architect Cary Perkins and our chief Bobby Arthurs to celebrate the achievement.

Thanks to Assistant County Administrator Andy Merriman and an amazing public-private partnership, this project will be fiscally responsible and no-frills; adequate to meet both public and animal needs; and, highly attractive to community involvement. Happy, healthy animals are more adoptable.

FOTAS now needs help raising $400,000 to furnish the new shelter. We will insure its future with SNAP, our targeted spay/neuter program, working with the SPCA. Please contribute anything you can.

Be proud, Aiken County. Progress, even moral progress, is evident.

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