It’s Official: Aiken County Animal Shelter Admission, Transfer, Adoption, Trapping/Spay/Return (TNR), and Return to Field (RTF) data has been collected, collated , analyzed, checked, rechecked and reported, and the results are breathtaking.

In a wobbly world where nothing seems normal thanks to the pandemic, labor shortages and rising inflation, the shelter managed to achieve, for the fourth consecutive year, a release rate in 93% direct. That’s an astonishing number, not only because of the number of animals rescued in 2021 (a whopping 4,375 dogs and cats), but also because it means the county shelter – a busy, high-traffic public shelter – has achieved “no-kill shelter” status, defined by industry standards as any shelter with a live release rate of 90% or greater.

How is this possible in a county where, year after year, the overpopulation of unwanted pets remains high because people don’t fix their pets and then dump them on a lonely stretch of road or abandon them at the shelter and just go away? Four reasons made this possible: a county government committed to caring for its unwanted animals; dedicated shelter staff who are willing to experiment with innovative approaches to relocating shelter residents; vital programs funded and implemented by FOTAS; and a generous community that shares our passion to give every abandoned pet a second chance to love and be loved.

This doesn’t happen by accident – it takes a lot of resources to achieve this level of success. FOTAS volunteers walk and socialize the animals every day. Several years ago, FOTAS launched the Dogs Playing for Life program, which allows anxious shelter dogs to let off steam and play with other dogs. When a shelter resident is unable to find a new home locally, we provide detailed animal profiles and photographs to our sister rescue agencies in the North. When an animal is accepted for transfer, our network of foster homes removes it from the shelter and prepares it for its journey to a new life. We also address the problem of supply. Last year, the county and FOTAS paid for spay/neuter surgeries for 1,016 pets for citizens in need.

The FOTAS/County TNR and RTF programs rescued 1,544 community cats in 2021. These programs have been successful because FOTAS removes barriers to success. FOTAS buys traps that people can borrow (for free) to catch the cat, and the good citizen is not charged for neutering. Did you know that by caring for just one male and one female cat, more than 2,000 kitten births are prevented in four years?

We dream of the day when every citizen will neuter and neuter their pets, and the population of unwanted animals is so low that the shelter (like our transfer partners) has empty kennels and must import animals to meet the needs of the Aiken community pets. Until that day, as long as the number of shelter admissions remains dangerously high, there may come a time when we will run out of time and resources to save every adoptable animal. It’s so sad and so avoidable.

But today, the county and FOTAS are celebrating their success, which is in large part due to the generosity and support of members of the Aiken community. Thank you. You have enabled the county shelter to save more animals than any other CSRA rescue organization. Period. Full stop.

Their lives are in our hands.