Each new year affords the opportunity for many analyses of the good and bad, the successes and the failures, the winners and losers of the year just ended. So, taking my cue from the many columnists and bloggers out there, I figure that our blog is the right place for an honest assessment of the good and the bad that has happened in and to the cause of animal welfare in 2013. It is an opportune moment to look up from our daily efforts and consider whether the world and our community are safer and more compassionate toward animals, or harsher and riskier, since this time a year ago?
As I see it, 2013 has held both the good and the bad. Here are what I would say are the best things that happened for animals and their prospects in the past calendar year:
- The Virginia Supreme Court found in favor of Susan Mills, a woman who had been attacked relentlessly by Henrico County for the transgression of having responsibly and compassionately cared for a small group of feral cats living near her home for decades. Her work had ensured that they were fed, treated and rabies vaccinated and for this the County sought to charge her criminally. The justices of the Virginia Supreme Court saw through the County’s attempt to twist zoning regulations into a means of preventing people to do the right thing by ferals.
- The bill that would have placed meaningful limitations on fox penning passed the Senate in the 2013 session of the Virginia General Assembly. This was a step in the right direction and, while the bill got killed in the House Agriculture Subcommittee (where all animal welfare measures go to die), the Senate passage revealed that we are making real progress in gaining a groundswell of opposition to this barbaric practice.
- Priority Automotive generously provided us with the funding again this year to offer no fee adoptions during the second half of December to our community. We made the most of their wonderful support and, by the end of the year, will get more animals adopted to loving permanent homes during this time period than last year. We also used it as an opportunity to debunk that unsupportable old saw about discouraging holiday adoptions as well as no fee adoptions because they involve a lower level of commitment to the pet. There is abundant empirical data that makes clear that neither the date in the year nor the front end expense have any correlation with the likelihood of the adoption being successful. In fact, our own data base reveals that our holiday adoptions have a little bit lower rate of returns that what generally prevails the rest of the year.
- The Animal Laws Working Group convened by the State Veterinarians Office, on which I serve, worked for many hours on many days all year long in an effort to arrive at some meaningful improvements in the laws of our state for the protection of animals. There is much to be said for the effort to get the major public and private humane organizations around the state talking with a purpose of compromise and conciliation. The negative aspect of this effort is set forth below.
- Annette Thompson was finally effectively prosecuted by Goochland County and forced to relinquish the dogs that she had kept in terrible conditions for so long. We accepted many of those animals into our care and they are all doing well, many of them now in good new homes.
- The Richmond SPCA has had a banner year for life saving. We will have brought into our care the most pets ever in a single year since moving into our humane center – by year end, we will have taken into our care nearly 3,700 pets. Moreover, our Clinic for Compassionate Care, the first of its sort in Virginia and one of a small handful in the country providing low cost vet care to the pets of low income guardians, will have treated 5,500 unique four legged patients in 2013.
The disappointing things that happened in 2013 to threaten the well being of animals are as follows:
- The General Assembly continued its do-nothing approach to animal welfare, killing the fox penning bill as well as a bill that would have removed any legal stumbling block to people engaging in TNR. It is very rare for any animal welfare bill to get through the General Assembly.
- Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a legal opinion taking the position that local governments could not engage in Trap Neuter Return (TNR) programs themselves and then the Attorney General’s Office wrote us a letter attempting to expand without basis upon this opinion by suggesting that it could also prevent a private organization such as ours from providing free spaying and neutering for feral cats being trapped by volunteers for later return to the locations where they were trapped. There is no foundation for this attempted overreach and it is troubling that they would have tried it.
- The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries was charged by the General Assembly with taking a thorough look at the regulatory structure applicable to fox penning and revising it to address public concerns. The DGIF Board completely punted on this charge and, even though it received many suggestions both from the public and its own staff and listened to many deeply concerned citizens about the abhorrent practice of fox penning, it did nothing.
- The Animal Laws Working Group referenced above has actually not accomplished any proposals for new legislation that would help feral cats or their caregivers despite many hours having been spent on discussing the issue ad nauseum. There has been consistent resistance from the traditionalists to any suggestion that organizations or people should be allowed to engage in TNR if they so choose despite the fact that those opposing such suggestions have no credible solutions to offer themselves that do not involve the animals losing their lives.
All in all, it was a year of a couple of steps forward and one or maybe two back. Frustration is inherent in the work we do and the efforts that we make to achieve new and progressive approaches to life saving. It has always been true that many people in this field decry the loss of life of companion animals and then perplexingly resist any sort of change to the old approaches that have yielded these unhappy results. The animals count on us to continue to make their case with determination and resiliency. We must take heart with each piece of forward progress that more can be done and we must have the courage to keep trying until we wear the resistance down. That is why we will be pursuing another fox penning bill in the General Assembly this coming 2014 session and we will continue to fight for clarity under state and local law that people may help feral cats by providing them with TNR. Needless to say, in 2014, the Richmond SPCA will continue to save the lives of more homeless animals in our community by far than any other public or private agency and will provide loving pet guardians with access to low cost veterinary care. Winston Churchill said “never never never give in” and I agree with that philosophy.
Robin Robertson Starr is the chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA. To read her biography or that of our other bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires both your first and last name to be used as your screen name.