Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Response To Saturday's Editorial

Last year in Roanoke 4674 homeless dogs and cats were killed at the Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection.

Channel 10 broke the story in February, and until today the Roanoke Valley SPCA and the RCACP have not addressed the issue. Please click here for a link to a letter in the Roanoke Times today from the Board of Directors.

Posted below is the letter, with our responses in red. Please note, we have never met Barbara Dalhouse, but we have heard and have to assume she has a big heart for the animals. 

We are simply asking what we feel are valid questions, and hoping they promote ongoing discussions, and a change in our community. 


Help stem the tide of euthanasia of homeless and unwanted animals.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about euthanasia of animals at the Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection (RCACP), colloquially know as the “Pound.” It is a fact that millions of unwanted cats and dogs are euthanized every year in the United
States and that roughly 4,500 animals were euthanized at the Pound in Roanoke last year.

People have sought to find someone to blame for this very sad reality.

Not really. People are realizing that there is a problem in Roanoke. Before addressing the problem, we first need to admit that we have one.  What is done is done, let's address it, stop wasting energy defending it, and move forward. 

Ironically, some people are attempting to blame the one organization that does more than anyone else to prevent euthanasia at the Pound, the Roanoke Valley SPCA.

To prevent euthanasia, the top 2 proven methods for a No Kill community are as follows: Does the Roanoke Valley SPCA offer either?

  • Feral Cat TNR: ? 

  • High Volume Low Cost Spay Neuter: The RVSPCA wholly owns a spay/neuter clinic, but in Christiansburg. Not where the nearly 5000 dogs and cats were killed in Roanoke. Where are the vouchers for spay neuter? Where is the transport to their clinic? Has there ever been a phone call offering partnership with Angels of Assisi, as they have an established low cost spay/neuter clinic in Roanoke?  

    Understandably, there has been some confusion about the relationship between the Roanoke Valley SPCA (RVSPCA) and the Pound.

    The confusion probably stems from the fact that the Roanoke Valley SPCA and the Pound share an executive director, Bill Watson. 

    The confusion probably stems from the fact that Barbara Dalhouse, the author of this editorial, also sits on both boards. 

    The confusion probably stems from the fact that when people want to spend more than 5 minutes (and yes, we have that in writing) with an animal at the Pound, they have to make an appointment with a Roanoke Valley SPCA staff member.   

    The confusion probably stems from the fact that the Roanoke Valley SPCA, through a contracted company called Animal Care Services, operates the Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection (Pound). See page 17 here.   

    To understand that relationship, you have to understand the purposes of the two entities. The Pound fulfills an animal control/law enforcement function that is required by state law. Among other things, the Pound is needed to house stray animals that are picked up by Animal Control and provide a place where citizens can find and reclaim animals that have been picked up.

    The Pound is funded with tax money and was never designed to provide adoption services.

    We understand that. We are asking for change. Other places funded by tax money allow and encourage adoptions. For example Charlottesville, Lynchburg, and Franklin County. 

    How about Pulaski County - here is their mission statement: “The Pulaski County Humane Society office is located in the Pulaski County Animal Shelter..., which allows us to work side by side with Pulaski County Animal Control. We help provide medical care and other needs to make both PCHS and Animal Control animals as comfortable as possible during their stay at the shelter. We do everything we can to help prevent the euthanasia of adoptable pets.”

    The RVSPCA is a charitable organization, funded by donations, whose mission is to “improve the quality of life for animals and the people they touch in the Roanoke Valley.” As part of that mission, the RVSPCA seeks to find homes for as many of the unclaimed animals at the Pound as it can.

    This leads to another question. Why does the Roanoke Valley SPCA not take back animals that they have adopted out, and are returned by their owners for one reason or another?  These animals have to go back to the Pound, and there are no guarantees they make it back to the No Kill side of the building. 

    It used to be that the RVSPCA’s adoption operation and the Pound were in the same horrible building and the municipalities provided a bare minimum of funds to the
    RVSPCA to run the Pound. In roughly 2001, the RVSPCA decided that it needed to separate from the Pound, close the existing facility, build a new building and become a “no kill of adoptable animals” shelter.

    The RVSPCA believed that it would be able to adopt out more animals in a shelter environment where potential adopters did not have to fear looking into the eyes of animals that would be euthanized if they were not adopted.

    Stop right there. We're all big boys and girls now. If the public were given the chance to look into the eyes of an animal that may be killed (let's call it what it is), don't you believe many would step up, adopt, foster, or network the animals? This sends a message to the community- we trust you to write a check, but we don't believe you will step up and help the animals.

    For example, over the last month, as the publicity has increased, people have stepped up and spent their weekends transporting animals into other No Kill organizations. They like doing it. People want to help. 

    Is part of the reason that "happy" adoption centers get more donations? That if people do not know the mass killings going on in the building next door, they will assume that everything is peachy and write bigger checks?

    However, the RVSPCA never fooled itself into thinking that by starting a new “no kill” shelter, euthanasia of unwanted animals would cease in Roanoke. The only reason that any animal shelter can call itself “no kill” is if it is a limited admission facility. A shelter that must take in all the strays that are brought to it (like the Pound) is eventually going to run out of both cage space and resources to care for the animals. Euthanasia then ensues.

    Not true. Again, let's take a look locally at Charlottesville, Richmond, and Lynchburg. Nationally, Nevada has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Guess what? Although being an "open admission facility", they have an over 90% save rate for dogs and cats. 

    No Kill Open Admission Facilities are not only possible, they exist! Take a look at the examples here.

    So the SPCA began working on its plans to build a new shelter and the municipalities began scrambling to find or build another facility and find a third party to run it. This
    was a governmental responsibility that they were required by law to fulfill. Community leaders, however, stepped in and convinced the RVSPCA that it would be best for the
    community and more cost efficient for all parties concerned if the RVSPCA and the municipalities (Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Botetourt County and the Town of Vinton) worked together on a joint project.

    The plan that emerged was to build two separate buildings on one piece of property owned by the RVSPCA. The RVSPCA, because of its experience in running an animal
    shelter and its passion for preventing animal cruelty, was persuaded to take on the task of managing the Pound for the municipalities.

    It would do this through a separate entity called Animal Care Services.

    Do our homeless dogs and cats deserve better than an entity ""persuaded" to take care of them? Do they deserve an entity dedicated to saving each and every life that it possibly can? Do the animals that are not “victims of animal cruelty” but just plain homeless deserve passion too? Is an entity that only "endeavors to hold animals relinquished by owners for a minimum of two (2) days" enough?

    In return, the municipalities agreed to provide realistic funding for the Pound.

    One million tax dollars per year seems realistic. 

    Although the RVSPCA did not want to be in the business of managing a governmental pound,
    where it does not have the power to set policy or determine the budget, 

    How sad is this. If the Roanoke Valley SPCA did not want the job or want to find a way to be creative with the tax money flowing in at that time, do you want it now? Have you changed your mind? If not, how about finding someone who does? Sometimes things don’t work out, people and partners part ways. Change can be good.  

    the RVSPCA felt that it was best for the animals if it took on this task.

    Again, the RCACP (Pound) brings in one million dollars per year. 
    The Roanoke Valley SPCA has in it's power a staffed foster program, volunteer program, and adoption program. Good ones, too. Can we open our minds and share these programs with the animals on death row across the hallway? 

    This has in fact been a good thing for the animals because the RVSPCA has used its position to advocate on behalf of the animals. For example, because of the RVSPCA’s efforts, the municipalities have agreed to pay for disease-preventing vaccinations and better veterinary care for the animals at the Pound.

    Why is it that dogs exposed to parvo are killed at the Pound? 

    Why is it that a dog transferred to the Roanoke Valley SPCA from the Pound was transferred back and killed the next day when it was discovered he had mouth sores? This happened last week. 

    Why is it that Botetourt County does not send any of their neglect and cruelty cases to the Pound? You can ask them (in fact, we really, really encourage you to do so), as we have heard they do not feel their animals are safe at the Pound. Even though they pay $155,000 per year for these services, they choose to send them to Angels of Assisi for Vet Care and rehabilitation. 

    Angels of Assisi provides Vet services, rehabilitation and a commitment to keep the animals until they are adopted at no charge to Botetourt County. Why? Because they are dedicated to their mission of No Kill, and work hard to make it happen.

    Returning to the issue at hand, the criticism currently leveled against the Pound is that too many “adoptable” cats and dogs are being euthanized there. The RVSPCA couldn’t agree more. In fact, that is the primary reason that the RVSPCA exists – to fight this terrible problem.

    That is why the RVSPCA and its caring staff, its dedicated board of directors and its army of kind volunteers get up every morning and do what they do. They love animals.

    Agreed! Can we let the army of volunteers love the animals at the Pound as well? Please? A recent survey of Virginia Pounds show that Roanoke is one of 3 statewide that do not allow volunteers. Salem is another, but they are in the process of implementing a volunteer program.

    And the RVSPCA rescues as many of the animals at the Pound as it can. Last year, the RVSPCA rescued almost 1,400 animals from the Pound.

    This is wonderful. Can the Roanoke Valley SPCA provide leadership in facilitating more adoptions, maybe even from the Pound?
    It also provides pet food to food pantries so that people and their pets can stay together during difficult economic times, provides a humane education program for the schools, spays or neuters every animal that is adopted at the RVSPCA and has helped to launch a new, low-cost spay neuter clinic.

    This is also wonderful. To clarify, the Roanoke Valley SPCA owns the spay/neuter clinic. In another town, not in Roanoke where nearly 5000 dogs and cats were killed last year.

    But the RVSPCA cannot solve the problem of euthanasia at the Pound by itself. Everyone needs to help.

    Yes, please, please let us. Please allow volunteers in to walk the dogs, socialize the cats, take better photographs. Please tell us when the animals are out of time so we can foster, transport to rescue groups. Please photograph the owner surrendered animals so they can be seen. 

    Please, please, please have the Executive Director answer our emails about a definite date to sit down and meet, instead of leaving it that he wants us to check our schedules. We'll clear our schedules for the opportunity. Promise. We’ve told him that and he does not answer us. 

    Why is there so much euthanasia in Roanoke and across the country? In a nutshell, the problem is that there aren’t enough homes out there for all of the animals that are brought to the Pound.

    Actually, there have been studies that show this is not true. Take a look at this one. 

    Cats and dogs breed quickly and the puppies and kittens just keep coming and coming and coming. The RVSPCA cannot find enough homes for all of the animals
    at the Pound; there are simply too many of them. Other rescue organizations help by taking animals from the Pound, but not in sufficient numbers to make a big difference.

    Question- does the Roanoke Valley SPCA or the Pound call other rescues for help? If so, do they need more help? We have asked this question, and were told by Bill Watson that he would sit down and discuss, but he has not given us a day or time to do so.

    So what is the solution? First and foremost, people need to spay or neuter their animals to prevent unwanted pregnancies. This is the humane answer to the shame of euthanasia.

    Agreed. If the Roanoke Valley SPCA is "doing more than any organization to stop euthanasia", where are the spay/neuter promotions? How about a transport schedule to a low cost clinic? Angels of Assisi is right downtown, and they partner with many other humane societies to perform about 500 low cost spay/neuters to the public each month.

    Half of the cats that are euthanized at the Pound are under six months old; their only crime was being born without a home waiting for them. This has to stop and spaying and neutering is the answer.

    Did you know that rescue groups in the Washington DC area are accepting cats under a year old? They will even do the spay/neuter, so those cats can be transferred right from the Pound instead of being killed. Seems like volunteers would be willing to help- they already do help other groups and transport every weekend. 

    If the Roanoke Valley SPCA is the "one organization that does more than anyone else to prevent euthanasia at the Pound", how about some feral cat TNR programs?

    TNR programs have proven successful in the number of kittens entering the pound. The Charlottesville SPCA just did a month of free cat spay and neuters, because to them it was worth it to cut down on the number of kittens entering their No Kill Open Admission facility. 

    Second, we have to find homes for the animals that are at the RVSPCA’s adoption center; the faster we can find homes for these animals, the faster we can accept more animals from the Pound.

    Agreed. Can we open our minds just a tad, and please consider adoptions from the Pound as well? 

    Third, people must stop thinking of their pets as disposable and turning them in to the Pound or to the RVSPCA whenever those pets become inconvenient.

    If the Roanoke Valley SPCA is the "one organization that does more than anyone else to prevent euthanasia at the Pound", how about a pet retention program? Some counseling to these people? For example, cats are often turned in for urinating in the house, and this is often due to a simple urinary tract infection. 

    How many pets were turned into the Roanoke Valley SPCA?  You have to admit the vast majority of pets are turned in at the Pound, even animals that were originally adopted from the Roanoke Valley SPCA.

    Finally, we have to acknowledge that Roanoke (like many urban areas) has a pit bull problem and deal with it. Over a third of the dogs at the Pound that are euthanized are pit bulls.

    Most pit bulls are sweet, lovable dogs, but they generally do not do well in a confined environment such as a shelter. 

    Could this be yet another reason to let volunteers in to walk them and socialize them? We're not asking for volunteers to be allowed around vicious dogs, but as you said above, most pit bulls are sweet, lovable dogs.

    Furthermore, they are less popular with adoptive families than other types of dogs because of the stigma associated with pit bulls. Therefore, they do not move well at the RVSPCA’s adoption center. 

    Living, breathing, sentient beings sometimes don't "move well", but can we at least give it a better shot? 

    Due to limited cage space, the RVSPCA can save more Pound animals when it takes animals that are likely to be adopted quickly. Thus, most of the pit bulls at the Pound do not make it over to RVSPCA.

    OK, if the Roanoke Valley SPCA is the "one organization that does more than anyone else to prevent euthanasia at the Pound" where are the pit bull spay/neuter programs? Incentives?

    We will probably never completely solve the pet overpopulation problem but if the zeal and energy of the people railing about the level of euthanasia were devoted to promoting spaying and neutering, it could make a real difference.

    Question: where is the leadership from the “organization that does more than anyone else to prevent euthanasia”? What exactly has the Roanoke Valley SPCA done to promote spay and neuter? Have we all missed it? 

    Please join the RVSPCA, as well as the other “no kill” organizations in the area, in fighting the problem of euthanasia of animals by spaying or neutering your pet, adopting an animal, microchipping your pet so that you can be contacted if your animal ends up getting lost, and recognizing your long term responsibilities as a pet owner. The animals are counting on us.

    Barbara Dalhouse
    President, Roanoke Valley SPCA

    The animals are counting on us. Please let us not only be responsible pet owners, but advocates as well. We want to help. And the first step is to admit we have a problem. It’s out there. Now we need more than unanswered emails to work together to fix it.


    1. Outstanding specific responses to what amounted to a standard, here's why this situation can never be fixed editorial. Heard it all before. Don't want to hear it anymore. There are solutions to every aspect of the situations that lead to animals ending up in animal control facilities. Let's get to work identifying them and set about addressing them. The apathy of killing as a necessary response sickens me.

    2. We all know that there is a PROBLEM there at the Rcacp. It's time for them to admit there is a problem and greet help with open arms.

      Let's quit making excuses, with the fancy Dalhouse letter and get to working on saving lives..

      If people are NOT going to reply back to emails, phone calls or other issues in regards to help then they need to canned, period...It's time to STOP with the BS excuses & start working with people who only want to save lives.

      I'm sorry but Bill Watson needs to put his resignation on Barbara's desk first thing Monday morning!

    3. How is it possible that a Rescue or Adoption Center does not take back animals that were adopted out? This defeats the purpose of a Rescue or Adoption Center in the first place Since they are suppose to make sure animals will not end up in a Shelter again. I would love to see one of this "Adoption Contracts". If I would be a member of the City Council, I would be beyond ashamed of what is happening between this two Organizations. They have the same Director, same people on the Board. One moment they want to safe lives, the next moment they kill everything left and right.
      And what about the "Rehabilitation Specialist"? Do they really rehabilitate dogs or is that just on the paper? How come they kill so many dogs under the cover of "not adoptable" or "dangerous"? Every single fighting dog from Michael Vick's Kennel was rehabilitated and adopted out. Way to go Roanoke Valley SPCA and RCACP.

    4. Unfortunately one of Michael Vick's rehabilitated dogs did end up at RCACP...and was deemed people agressive and euthanized.Here's a link to that "People Agressive" dog:!/photo.php?fbid=185101608200333&set=a.181925671851260.38349.181394075237753&theater

    5. Sorry link didn't quite work as planned, but if you copy and paste into your browser window it will...