Animal control groups move toward mediation

Alex Sirney -- March 21st, 2010

Both the Harrisonburg SPCA and the Shenandoah Valley Spay and Neuter Clinic (SVSNC) have responded favorably to a letter sent by Mayor Kai Degner asking them to join in mediation, according to representatives from both organizations.

Woman in front of spay and neuter poster

Photo by Holly Marcus

Both Anne Anderson, executive director of the Harrisonburg SPCA and Cate Mansfield, executive director of the SVSNC confirmed Friday that they had responded favorably to the mayor’s two questions – whether each organization was willing to enter mediation, and whether each organization was willing to share in the cost. The city is currently seeking bids for the mediation.

The mayor’s letter comes after discussion at the city council meeting on March 11 sparked by a speech during public comments by Josie Kinkade, executive director of Cat’s Cradle, a Harrisonburg-based cat-rescue organization.

In her speech, Kinkade urged council to move forward with the proposal by the SVSNC to take over pound services for the city. She pointed out the SPCA’s high rate of euthanasia and a negative attitude toward the community and the animals. She was backed by a full room of supporters wearing red “Citizens for Animal Welfare” (CFAW) stickers who stood when prompted by Kinkade.

At the request of city council, the SVSNC submitted a proposal to compete with the SPCA’s contract with the city for providing pound services and is supported by CFAW, which is also headed by Mansfield. The SVSNC has been open since currently provides low-cost spay and neuter services to the community and works with several neighboring counties to provide services to their pounds. According to Mansfield, the clinic has pledged donors and volunteers and could increase capacity to handle the city contract by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

Criticism of the Harrisonburg SPCA centers around its rate of euthanasia, which at about 65 percent is the highest of all state-contracted pound services, according to CFAW’s Web site. The numbers are drawn from state single organization statistics from 2008 (2009 has not been fully compiled). Charlottesville-Albemarle has the lowest at about 15 percent and has run its shelter since 2005 by the principles CFAW and the SVSNC would like to see implemented in Harrisonburg.

These principles include working with the community to foster animals, spaying and neutering on intake, loosening the requirements for adoption, creating a more welcoming environment and involving more animal rescue groups and only euthanizing animals that have severe behavioral issues or unrecoverable illnesses.

Anderson points to a lack of resources as a main cause of the high rate of euthanasia.

“We strive to lower [the rate of euthanasia] but it’s predicated on resources,” she said. “I think Charlottesville has a lot of resources that Harrisonburg doesn’t have.”

According to the city manager’s office, the Harrisonburg SPCA is contracted by the city and functions as a joint facility between the city and county. The annual city contract is for $215,255 plus $9,366 to cover the cost of the building loans. Cat’s Cradle receives a $389 donation annually and is the only other animal control or rescue organization that receives money from the city. Harrisonburg employs one animal control officer through the HPD. According to Charlottesville’s adopted budget for the 2009 to 2010 fiscal year the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA was budgeted to receive $86,000 from the city.

There is no national governing body for the SPCA – each local chapter is self-governing and not affiliated with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Five years ago, the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA had a 53 percent euthanasia rate when current executive director Susanne Kogut took over. She’s seen that rate fall to the lowest in the state.

“It’s all about a shift in attitude,” Kogut said. “Not coming up with excuses but coming up with solutions.”

She credits a strong marketing campaign, improved customer service, making it easier to adopt, and asking the community to help, including a strong foster program – more than a third of the animals the saw last year went to foster homes. She also encourages her staff to maintain a constantly positive focus and not blame others or the community for problems.

“It’s fairly basic things,” she said. “It sounds odd to people not in the animal welfare business.”

She was also quick to point out how fortunate Harrisonburg is to have these two organizations that are concerned with animal welfare.

“None of this should be about right or wrong, it should be about doing what’s right,” she said.

This sentiment was echoed by Anderson, Mansfield and Kinkade, all of whom expressed their willingness to work together for a resolution.

The organizations’ responses to Degner’s letter are expected to be discussed at the March 23 council meeting.

[Edit – Clarified that Cate Mansfield of the SVSNC also leads CFAW (as president).]

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26 Responses to “Animal control groups move toward mediation”

  1. Dany Fleming says:

    I’m disappointed in hburgnews. I’m pretty sure the city council bid announcements of Joe Fitzgerald and Greg Coffman were covered – rightly so. However, I don’t see any mention of Saturday’s DNR’s lead story on Sal Romero’s announcement for the City Council race.

  2. Dany,

    I posted something about it yesterday, but because we also moved servers yesterday, it got erased (along with the story about Dave Mills).

    Have anything to say about this SPCA story?

  3. Emmy says:

    I’m very glad the mayor has asked for this and that both groups are willing to do it. The misinformation about the SPCA in recent media reports is disgusting. Everyone thinks its just as easy as not killing the animals, but it isn’t. The SPCA sees a much higher volume of animals than these other organizations. If anyone thinks that the employees of the SPCA enjoy putting down the animals and don’t do everything within their power to get them adopted then they need to take a second look.

    People love no-kill facilities but what they don’t realize is that when an animal is being given up it only has a few places to go. When Cat’s Cradle is full, where do you think people take their cats? Animals will be saved by educating the public and that is what these groups need to be working on instead of fighting with each other. I am all about saving animals, but when you can’t convince people they need to get their animals fixed you end up with too many.

    In the interest of full disclosure, my mother is the Humane Educator at the SPCA. But, because of that I now know that a lot of the things I used to believe about the SPCA were not true.

  4. Emmy says:

    Also, the animals who come in from Animal Control often end up as part of court cases and are sometimes ordered to be put down by a judge. How is the SVSNC going to handle that if they get the bid? The SPCA is already equipped to handle those situations.

  5. Alex Sirney says:

    Emmy –

    The “no-kill” moniker is a misleading one – the SVSNC expects to have to euthanize animals, but both Mansfield and Kinkade say that, after a few years, they expect the rate of euthanasia to drop to the 15 percent seen at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. The plans for increasing capacity include developing a large-scale foster system and working with rescue organizations such as Cat’s Cradle. Charlottesville saw more than a third of its animals put in a foster system last year.

    Anderson’s comments about this were that each area is different, although she allowed that she didn’t think this area necessarily produced more animals than Charlottesville.

  6. Emmy says:

    Yes, it is misleading and I think that’s why so many people get behind them. They assume that means they won’t be putting the animals down and that isn’t the case.

    The funny thing is that the SPCA was accused of not working with rescue organizations or foster systems, but they do.

    You have to have people willing to foster to implement a system where a third of the animals go into foster care and I don’t think we have that here. I think that is one of the differences between the two areas.

  7. Alex Sirney says:

    Emmy –

    That’s an excellent point about the SPCA and rescue organizations. One of the SVSNC’s plans is to be less strict about what rescue organizations it works with in order to involve more organizations, which has positives and negatives to it.

    The community’s willingness to foster definitely plays into this as well.

  8. Emmy says:

    I’m sure that I come off as sounding like I’m against these other groups and I’m not. I’d love it if we could save more animals.

    Like you said, there are positives and negatives to being less strict about the groups you use. As I see it the positives are that you end up with more animals placed in homes. The negatives include that the homes might not really be all that great and the animal may end up with a worse fate than it would have had at the SPCA. I know the SPCA gets a lot of grief for how strict it is on adoptions, but there is a reason for that too. People think it’s like buying an animal in a pet store. They just don’t understand why the SPCA won’t give them an animal when they’ve said they won’t have it fixed, their other pets aren’t current on veterinary care, etc. Being strict in some areas means the animals that do end up with homes end up in good homes, and not right back in the system with a litter of babies at their side.

  9. wood says:

    We will never adopt another animal from the SPCA. Here’s why:

    The last time we went to the SPCA, seven years ago, to adopt a cat, it took us an hour and a half, waiting on the phone while the administration called the vet to verify the dog we had previously adopted was spayed and had her shots. Then they called the county to make sure the dog had tags. Then we had to promise that the cat would not be allowed to go outside. (We live on a farm). They were horrified that we administer all vaccines except rabies (which we would if we could, but take all our animals to the rabies clinics instead). They told us we had to take the cat and our dog to the vet for annual “well pet visits.” My husband was on the verge of saying “Just kill the damn cat–we’re leaving,” when they “relented” and let us take her. Since then, co-workers have told us that they’ve gotten worse about allowing people to adopt their animals.

    I believe the H/R SPCA thinks it’s doing the right thing by the animals by making absolutely certain that none of their adopted animals are ever going to be abused. That’s laudable. But when prospective owners are turned away because their properties aren’t entirely fenced, or they can’t promise their cats won’t ever get outside, or they can’t afford “well pet vet visits” or for any of the other myriad reasons that the SPCA deems them inferior owners or not quite up to their standards, they drive people away. And they don’t come back.

    We love the Spay/Neuter Clinic, we support Cat’s Cradle, but we will never support the SPCA again. When we’re looking for a new pet, we go to Craig’s List or the paper and look for freebies.

  10. Emmy says:

    Well I’ve never heard anything about well-pet visits or requiring a fully fenced yard.

    But as for the rest, is that really unreasonable? When cats are allowed outside they run the risk of being killed by a car or another animal. What if during the course of their calls they’d found that you hadn’t cared for your animals, weren’t allowed to have them (if you lived in an apartment) or had no plans to get them shots of have them fixed?

    The reason they don’t just let anyone walk out of their with an animal is because they don’t want to see that animal or offspring of that animal again.

  11. Belle says:

    According to the state statistics, in 2008, the Charlottesville SPCA took in 5,096 animals (then euthanized 506). The R-H SPCA took in 4,315 (euthanized 2,805). C’ville receives less than half of the government funds R-H receives.

    No one thinks that the employees of the R-H SPCA enjoy killing animals, but the fact is, the current model of business there is not the life-saving model that other SPCAs have implemented. While some animals may still ultimately be euthanized under an SVSNC shelter, thousands of others can be saved.

  12. wood says:

    I beg to disagree, Emmy. Their well-documented refusals to allow adoptions, (for example, to one friend whose farm has 200 acres but it’s not all fenced–and that’s just one) are legendary.

    There is a reason H/R SPCA’s kill rate is so much higher than any other’s. Well intentioned as they may be, I believe it has more to do with their distrust of their clients than their clients’ irresponsibility. They’d rather kill the animals than take the chance with owners who might not meet their expectations.

  13. Emmy says:

    Well, we will have to agree to disagree. But, if you really think that ANY of the people who work at the SPCA would rather see an animal put down than placed in a good home then you are very mistaken. Because of my mother’s employment there, I’m there quite a bit and I see the love and care the staff put into their work. It’s far more heart-breaking for then than it is for us because they become attached to the animals and then have to see them put down. To suggest anything else is just wrong.

    When you have seen the amount of horrible animal owners that they have then you might form a bit of distrust yourself.

  14. Lowell Fulk says:

    I don’t know Wood, but I would fall right in with the opinions Wood has expressed. I too have over 200 acres, and have been thoroughly interrogated as to my fitness for adopting a cat for my daughters. We have donated both money and supplies when the girls were younger, and used to visit often.
    I made no promise to keep our prospective cat indoors, such would be nonsense. A cat is not designed to be an indoor pet.
    Farm cats are a pretty hardy lot. So also are farm dogs…
    From personal experience I would have to agree that it seems their preference is to kill the animal rather than give it a chance in an environment which might not meet their expectations.
    The expectations seem far overdone, and the animal’s life is on the line. Which would be a better life for a cat or dog, on a farm? Or in an incinerator?
    I don’t have a bone to pick, for we long since stopped going to the shelter, but I am glad to see someone offer an alternative. And I am very impressed with the movement toward mediation and potential cooperation generated by Mayor Degner. That is what community leadership looks like in case anyone wonders…

  15. blondiesez says:

    Lowell. Really? “A cat is not designed to be an indoor pet.” “Farm cats are a pretty hardy lot.”

    Last I checked, “farm cat” was not a cat breed. I’m not saying that a cat couldn’t adapt to being a “farm cat,” but how would you know upon adopting? I can’t see them doing assessment tests on a cat to see if they’d make a good farm cat.

    Similarly, even if a dog is a breed that might make a good ‘farm dog’, that doesn’t mean that THAT particular dog might be suited for the task.

    We have three indoor cats and they seem to be, if not ‘designed’, certainly well-adapted to being kept indoors. I grew up with letting cats roam our suburban neighborhoods, but my husband prefers they stay inside (for their safety, as well as that of the local wildlife and songbirds). We have also adopted from SPCA’s and have never once flinched at their background checks.

    I can understand an adoptee’s frustration as they checked your references and all that while you waited on-site. Having lived in Northern Virginia and Va Beach, as well as having adopted companion animals from rescue groups, I’m used to a process where you fill out an application and leave without the pet. They then follow up on references and do a home visit before you are allowed to adopt. So getting to take an animal home the same day seems positively speedy to me.

    And I know from personal experience that the SPCA here is FAR more amenable in terms of working with rescue groups than other SPCA’s in the area.

    If someone doesn’t want to be held accountable for the animals you adopt from an SPCA, then by all means surf Craigslist or Freecycle and take what you can get. But don’t fault the SPCA for trying to ensure they’re placing animals with responsible owners. Because if an animal is inadvertently placed in harm’s way, then the argument of whether that’s more preferable than euthanasia is, at best, distasteful.

    It seems to me that rather than condemning with brickbats, those who find fault with the SPCA could join the effort to make their jobs easier by fostering or some other activities.

  16. Emmy says:

    I totally agree blondiesez!

  17. wood says:

    Lowell’s point about “farm” cats and dogs is not that they’re breeds but lifestyles. Breed is beside the point. And it doesn’t matter if other SPCAs in other areas are harder or easier to work with–the fact is that H/R kills more of its animals than any other. I’ve dealt with our SPCA over the years and seen their attitude toward prospective owners harden, to the point where they treat prospective adopters with so much suspicion that most people I know just don’t deal with them.

    I’ve heard from SPCA associates and supporters that JMU students are much of the reason they’re so hard-core. It’s odd that UVA students are a lot like JMU students, but Albemarle has the lowest kill rate in the state and we have the highest.

    We rescued a dog that subsequently we learned liked to chase the neighbor’s livestock. The last thing we would have done was to take him to the H/R SPCA, specifically because we knew the likelihood he would have been euthanized. We put him on Craigslist and the people who adopted him absolutely adore him.

    There’s a lot of money at stake in funding. It’s important that all organizations receive an impartial appraisal before that money is allocated.

  18. Lowell Fulk says:

    So Blondiesez, you feel it better to put an animal to death than give it an opportunity to a life that you can’t control?
    I would respectfully submit that you’re not now in Virginia Beach or Northern Virginia.
    There is, in many instances in the Valley, the opportunity for an animal to enjoy its life more along the line of its natural inclination.
    I would also ask, regarding the design of cats, have you ever paid a Vet to amputate the first digit of each toe of your cat’s front paws so that they wouldn’t claw your furniture?
    Why would someone need to do such a thing? Perhaps because a cat must be “modified” to live in such an environment for which they weren’t designed?
    I find myself in agreement with Wood once again, breed isn’t the issue.
    But I must also say this, I don’t really care all that much. I simply find it curious that so many so called animal lovers care so little about the actual life of the animal in comparison to their concern for what they want from the animal, for their own benefit.
    I rather think that the dogs and cats which we have enjoy their lives here, as they hunt and dig and play, outside…
    What I do care about is the belief that an animal would be better off dead, than with an owner who doesn’t measure up to perhaps unreasonable standards.

  19. Lowell Fulk says:

    That being said however, wild feral cats present an absolute menace to family pets. Stray cats which have been abandoned also present a real problem.
    Human irresponsibility is the culprit.
    Living beings shouldn’t be looked at as toys.
    But that’s just me, and as I wrote above, I’m really not all that engaged in this issue other than supporting those who wish to work toward humane treatment.

  20. Lowell Fulk says:

    I would also like to reiterate: I am very impressed with the movement toward mediation and potential cooperation generated by Mayor Degner. That is what community leadership looks like in case anyone wonders…

  21. Emmy says:

    Lowell, no one thinks the animals are better off dead than in good homes. Saying that over and over doesn’t make it so.

    No breed is not the issue, however ff you adopt a cat or dog that has always been indoors and turn it lose on your farm it may not become a “hardy lot” in time to save its own life.

    Also, as far as I know the SPCA in no way advocates having a cat declawed. My mother has two indoor cats, neither are declawed and neither ruin her furniture.

  22. Sara says:

    Citizens for Animal Welfare is trying to educate the public on the facts. Our supporters know the facts. If you would like to learn more, please visit the website:
    No one wants to see animals euthanized, but a so-called less-than-perfect home is better than a death sentence. The community shouldn’t be blamed. We need to stop making excuses. 2,500 animals killed each year is not a success by any measure. It is a profound failure.

  23. Koshka says:

    Unfortunately the SPCA has been given city and county money for many years with no one asking what kind of job they are doing for us. Where else would an organization be given a large monetary contract and no one takes a look at how they are really doing. The death rate is listed every year for every animal organization on the Dept of Ag. web site. It should not be a surprise to any Harrisonburg/Rockingham official just how the SPCA is doing this year verses how they did 5 years ago.
    The intake and kill rate numbers do tell the story. Not until the SVSNC stepped forward did any govt. official show any concern. They were very comfortable and satisfied with the laissez- faire attitude.
    The SPCA has had many years to improve their policies, but have chosen not to do such. They need to clean house all their current board members. Breathe some new life into this group. When was the last time anyone on the board attending an animal welfare conference or seminar?
    I do believe it is time for our government officials to do what is in the best interest of the animals. Let another group have the animal control contract. I am certain the SVSNC not continue with the kill rate we have today.

  24. Joe Snuffy says:

    Very horrible! I give the Shenandoah Vally Spay and neuter clinic negative ratings. The price seemed great to neuter our male cat until we brought him home. Whoever did the procedure left testicle tissue hanging out and the testicles wide open. The clinic declined to pay the charges from the other hospital to have it fixed. The doctors at the other hospital were horrified. Beware if you decide to go to the Shenandoah Valley spay and neuter clinic, your animal may not make it.

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