Last week was a banner week for FOTAS, the Aiken County Animal Shelter and its animal residents.


Adoptions were at a record high: 15 dogs and seven cats were rehomed to loving families, and 16 dogs were transferred to one of our partner shelters.


The FOTAS Fix-a-Pet program assisted county citizens in need by organizing and funding the spay/neuter of 33 dogs and cats at the SPCA’s clinic.


FOTAS celebrated its fifth birthday; and Martha Chadwick became the first shelter manager.


These events represent a remarkable journey of hard work, persistence and perseverance and the dawn of a new era for the County Shelter.


FOTAS was officially formed on July 28, 2009, to help the County with the wretched conditions at the old shelter.


At that time, the annual intake often exceeded 6,000 animals. Up to 95 percent of the animals surrendered to the shelter or picked up by animal control were put to death.


The shelter was hopelessly outdated – open trenches for waste, no outdoor facilities, no ventilation systems for proper air exchange, no isolation facilities, as many as five to six animals housed in one small indoor crate. The shelter was a breeding ground for anxiety and contagious diseases.


Fast forward five years. Through the innovative and effective public/private partnership forged by the County and FOTAS, a modern, healthy new shelter was built – a facility in which the community can take pride.


The partnership also has developed and established successful adoption, volunteer, training, foster, transfer and spay/neuter programs.


The result? The euthanasia rate has dropped from a haunting 95 percent to a still haunting, but significantly improved, 69 percent.


But wait – it gets better. The County recently restructured its animal control/shelter program to better coordinate the staff and private resources, ensure better care of the animals and meet the needs of the shelter and the community.


First, animal control and shelter management have been separated, allowing Chief Animal Control Officer Bobby Arthurs to be out in the community solving problems, interacting with citizens, enforcing state and county laws and educating the public about responsible pet ownership.


“No one has been more committed to the care of the county’s unfortunate animals or more supportive of the changes at the shelter than Bobby,” said Jennifer Miller, president of FOTAS. “He is a tremendous asset with an amazing depth of experience, equalled only by his amazing depth of compassion.”


Second, the County created a shelter manager position that reports directly to the assistant county administrator’s office and hired Martha Chadwick to fill the position.


Martha, who moved to Aiken five years ago from Virginia with her husband and three children, has the people skills, management experience and love for animals necessary to continue to develop the shelter’s programs, increase adoptions and further reduce the euthanasia rate.


Martha also wants to encourage greater community involvement with the shelter.


“I want folks to know that they can make a difference, either by adopting their next pet from the shelter or joining the FOTAS volunteer program or both.”


That’s a tall order, but Martha is certain she has the right people to make it happen.


“I am so impressed with the shelter staff and FOTAS volunteers, who have managed to do so much with so little for so long. They have welcomed me with open hearts and made my transition into this new position effortless,” she said.


“I am so excited about this job.” She paused. “I can hardly believe I am getting paid to do it.”


FOTAS volunteers work with the Aiken County Animal Shelter, 333 Wire Road. For more information, email info@fotasaiken.org or visit www.fotasaiken.org.


Joanna Dunn Samson is a retired attorney and environmental administrator who specialized in the development of large public projects and public/private partnerships. Appointed to the FOTAS Board in 2012, she and her husband David, their two dogs and two ponies moved to Aiken in 2006.