Seventy-five years ago, a group of New York ladies who spent the colder months in Aiken as part of the Winter Colony got together to create the Aiken Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In the beginning, the organization was chiefly dedicated to protecting working horses, cattle and mules, doing such things as supplying “any farmer” with “free of charge a rustless snapper bit in exchange for his old wire bit” and giving out leather tubes to put on working harnesses to prevent chafing. Other activities included an annual pet dog show, which was held at the Tea Cottage in the Hitchcock Woods as early as 1935. This was a precursor to today’s annual Westmuttster show, which is sponsored by the Aiken SPCA every fall.
Over the years, the society grew and changed. Today, the SPCA, which is a 501c3 charity and is not affiliated any other humane or governmental organization, is based on Wire Road. There, it operates an animal shelter, a spay/neuter facility and an adoption center for animals found or surrendered in the City of Aiken. It is a no kill shelter, and frequently accepts adoptable cats, dogs and other animals found in Aiken County and the surrounding areas. According to Gary Willoughby, who is the SPCA’s executive director, the main shelter, built in 1981, was not really intended to be a shelter.
“It was originally designed as a spay/neuter clinic,” he says. “But it evolved into being a shelter as well.”
Starting last January, members of the Aiken SPCA board have been working on a plan to build a new shelter, adoption center and spay/neuter facility on a 10-acre parcel of land that they own on Willow Run Road between Richland Avenue and the bypass. The plan calls for a state-of-the art building, with safe and comfortable living areas for dogs and cats, as well as a barn for horses, goats and potbellied pigs. There will also be an expanded spay/neuter facility with the capacity to perform up to 12,000 operations per year, an education and training center, a retail shop, a medical center and special adoption areas. The 2-acre dog park, complete with splash pool, opened last December.
The new building will cost in the neighborhood of $5 million. For the past year, the SPCA has been in the “quiet part” of the fundraising campaign, according to Gary Willoughby. In that time, they have already raised about $3.2 million, mostly from their board members and other major donors, who have given gifts as large as $350,000. About two weeks ago, they launched their general campaign, soliciting donations from the community at large.
“Folks can buy bricks that will be installed on paths in the dog park, or bricks and photo tiles that will be installed on the inside of the building,” he says. “There are also naming opportunities for benches and paths in the dog park, as well as for all of the rooms in the facility. You can also donate a live oak tree, like the trees that line South Boundary, which will be planted on either side of our driveway.”
Although the new facility will be able to take in and house more dogs and cats, the focus of the expansion is on the quality of care that the SPCA can provide, not on the number of animals it can accommodate. The expansion of the organization’s spay/neuter program is probably the most important element in the project.
“We can’t adopt our way out of pet overpopulation,” says Gary, explaining that with the new facility the Aiken SPCA will be able to offer spay/neuter services to animals within a 50 mile radius of Aiken.
“We’ll have a larger facility so that our animals can live in better conditions,” he says. “Dogs will be in rooms where they can’t see their neighbors, so they won’t be stressed out and there will be less barking. The cats will live in colonies with climbing walls, perches and covered screen porches so that they can get some fresh air.
“Our mailing about the facility just went out about three days ago,” he continues. “And we’ve already gotten about 100 envelopes back. There are a lot of big animal lovers in Aiken.”
Organizers hope to be able to break ground before the end of this year, and expect that the new building will take about 10 months to complete.
“We hope to be open by Christmas of next year,” says Gary.
A complete, 18-page brochure with drawings of the new facility may be downloaded from the Aiken SPCA website (www.aikenspca.org). If you would like to donate to the project, volunteer to help the fundraising effort, or buy a brick, a tile or a tree, contact Gary Willoughby at 803-648-6863.