To say FOTAS’ mission has been blessed these last four years is an understatement. The quest has been to help Aiken County provide our community with a public shelter that is a healthy, happy place seeking never to euthanize an adoptable pet. The whole process has been steeped in magic, and last Saturday is another example.

It began in January with some friends off to the Carlyle Café in New York to see a family member perform. Two of those travelers happened to be on a FOTAS committee working feverishly to raise the money needed to “Fit, Furnish and Finish” the new Aiken County Animal Shelter.

The “family member” performing was none other than Broadway star, Howard McGillin, best known for his record setting performance in the title role of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Somewhere in that journey north, the idea emerged to ask Howard to come to Aiken and perform for a private fundraiser for the shelter.

Not only did Howard agree, but he brought his longtime friend and award-winning composer, Joseph Thalken, to accompany him on the piano.

As the event took shape and the guest list was assembled, the evening expanded to honor some of FOTAS’ most dedicated volunteers and supporters. Those invited were offered the opportunity to send pictures of their pets. A slide presentation incorporated these very personal examples of why we do what we do to support the FOTAS mission.

The slide presentation also educated the audience with visual evidence of the dire conditions at the current shelter. Before the music, committee chair, Joanna Dunn Samson, showed the rusted vents, the peeling paint, the overcrowded cages, but even more critical, the facility’s inability to quarantine sick animals in its open floor plan with open-trench sewage drains running past all the pens.

The watercolor elevations of the new shelter design lifted spirits and set the stage for the show. Howard’s performance consisted of 11 show tunes interspersed with delightful anecdotes about singing for the Queen Mother in London and being flown on a private jet to sing for a private party by Donald Trump. Howard McGillin gave the audience multiple excuses for rousing applause. He is a master of his craft.

In addition to the performance, the evening included a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres, a sumptuous buffet dinner, wine and endless desserts. Much of the cost was either donated or discounted and FOTAS wants to add their heartfelt appreciation to the Joanna and David Samson, Richard Samson, Alexandra S. Thomas, Stoplight Catering, All-Star Rentals, Diaggio-Guinness Distributors, Jo Mayer, David Trachtenberg and especially Howard McGillin and Joseph Thalken.

Not everyone can recruit a Broadway star to help raise the money we need to “Fit, Furnish and Finish” our community shelter, but there are many ways we all can contribute. There are adult and children’s “Giving Parties,” the Girl Scout help, golf tournaments by golfers, silent auctions and equestrian events, and of course, Woofstock, to name a few.

The magic is in. Just think of a way to help and then just do it.

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