Virginia is one of the safest states for homeless dogs and cats in the country. Based upon statistics from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, in 2015, Virginia’s public and private shelters and rescue groups saved 80.5% of the dogs and cats in their care. Some agencies in Virginia report 90+% save rates.
In that context, it is understandable that the death of a dog named McLovin at the Norfolk Animal Care Center, the public shelter in Norfolk, VA has created a fierce public debate.
McLovin was originally owned by Second Chance Rescue in NYC. SCR transferred him to Forever Home Rehabilitation Center, a training facility in Virginia. With the permission of SCR, FHRC adopted McLovin to a local citizen. The adopter was walking McLovin on a leash, he attacked and killed a cat. Animal Control seized McLovin and the adopter surrendered ownership. SCR says the adopter did not have the legal right to relinquish ownership to any other entity, based upon the adoption contract language. SCR asserts that it immediately and repeatedly contacted the shelter, made an ownership claim and offered to comply with whatever the shelter required to safely return McLovin to them. NACC says that once McLovin was surrendered by the adopter, he became the property of the City.
The City released a statement that NACC chose to “humanely euthanize” McLovin. It is reported that he was in the shelter only 24 hours before his life was taken.
The law in Virginia states that a dog which kills a cat can be charged and potentially found to be “dangerous” but only by a judge. If a dog is adjudicated to be “dangerous," the dog may be returned to the owner so long as the owner complies with certain housing restrictions. As tragic as the death of the cat was, the law does not require that the offending dog be put to death.
Killing McLovin may or may not have been “legal” and sorting out the dangerous dog charge and court process may have been complicated but McLovin had a rescue group who knew him, loved him, and wanted him. SCR was committed to complying with any city-required process, so the shelter’s decision to kill him was arguably taking the easy way out.
At the end of the day, the courts will likely determine if the City’s actions were justifiable, but dissecting this case in Norfolk is vital to understanding the last hurdles of saving the lives of all the healthy and treatable dogs and cats in Virginia.The save rate for dogs and cats at NACC in 2015 was 64% and the save rate for the entire Hampton Roads region was 70%. This in a state which includes some severely under-resourced communities yet generated an overall save rate of 80.5% of the dogs and cats. More disturbingly, of the 43,642 dogs and cats who were euthanized in Virginia shelters in 2015, 25% of them lost their lives in Hampton Roads shelters. This statistic should be a wake-up call for Hampton Roads advocates, citizens and policy makers. [bp_related_article] There are inarguably some fine shelters in Hampton Roads which are saving the vast majority of animals in their care but they are in the minority, and when one or more major shelters is clinging to regressive practices, it presents the entire region poorly. Long time volunteers at NACC have been banned and employees fired for speaking out about animal care, breed discrimination and the overall euthanasia rate. Shelter leadership boasts a high facility save rate based upon shelter-defined “adoptable animals." NACC does not advocate for TNR while hundreds of cats are euthanized every year at the shelter and $100,000+ in grant monies have been received by private agencies in Norfolk to fund TNR. Credible, known rescue groups which would pull animals must go through a staff approval process. One of the loudest champions for NACC is PETA. PETA’s euthanasia rate for dogs and cats was 74% in 2015, one of the worst in the state. The Norfolk Animal Care Center missed a golden opportunity to collaborate with a significant rescue group which was willing to take full responsibility for McLovin. Instead of building a case to justify taking McLovin’s life, the shelter could have spent the same time working out the logistics for McLovin’s safe return to SCR. Had they done so, McLovin would be alive and not simply another euthanasia statistic.
Northern Virginia offers a model of the lifesaving results which come from collaboration. Public and private shelters and rescue groups share resources and space to deliver a save rate of about 90% for the region. If a dog is not “showing well,” behaving well, doing well or for whatever reason not getting adopted in one facility, another stands ready to give it a chance. Their open door policy based upon partnerships both inside and outside their region should be emulated in every Virginia community. The Virginia Federation of Humane Societies has recently launched “High Five Virginia” to systemize and support the transfer and transport of animals among rescue groups and shelters from under-resourced communities to more affluent ones where the chances for adoption are greater. We encourage and embrace collaboration among shelter and rescue groups for we know it is vital to saving the lives of Virginia’s homeless dogs and cats. It would be easy to rest on our laurels with an average statewide save rate of 80%. From that perspective, we could write off the death of McLovin as inevitable because he was, after all, an “imperfect” dog - he killed a cat. But Virginia’s homeless animals deserve better than that and Virginia citizens and donors expect more than that. It is incumbent upon us to use every resource available to ensure that dogs which are harder to place are not simply written off as “unadoptable."Their lives are too precious for us to ever take the easy way out. Providing loving homes for all the healthy and treatable animals in our state is absolutely within sight. The last hurdles of any goal are always the hardest but fortunately we do not have to reinvent the wheel. We only have to look to regions like Northern Virginia and communities like Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Richmond to see how it’s being done.And in communities where the majority of animals are not being saved, we cannot be silent. We must speak, we must act and we must insist on lifesaving outcomes.
Featured image via Second Chance Rescue NYC/Facebook