On Sunday, Aiken County will celebrate the grand opening for its new shelter. As the new Aiken County Animal Shelter joins the new SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare, the two facilities combined represent a $10 million investment in our public/private efforts to address the unwanted companion animal problem.

Both buildings offer magnificent improvements over their predecessors, providing the potential for humane care for impounded animals and a pleasant welcoming environment for people looking to adopt a rescued pet. Both the SPCA and FOTAS work hard to attract volunteers, adopters and rescue partnerships to save as many of their charges as they possibly can. They work miracles for each of the dogs and cats they save. Both welcome a range of volunteer assistance to continue working those miracles. With the new facilities, helping has become not only rewarding but even pleasant.

But $10 million is only the beginning. In 2013, Aiken County impounded 5,107 animals and 3,627 of them died there – 1,505 dogs and 2,122 cats. Add the City of Aiken's Animal Control and the City of North Augusta's numbers to that county figure, and we are probably back over 5,000. It is a fact that the majority of animals that die in the name of “animal control” at our shelters are either healthy or treatable. National studies indicate that it is not only realistic but achievable for communities reduce their companion animal “kill rate” to under 10 percent in their shelter programs; or better put, raise the “save rate” to 90 percent. Building lovely facilities, with happy volunteers and positive public interest, is only the beginning.

The heart of a legitimately commendable and doable “90 percent save rate” has two essential components. The first requires us to invite, excite, entice every household to spay and neuter their pets. Of course we can whine about irresponsible pet owners and blame the unacceptable high kill-rate on their negligence, but no blame-game has ever saved a life. The animals die anyway. The second part is to replace routine killing of healthy free-roaming cats with a citizen-supported Trap-Neuter-Return program. Trying to control the “community cat” numbers by killing the ones we trap is like trying to eradicate squirrels or mockingbirds.

Good news. Information and enthusiasm has captivated our animal control officers, and the shelter programs that support them, for TNR policies in both the City and Aiken County. When we began the FOTAS spay/neuter efforts in 2012, Lenny's Brigade for community cats was quickly incorporated to offer TNR to private citizens. City of Aiken and the SPCA are also moving to establish a TNR policy and practices. Imagine if we stopped killing the roughly 60 percent of the euthanized animals that are cats, the majority of them free-roaming, what that would do to the kill-rate? It could drop by more than half.

Here in the South our climate not only tolerates but encourages outdoor dogs and cats. It also provides an uninterrupted breeding season for at-large pets. And for most dogs larger than a Yorkie or Chihuahua, an intact dog is going to be an at-large dog. The message pounding their hormone-driven brain is “GOTTA BREED! GOTTA BREED!” No getting around it –unless we fix them. And for those dogs and cats that have unaccommodated hormones, cancer is a likely result. So what do we do?

Palmetto Animal Welfare Services, Inc., also known as PAWS, is a public charity organized and directed by representatives from many of the existing animal welfare organizations in our area. PAWS' mission is to assist any and all animal welfare efforts in and around Aiken County to end the unnecessary killing of companion animals. Our critical focus is on low-cost (even no-cost) spay neuter services for qualifying residents of Aiken County offered through a fabulous partnership with the SPCA Albrecht Center's high-volume spay/neuter clinic.

We call our program SNYP – Spay/Neuter Your Pets. We work with the city and county voucher programs and FOTAS' targeted efforts in Wagener. PAWS services Windsor, Burnettown and the Valley, Jackson and Beech Island, and we are looking to launch in New Ellenton, Graniteville and Belvedere. Once we get rolling, we will be offering fun, community-based fundraisers throughout the county, along with heartworm prevention, rabies clinics and other pet-retention programs. We would love it if you care to help.

Here's the thing – the county voucher funds are insufficient; FOTAS efforts are targeted; the SPCA February fundraiser got hit hard by the ice storm. Please consider making a donation. Send your contributions to PAWS, P.O. Box 392, Aiken, SC 29802 and be assured that ALL funds raised for SNYP will go to spay/neuter services – every dime.

For more information, email info@paws4nokill.org or call (803) 634-0564. Together we CAN save them all!

A retired organizational problem-solver and radical educator, Joya Jiménez DiStefano is an artist, servant leader and co-founder of FOTAS, Inc.