• Susan Houser

Worth Watching – Richmond, VA

[NOTE: The Worth Watching category lists communities whose animal shelter systems are doing substantially better than average, but have not reported a sustained (for one year or more) 90%+ live release rate. These communities are not counted in the running total in the blog’s subtitle. For more about the Worth Watching category, see the Worth Watching page link in the blog’s header.]

Richmond is an independent city (not part of a county) located along I-95 in eastern Virginia. There is a Richmond County in Virginia, but it is a rural county located more than an hour away from the city of Richmond. The population living within the Richmond city limits was 204,000 at the 2010 census, and the metro area population is estimated at about 1.3 million people.

The Richmond city shelter is called Richmond Animal Care and Control (RACC). It is a municipal agency that provides animal control and sheltering for the city of Richmond. The shelter states on its website that “we take in any animal in need in the City of Richmond – including animals that are sick, severely injured or too aggressive to be placed for adoption.” RACC became an independent city agency in 2012. RACC is doing a major renovation of its building that should be completed by mid-2014.

The Richmond SPCA is a non-profit that takes in owner surrenders from the public by appointment, and offers a suite of pet retention programs. The SPCA also takes in a large number of shelter transfers. In 2012, for example, the SPCA reported to the state that it took in 982 owner surrenders and 2393 transfers from other Virginia agencies.

From 2001 until 2008, RACC had a formal public-private partnership with the Richmond SPCA. In 2008, the formal agreement between the city and the SPCA expired, but the organizations continued to work together. Then, in the spring of 2012, RACC and the SPCA “parted ways.” SPCA CEO Robin Starr said that the city had failed to offer a new partnership agreement even though it had been directed to do so by the city council. Starr noted that RACC’s live release rate had dropped significantly in 2011, and opined that RACC policies were heading in the wrong direction. Starr stated that “[d]espite the absence of a working relationship with the City, we took in nearly the number of animals from RACC in 2011 that we did in prior years” and that the SPCA would not “desert the homeless animals of the City of Richmond who need us now more than ever.”

RACC and the SPCA reported statistics to Maddie’s Fund as a coalition in the years 2008 and 2009 (they also reported as a coalition for 2010, but with the addition of Hanover County). The live release rate was 80% for the coalition for 2008 and 79% for 2009.  In 2010, RACC by itself (without combining its statistics with the SPCA) reported a live release rate of 71% with an intake of 4292 cats and dogs. In 2011, RACC had an intake of 4658 animals and a live release rate of 64% according to its statistics reported to the state. In 2012, RACC’s reported statistics showed an intake of 4740 animals and the live release rate was again 64%. (The Richmond SPCA reported an intake of 3777 cats and dogs and a live release rate of 99.6% to the state for 2011, and an intake of 3761 cats and dogs and a live release rate of 99.6% for 2012. Many of these animals were transfers from RACC.)

After RACC became an independent agency in 2012, the city conducted a nationwide search for a director. Starr described the selection of the new director as an “issue of crucial importance.” Christie C. Peters, who had been the executive director of the Portsmouth Humane Society, was selected and took over at RACC in February of 2013. In May of 2013, RACC announced that its live release rate had hit 80% for the first time. Starr commented that the informal relationship between RACC and the SPCA was going well and said: “The statistics bear out the fact that we’re achieving pretty terrific results together.” In October of 2013, Peters announced that the number of cats euthanized had dropped to 212 for the year so far, compared to 639 for 2012. Peters said that fewer animals were entering the shelter because of new pet-retention programs and a new appointment policy for owner surrenders.

RACC and the Richmond SPCA are not the only intake facilities in the city. The Richmond Animal League (AHS) has its own shelter that can house up to 30 dogs and 60 cats and kittens. AHS reported to the state of Virginia that in 2012 it took in 1509 cats and dogs. The majority — 1161 — came from other Virginia agencies, but AHS also took in 255 owner surrenders and 20 strays. AHS’s live release rate for 2012 was 99% — 98% if animals who died in shelter care are counted in with euthanasias.

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