Clay Killian didn't go to the new Aiken County Animal Shelter's grand opening celebration on Sunday to adopt a dog. But the County Administrator ended up leaving with a cute black Labrador mix puppy after his granddaughter, 9-year-old Hailey Ardis, fell in love.


“She found what we think is her perfect match today, so we are going to take this one home,” Killian said. “Hailey has already named her Zoie.”


“I picked her out because she seemed nice,” Hailey added.


The puppy, formerly called Laverne, will join two other Labrador mixes in Killian's household.


“One is 12 years old, and one is 16,” Killian said. “We had been talking about doing this for a while, but we were going to hold off on it.”


Then Hailey met Zoie and that plan changed.


As part of the grand opening celebration, the animal shelter offered reduced-price adoptions, and seven animals found new owners. The first to go was a black Lab mix named Tom Brady. He caught Linda Boatwright's eye because he was lively and outgoing.


“I've got two house dogs, Bennie and Dolly, and my grandchildren have a dog named Maggie that stays at my home a lot,” Boatwright said. “Maggie just lost her buddy. Because she's been lonesome and moping and carrying on, I decided to get her another friend.”


In addition to adoptions, speeches, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, refreshments, balloons and tours were part of the grand opening celebration. Located at 333 Wire Road, the new shelter covers 19,000 square feet. It cost the county $2.2 million to build and another $46,000 for office furnishings. Friends of the Animal Shelter donated an additional $450,000 to the cause that paid for such things as fences, sod and irrigation for the animal play yards, lockers for volunteers and kennel hardware.


“The best way to describe it is that today is like Christmas morning for us,” said Bobby Arthurs, who is Aiken County's chief animal control officer.


Betty Ryberg, who was the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce's Woman of the Year in 1997 and 2012, walked through the new facility and was impressed.


“I would stay here,” she said.


Helen Gibson, who brought her children, Kate and Billy, to the grand opening celebration, also expressed enthusiasm.


“This is fantastic compared to the old animal shelter,” she said. “The other place had a depressing air about it while this one has got a much more positive feel to it. That will make people want to come here more to volunteer and to adopt.”


Angela Smith liked the new animal shelter's cleanliness and roominess.


According to Jennifer Miller, president of Friends of the Animal Shelter, the up-to-date facility is an example of how the private and public sectors can collaborate to make significant improvements locally.


“We have a successful model now, and we can continue to do other good things in the future,” she said. “Our goal is to never have to euthanize a cat or dog that is an adoptable pet, and I have more confidence today that we can achieve that than I did five years ago, because I have seen what the county, Friends of the Animal Shelter and the community can do when they work together.”


Killian, as he held a squirming Zoie in his arms, also spoke optimistically about the future.


“This is just the beginning for us and the Friends of the Animal Shelter,” he said. “It's a great partnership that has worked very well.”


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard.