A Triumphant History and a New Era

10 August 2014

A Triumphant History and a New Era

By Joanna Dunn Samson, FOTAS Director

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 7 cats were rehomed to loving families.  Sixteen dogs were transferred to one of our partner shelters.  The FOTAS Fix-a-Pet program assisted County citizens in need and organized and funded 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 6000 animals.  Up to 95% 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The shelter was hopelessly outdated – open trenches for waste, no outdoor facilities, no ventilation systems for proper air exchange, no isolation facilities, as many as five to six animals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% to a still haunting, but significantly improved, 69%.

But wait – it gets better.  The County recently restructured it’s animal control/shelter program to better coordinate the County’s 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 County 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,” says Jennifer Miller, the President of FOTAS.  “He is a tremendous asset with an amazing depth of experience, equaled 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,” says Martha.

“I am so excited about this job.”

She pauses. “ I can hardly believe I am getting paid to do it.”

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.

Pets of the Week:

JOSE — Male, American bulldog mix — 4 months old — 20 lbs — $70

LEMON – Female, tabby kitten — 12 wks old — 3.1 lbs — $35