We keep coming back to what Gandhi said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” What about a large rural county; can they be judged as well? Four years ago this week, Friends of the Animal Shelter, Inc. was created to confront that very question. How great can a home community be when it is handling thousands of its unwanted animals like refuse?

FOTAS started in 2009 raising money and making upgrades to the existing facility: a roof and floor for the overflow pens, a large dog play yard, a lovely adoptable cat house, laundry equipment, grooming tub, stainless cage banks for surgery patients. We established a volunteer program, a foster care program and a transfer program. We helped Aiken County residents confront the dirty secret that well over 5,000 animals, most of which were adoptable pets, were arriving at the county shelter annually and almost all of them were dying there. But with all the work that went into our current county animal control facility, everyone who actually went there knew the upgrades were mostly lipstick on a pig. Aiken County needed, and justly deserved, a new county animal shelter.

FOTAS, since its inception, has seen itself as an ally and partner of county government. Animal control is a public obligation, a component of health and safety; animal welfare and advocacy is not. A community has to determine who they want to be, how they want to operate in and on the world in terms of its relationship to the innocents and dependents within it. FOTAS has given animal advocates in our community a voice and the resources to leverage that voice. And God smiled upon that effort by providing a team of county employees, elected officials, and shelter staff to join forces with the will of the Aiken County community, and to chart the way to a brand new Aiken County Animal Shelter, along with the programs to support its success.

FOTAS paid for the study to determine the appropriate course to an adequate county shelter. When it was determined that a new shelter was the only effective and efficient way forward, FOTAS paid $125,000 for the architectural and engineering plans. This was 25 percent more than the original figure agreed upon. The county found the perfect piece of property on the corner of May Royal and Wire Road, and on March 3 of this year we broke ground with a high-spirited ceremony. The building is expected to be completed by the end of the year. FOTAS has undertaken the responsibility to “Fit, Furnish and Finish” the facility. The Fit, FURnish and Finish fundraising campaign is underway, and there are numerous opportunities to participate and to contribute. For more complete information, contact FOTAS or go to the website.

We can be excited about our new building, but FOTAS also realizes that a building alone is not the answer. Without a cultural shift to make responsible pet owners part of the fabric of our community, no building will ever be large enough. To that end, FOTAS established the Spay Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP) one year ago. SNAP now partners with the County Voucher Program and the SPCA Albrecht Center and hundreds of dogs and cats have been fixed, meaning literally thousands fewer unwanted animals.

We have so much to be grateful for in the last four years, and as FOTAS begins its fifth year, so much to look forward to. This time next year, our new County Shelter will be humming. We hope to encourage more and more community pride and involvement. Our vision is that no adoptable pet will have to die there. FOTAS is one reflection of Aiken County’s moral progress – and its greatness. Join us. Please help. We still have a long way to go.

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

Aiken County Animal Shelter: “By the Numbers”

The WEEK of July 8th thru 14th ‘13

Brought in: 73 dogs and 44 cats!!

Adopted: 17 dogs and 1 cat

Put down: 43 dogs and 36 cats!

Aiken County Shelter “Pets of the Week!”

(See .jpg attachments for photos).

SISSY – Hound mix. 1.5 yrs. A sweet, playful forever friend! Yours for only $70

DALE – Tabby kitten. He is adorable! Your new baby for only $35

*All adoption fees include: Spay/Neuter, heartworm test, all shots, worming, and microchip.