Let’s start with our vision: Our new Aiken County Animal Shelter will be a happy healthy place where no adoptable pet has to go to die.

Our current facility was never intended for such a lofty mission. It was erected in 1990 for the disposal of unwanted animals, and as recently as 2008 the euthanasia rate for its residents was 98 percent.

Over the last decade, the yearly animal intake has fluctuated between a little less than 5,000 and 6,149 (FY05). The current shelter was intended to house 100 animals at any given time.

When more than 160 animals come through the door in a week (like last week), that old building was obsolete about the time, it opened its doors. We cannot let that happen again.

Working with County Shelter staff, FOTAS has a growing adoption program, supported by a few amazingly dedicated volunteers, and foster-care and transfer programs.

Together they have almost tripled the number of animals saved, but these programs cannot save all the animals that deserve to go on living, not even close.

The new shelter was carefully designed for the current reality, but neither will a building be a solution for irresponsible pet ownership and its fallout, wanton breeding of unwanted litters.

Our new shelter is designed to attract community involvement, but not to incent additional dumping of throw-away pets.

If it fails to inspire collective values for responsible pet ownership, it will become a costlier, prettier disaster than the one we already have. So what can we do?

The first, most obvious and easiest remedy is to have our pets spayed and neutered. Once perceived as a costly intrusion into the laws of nature, it is now readily available to every pet owner, regardless of income; and, it known to be healthier for the community and the animals who cannot, and should not, breed.

Just this year, the SPCA Albrecht Center opened its new clinic with nearly limitless capacity for county-wide needs.

Coincident with this resource, FOTAS began our Spay/Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP works with areas targeted by County Animal Control to identify, enroll, subsidize and transport animals to the SPCA facility.

SNAP includes Lenny’s Brigade, which helps residents with “community cats,” feral cat colonies that can easily breed out of control.

The County Voucher Program is offered to those who qualify and want to choose their own participating vet.

Finally, CSRA Life Saver (csralifesaver.com) has two low-cost pet clinics in North Augusta and in Graniteville, next to the Bark Mart.

How can you help, even if you do not need these services? Tell someone who does. Let FOTAS or County Animal Services know and we will get the information where it is needed.

Working together on behalf of our animals we can realize the dream, a laudable measure of who we are as a community.

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 Services: 803-642-1537

SPCA Albrecht Center: 803-648-6863

FOTAS SNAP: 803-634-0564 (temp)

Lenny’s Brigade Hot Line: 803-507-6315

CSRA Life Saver: 803-979-7268 or 803-215-0559