HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Animal advocates are raising concerns about the Henrico Police Animal Shelter.
Advocates told 8News that the Virginia Department of Agriculture cited the shelter for a non-critical violation during a recent inspection. Still, animal advocates say it’s a sign the shelter should do better, adding that they don’t believe the shelter is doing enough to save animals’ lives in their care.
Inside the building sits caged Henrico dogs and cats awaiting a permanent home. Animal rescuer Morgan Burge fears too many of those animals will never make it out alive, however.
She told 8News the shelter doesn’t take advantage of social media like most of the other shelters in the region.
“We have Facebook, we have Instragam, we need to utilize it,” Burge said. “One picture could save a life.”
8News surveyed Facebook pages of animal shelters located in Chesterfield, Richmond, Petersburg, Colonial Heights and more. Results found most all post photos and videos hoping to fetch adopters or reunite animals with their owners.
“They’re constantly marketing them,” Burge said. “I have offered my time to come in and take pictures. I have offered numerous times, I constantly get shut down. So the question is, why?”
8News asked shelter supervisor Captain Shawn Sears, “why?”
“Social media is certainly an effective way to advertise,” he said. “But it is also a very time-consuming medium that we would have to monitor very closely and constantly and that is just something we don’t have resources to do right now.”
He adds that they use pet finder and adopt-a-pet- and send out a weekly email to about 40 rescue groups.
“That has worked well for us,” Sears said.
Burge and volunteer Lindsey Covington, who fostered a dog from Henrico, questions the shelter’s euthanasia rates, however, which are among the highest in the area.
According to state records, last year, the shelter put down 629 animals, more than double the number in Richmond and Chesterfield.
“They actually euthanized more animals then they adopted out last year,” Covington said.
The majority of animals euthanized are cats and there’s a reason for that, Sears said. “Henrico County is the only jurisdiction in Central Virginia that will respond to your address and remove feral cats upon your request.”
Although some global groups like ‘Alley Cat Allies’ advise shelters to “stop trapping feral cats,” arguing they are “not candidates for adoption and are killed in animal shelters.”
And, while most shelters in the area spay or neuter all pets before being adopted, rolling the cost into the adoption fee, Henrico does not. Burge said, “It’s just wrong.”
The ASPCA and Humane Society consider pre-adoption sterilization of all shelter animals a best practice for controlling the unwanted pet population.
“Just less than a year ago, Henrico did have a system where we did spay and neuter animals,” Sears said. “We would prefer to operate in that fashion but we are just not able to at this time.”
Sears says a staffing issue with the veterinary clinic they were working with forced them to cut ties.
Virginia law allows shelters to release animals, on contract, to adjacent communities with the pet owners’ promise to sterilize the animal within 30 days.
8News asked if the shelter follows up on that?
“Our shelter staff follows up each month. He says they call, send letters and sometimes officers go the pet owner’s door,” Sears replied.
But Covington is not convinced.
She says her foster wasn’t spayed six months after leaving the shelter and the shelter was cited with a non-critical violation for an “unsterilized animal adopted to a resident of a locality not adjacent to Henrico.”
Sears said that was an honest mistake, saying “the staff member was under the impression that was part of Chesterfield County.”
Still, Covington and Burge wonder how many animals have left their care and never gotten spayed or neutered.
According to Sears, the shelter is working to set up another spay and neuter program. The coronavirus pandemic delayed those efforts, he said, but adds that he hopes to have the program up and running in early 2021.
In the meantime, Sears said the shelter does a lot of good in the community, responding to hundreds of calls a month. He says the shelter also houses animals for months at a time for those with family and mental health crises.
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