Questions Raised About SPCA

THIS CAT is one of many that spent time at Mary Huffman’s place of business, Flowers & Things, while waiting to be adopted out by Furever Friends.

THIS CAT is one of many that spent time at Mary Huffman’s place of business, Flowers & Things, while waiting to be adopted out by Furever Friends.

Controlling the stray cat population in our community continues to be a huge challenge. As this seemingly perpetual problem persists, easy answers remain elusive.

A couple of local citizens who advocate for increasing adoptions and lowering euthanasia rates of cats brought to the Rockbridge Area SPCA are not happy with statistics for this past year, as reported by the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services.

Of the 737 cats taken in at the local SPCA in 2019, only 84, or 11.4 percent, were adopted while 207, or 28.13 percent, were euthanized. Another 320 of the cats, or 43 percent, were transferred to other shelters, including 55 that were taken out-of-state.

What was especially discouraging to these citizens is that the SPCA’s numbers had improved in the two years immediately preceding 2019 before moving in the wrong direction last year.

Mary Huffman, a Buena Vista resident and business owner who has spearheaded an initiative to spay, neuter and adopt out stray cats, appeared before Buena Vista City Council this past Thursday to express her alarm about the most recent statistics.

“I don’t want to disparage [the SPCA’s] efforts but [I] feel, with more community involvement, community information classes to area groups about TNR [trap-neuter-release] programs, about low-cost spaying and neutering programs available, that the numbers of the lives of many more cats and dogs could be saved,” said Huffman.

Furever Friends, an informal group Huffman runs with a couple of other people, took in 103 cats last year and adopted out every one of them, she said. She noted that Cats Unlimited, a local nonprofit that assists Furever Friends, spayed and neutered more than 700 cats in the Rockbridge area last year.

The SPCA, as the designated animal shelter for the Rockbridge area, is supported financially by the three local governments, with the funding share for each determined by the number of cats and dogs brought from each jurisdiction. Huffman suggested to Buena Vista City Council that it bid out its shelter contract for next year, or at least give a portion of the city’s allotted funds to Cats Unlimited.

Mary Harvey Halseth, a Lexington resident and former City Council member, wrote a letter recently to all three local governments to call attention to the most recent VDACS report. “After several years of making significant efforts to lower the historically high cat euthanasia rates,” Harvey Halseth wrote, “2019 saw a significant increase in cat euthanasia with only a modest increase of 26 additional cats over the 2018 cat intake.

“In 2018,” she continued, “the euthanasia percentage for cats was 14 percent and the SPCA rightfully celebrated this percentage, as did the community. In 2019, that percentage doubled for cats to 28 percent. This is certainly a dramatic increase and should be explained.

“I’m extremely concerned that my tax dollars are being used to support an animal shelter that euthanizes so many healthy animals. This is unacceptable and I’m asking you to contact the SPCA and find out what their plan is to decrease their number of healthy animals that are being needlessly euthanized.”

Huffman and Harvey Halseth both complained that the SPCA has at times not been receptive to ideas that they feel would lower the euthanasia rates and increase the number of adoptions. “There are many programs that can be implemented and used to create a more successful shelter,” wrote Harvey Halseth. “These include but are not limited to fostering, managed intake, spay and neutering before pets leave for their adoptive home, and a robust volunteer program.”

We have asked the SPCA to respond to the issues that have been raised. We will include their responses in this space next week.

It is our hope that the SPCA and citizens who are questioning the shelter’s practices can come together and work collaboratively toward finding a solution to the stray cat problem.

The News-Gazette

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