CAMDEN, SC (WIS) - When you walk into the Thiel-Meyer Pet Adoption Center in Camden, you feel like you've walked into someone's house. Usually Wanda is there to greet you, or pets belonging to shelter employees.
Surrounded by donated classical furniture and whimsical artwork, Wanda and her friends will escort you to the dogs and cats who are waiting for forever homes. Or maybe you'd like to take Wanda home.
"We wanted it to be warm and friendly," said Kershaw County Humane Society Director Sharon Jones. "The public needed to feel at home and that meant openness, warmness, just make you want to come in and be with the animals."
It's a vast difference from the previous facility used to shelter unwanted animals in Kershaw County. The adoption rate was just 3% at the old shelter.
"Eighteen years ago we were in a concrete building that was put together just to house animals and it barely did that," Jones said. "We had to get out of there to be able to take better care of the animals and keep them disease-free, virus-free and more adoptable."
"It's a very happy place," said Vice President of the Humane Society's Board of Directors and benefactor, Sue Sensor. "You go back there and most of the animals are wagging their tails. You walk into the run with them and they start licking you and they want to play and take them out."
The new facility on Black River Road has been open for about a year. The humane society celebrated the grand opening during the October flood of 2015. It was built thanks to a matching grant of $1 million offered by Columbia philanthropists Austin and Lane Meyer. The humane society raised another million in donations.
"We couldn't have done it without him," Jones said of Meyer's gift.
The new facility is the legacy of longtime humane society volunteer and benefactor Judy Thiel, for whom it is named. Thiel died in 2013.
"Judy Thiel supported us the entire 18 years that she was with us," Jones said. "I feel that we're paying it back to her just to finalize her dream. She didn't get to see the ending result here. She saw the beginning but she didn't get to see the end so we really feel like we did this for Judy Thiel as well as the community."
"It's been very important to us to finally get this building done," Sensor said. "It was always Judy's dream and it was finally realized."
"It's so important for these animals to have interaction with people every day, not just with the staff, but with other people, because then they realize what great dogs they are," Sensor said.
But both Sensor and Jones say there doesn't need to be a shelter for unwanted pets if humans were more responsible.
"In order to cut down on the number of animals that come through the shelters every year, spaying and neutering is such an incredible part of what we're trying to achieve here," Sensor said.
"If people were responsible and they spayed and neutered their pets, we wouldn't have to have a county animal shelter," Jones said. "It's really an insult to America to have to shelter unwanted and stray pets. So spay-neuter will take care of that problem."
Now they are working on getting a countywide dog licensing ordinance passed. Not only would it generate revenue for the shelter in licensing fees, it would limit the number of dogs a household can keep, which would cut down on hoarding, puppy mills and "backyard dogs."
"We have an incredible number of animals that come through here every month, as do all of the shelters in South Carolina, and a lot of it is due to we just don't have regulations in place," Sensor said.
Although the humane society relies on donations to cover about 50 percent of its budget, the shelter welcomes donations beyond money, including, volunteers, old blankets, cat litter, and towels.
"There's nothing that we can't use," Jones said. "We'll even take your newspapers."