Editor's note: A few months ago, our CEO Robin Robertson Starr wrote the essay below in response to a call for stories issued following an installment of "My Big Break," a special series for which NPR's All Things Considered is collecting "stories of triumph, big and small." This June marked Robin's 18th anniversary as our chief executive. In honor of that milestone, we're sharing this piece, a story which may be familiar to longtime readers, of Robin's Big Break.
Almost 18 years ago, I left the law firm in which I was a partner and went to work at the Richmond SPCA for the well being of our magnificent companion animals because of the influence of one cat, our beloved Snap. It goes back to a beastly hot July day in 1991, that happened to be my birthday, when my husband and I took a walk near our home. We passed a construction site and heard noises coming from a cardboard box that was on the ground and taped shut. Inside, we found three kittens near death from the intense heat and dehydration. We took them home, cooled them down, fed and watered them and named them Snap, Crackle and Pop (three kids in a cardboard box). The next day, I took them to the Richmond SPCA, an organization I had never had any relationship with previously. I was told that they had zillions of kittens and that I could leave these three adorable creatures but they would likely be “euthanized.” I was shocked and dismayed. I took the three of them back home with me. I did not know at that moment what I would do with them but I knew I would not allow them to be killed. Ultimately, I found good homes for Crackle and Pop. Snap became our beloved family member and the queen of our home.
Snap grew to be both elegant and adorable – the Audrey Hepburn of the feline world. While she was just a brown tabby with no particularly distinguishing appearance, she had such grace and gentility that she seemed exquisitely beautiful. She was always loving but also reserved and very refined. I came to realize that, because of humans and their shocking irresponsibility and brutality, Snap nearly died. I began to read more and understand the factors causing the enormous loss of life of dogs and cats in shelters. I was horrified to recognize that I myself had grown up in a family that bought puppies from breeders while magnificent animals like Snap began life with little or no chance for survival. My family had loved animals but we had had no comprehension of their plight.
With a raised consciousness, I sought election to the Board of Directors of the Richmond SPCA. After joining that Board, I became more deeply committed to animal welfare and more concerned about the sluggishness and inadequacy of the animal welfare field’s response to what I saw to be a true crisis. Millions of animals, just like my precious Snap, were dying every year for no better reason than they lacked a home. When my predecessor announced her retirement, I decided that I wanted to devote the remaining years of my professional life full time to this cause and I became the Chief Executive Officer of the Richmond SPCA.
In the years since then, the Richmond SPCA has become a no-kill humane organization and a national leader of the no-kill movement. We now save the lives of about 3,700 homeless animals each year with a save rate of more than 97%. The only animals that are euthanized in our humane center are those who truly meet the standard for the word “euthanasia;” that is, they are untreatably sick or injured with no prospect for any life of quality, even with veterinary intervention, and are suffering. We treat and rehabilitate every treatably sick or injured animal in our care. We stand up with courage for legislation and policies that treat animals’ lives with the respect they deserve and we take on causes in our field that intimidate many others. We have had great successes in our advocacy. I am deeply proud of our organization, dedicated to our mission and have never regretted for a moment leaving the practice of law. I have come to understand the complex reasons that cause homeless animals to die in great numbers unnecessarily in so many communities across this country and have put in many years trying to change that outcome. I will continue to do so.
Several years ago, on another hot July day, our beautiful and precious Snap died of cancer at home at age 15 with our family all around her. I cannot even type those words without tears welling up in my eyes. She transformed my life. Because of her, I came to understand the suffering that we humans have selfishly inflicted on our wonderful companion animals who are our best friends. Because of her, I will continue to struggle against the people who disparage our mission for animals because they only care about people and do not appreciate all that animals do for us or believe that animals deserve our support and defense. Because of her, I will continue to pressure the people in the field of animal welfare who are content with the status quo and make no effort to change old behaviors that have produced nothing but more and more needless killing of animals in shelters.
Snap had a good, long and full life with a family who adored her and, in that, she was very lucky. But, I was the truly lucky one on that hot July day when we found her. Snap was a birthday present that set my life on a totally different course, a course that has been and continues to be immensely fulfilling. She transformed both my life and the prospects for life of thousands of other wonderful but homeless animals. She will always be alive, young and beautiful in my heart and my memory and I will never stop hearing her message.
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.