The United States military has a rule that is sacrosanct. As expressed by President Obama, that rule is: “We don't leave our men or women in uniform behind." He referenced this rule to explain the authorization of the swap that brought Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home after five years in the hands of the Taliban. It is generally believed that the maxim originally came from the Army Rangers’ rule to never leave a fallen comrade behind in the hands of the enemy.
The Richmond SPCA has a somewhat similar ethical principle that is deeply ingrained in our organization: We go to get a pet who was previously in our care if that pet should later turn up in a government shelter where his or her life is at risk. While we try very hard to make sure that we adopt pets to permanent and loving homes, there is no way around the fact that, when you adopt out more than 4,000 animals a year, a few of them will wind up from time to time in another shelter as a result of becoming stray or being deserted by someone we had trusted to do better. From time to time, Laura Palin, our manager of admissions, learns of a dog or cat who was previously in our care who is in a government shelter somewhere. These discoveries have been made possible largely through microchipping. We have been microchipping every pet that leaves our adoption center with an adopter for many years. Those chips are now read in almost every shelter in the country with a scanner and our contact information is on all of them for us to be contacted if the adopter, whose information is also on the chip, fails to show up to retrieve their pet.
And, those pets can count on us to show up. In fact, in one instance, we learned that a dog we had adopted out named Hotchner who was in a shelter in upstate New York (they called us because of the microchip information). Laura Palin, Tamsen Kingry, Sarah Babcock and I caucused to discuss Hotchner’s plight because the drive was a very long one. Hotchner was sort of our own Sgt. Bergdahl because his behavior was, well, not ideal. But, as soon as Laura heard in the voice of the person in the New York shelter the sound of wavering about whether Hotchner’s life would be assured in their care, we agreed that we could not leave Hotchner behind because it would not be consistent with our ethics. The wonderful Jackie Laubacher of our staff made the long drive to upstate New York, saved Hotchner and brought him back to us. He is now in a good home where his behavioral, umm, quirks are accommodated and he is loved.
Just this week, my husband, as he often does for us, drove many miles to save Ryan, a hound, who wound up in a rural Virginia shelter where he was not likely to make it without our rescue. As you might imagine, he is now being called “Private Ryan.”
Why do we put these considerable efforts and resources into saving our own group of four-legged Private Ryans? Because it is an essential part of the ethics of being a no-kill humane organization. When we take an animal into our care, we have committed to his or her life. Our commitment is a serious one – we will do for that pet what we would expect a responsible and loving guardian to do. We will get that pet well, if he or she is ailing, and will place that pet in a permanent and responsible home. We do not claim to adopt thousands of pets every year without ever making a misstep. No organization can possibly do that and I am proud of our superb adoption record. But I am also deeply proud of our moral code that we go to get our pets if they fall into a situation where their life is at risk. We really do believe their lives are precious and we take our commitments to them seriously. No dog or cat left behind.
Robin Robertson Starr is the chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA. To read the biographies of our regular bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires a first and last name to be used as your screen name.