Camden’s Thiel-Meyer Animal Adoption Center: Not your average shelter

Bounty Provided photo

My name is Bounty. I live at the animal shelter in Camden. It has a big, nice name and I will tell you that later, but for right now, I want you to know that Miss Sharon, who runs the place, calls me the “Walmart greeter dog.”

I’m real proud of that because there was a time when I didn’t want to greet anybody. The fact is, people scared me. I couldn’t trust them to treat me right.

But things have changed and now I live in this beautiful place. Officially it’s called the Thiel-Meyer Animal Adoption Center and just about everyone who comes through the front door gets a tail wag from me.

So maybe you’re thinking I’m crazy to call an animal shelter “beautiful.” Yeah, I know – cages, bad smells, and cement floors that have seen better days.

But not this place. Nope. It opened in October and it is everything a typical animal shelter isn’t. Miss Sharon can attest to that. Now her last name is Jones, but I just call her “Miss Sharon.”

She’s been the director of the Kershaw County Humane Society for 17 years. Miss Sharon managed the old shelter and now she’s running the new place.

“I have seen a rebirth of animal sheltering from 17 years ago,” she said.

“A whole new light has been shed on sheltering. Years ago, a shelter meant a dog pound and euthanasia. It was the end of the line … There is no comparison between the old shelter and this new one. The other one had concrete floors, cement block walls, wire cages, mice, roaches. It was awful, but we made the best of it. We made the best of a dump.”

Miss Sharon is not kidding about that.

About six years ago, I wound up at that shelter. Some animal control officers – the first of several angels in my life – found me in the backwoods of Kershaw County, living at the end of a chain. I didn’t have any water or food and I was starving. I was also trying to take care of a brand new puppy. That was the last thing I needed, but I did my best to love it anyway.

I was also terribly afraid of people; they had done some bad things to me, but Miss Sharon saw some kind of light in my blue eyes and she took me under her wing. And I guess that’s how I came to be the “Walmart greeter dog” at the new shelter.

Now I know it’s not nice to talk about money – I’ve heard people say that – but this place is a multi-million dollar facility. Frankly, all 12,500 square feet of it should be in an architectural magazine. Yep, it’s that pretty.

Beautiful artwork all over the walls. Not a wire cage in sight. Just roomy, clean, tempered-glass kennels. Indoor and outdoor runs. A special system that sends indoor air outside and brings fresh, outside air in. Big play yards with real grass! Special quarantine and isolation areas. A consultation room. A grooming room and a high-tech surgical suite.

Oh, yeah, and a screened-in porch for cats so they can stretch out in the sun and do what cats do which, in my opinion, is not much. But, never mind that.

So I guess you may be wondering how a place as fine as this gets built. Well, I tell you: people.

Good, generous, determined people who love animals and want the best for all of them, not just their own.

The fact is, lots and lots of folks made the Thiel-Meyer shelter a reality, but there are several folks who deserve special recognition.

One is Judy Thiel. She died in 2013, but before that, she lived in Camden for a long, long time and rode horses and loved animals. Miss Sharon said it was “Judy’s dream to have an animal shelter that the community could be proud of and that the animals could be happy and comfortable in.”

So Miss Judy worked long and hard to make the new shelter happen. She gave her time, energy, money and even the property on Black River Road, where the new shelter is located.

“For years,” said Miss Judy’s sister, Christy Taucher, “Judy was the humane society in Camden.

It was her dream to have a really, really beautiful shelter. She’s got that now, and I’m sure she knows it’s there.”

Then there’s a real nice couple – George and Sue Sensor. They live in Camden too, and have had two horses win the steeplechase called The Carolina Cup. Mr. Sensor owns 13 McDonald’s restaurants and when it comes to animals, he and his wife love them.

“When we first started coming to Camden in the early 1980s, one of the first things Sue did was pursue her passion for horses,” Mr. Sensor said. “The other thing she did was get involved with the animal shelter.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Mrs. Sensor said. “Actually, it feels like a lifetime, but there has been some amazing dedication along the way.”

And there has been a guy named Austin Meyer. He lives in Columbia and, in 1995, unveiled a flight simulator called X-Plane. It took off, so to speak, and so did Mr. Meyer’s bottom line.

Now he got involved with the Camden animal shelter in kind of a funny way.

“For me, the real turning point came when I was driving my convertible Corvette down I-77,” Mr. Meyer said.

“I took the off ramp on Shop Road, where the Columbia animal shelter is. There’s a big sign there, done by Blue Sky. I pulled into the pound, went in and looked at the facilities. Then I said, ‘All right, that’s it. There’s no way I am going to think about myself and no one else.’ The disparity of freedom. Racing down a highway in a convertible and then you look at these animals…Can you come up with an analogy to top that? I don’t think you can.”

So Mr. Meyer cast about, looking for an animal shelter that could use his help. He wound up helping one in the Columbia area and then, he said, “I wanted to do it all over again.”

That’s when he found the folks in Camden. “The old shelter was a terrible little facility but there were people there who cared,” he said.

So, Mr. Meyer told them that he would match whatever amount of money they raised – up to a million dollars – for a new shelter.

Well, you can bet that got everybody’s attention and the folks in Camden went to work and Mr. Meyer wound up stroking a check for $1,000,000!

And that, my human friends, is how the Thiel-Meyer Animal Adoption Center came to be.

“Animals can’t speak for themselves,” Mr. Meyer said. “It’s on us or it ain’t gonna happen.”

Well, I won’t argue with him about the speaking part.