County takes steps to build partnerships, improve shelter

As work on a county agreement with the Richmond SPCA continued last week, the Board of Supervisors voted to raise the animal adoption fee to cover the cost of sterilizing animals at the Chesterfield County Animal Shelter.

“There are just a lot of very positive steps being taken,” County Administrator Jay Stegmaier said Monday. “We expect that to be the beginning.”

On April 14, the Board of Supervisors approved proposed code amendments raising the fee for adopting a sterilized dog or cat from the county’s shelter to $60 from $10, and specifying that no fee will be charged for transfers of unsterilized animals to any animal rescue or humane society validly designated as a nonprofit organization.

At a public hearing on the issue, Police Capt. Steve Neal, commander of the support services division, said the $60 fee would cover the sterilization of the animals, a rabies vaccine, transportation to and from the sterilization facility and heartworm testing, as necessary.

Steve Hudson, of the Matoaca District, asked how increasing the fee would help the animal adoption rate.

“I just don’t feel like the rate increase will help the number of adoptions,” he said.

On Monday, Jane Weisenfels, a member of the Coalition for Shelter Improvement, said she was “very, very pleased” about the board’s April 14 action.

“It’s a really big thing to try to close off that reproduction,” she said. “I’m very pleased that the county’s now embracing that.”

The board’s action on April 14 was “a big step, and that’s something that a lot of the rescue and advocacy groups have been looking forward to for some time,” Stegmaier said.

The county is still working on the agreement with the Richmond SPCA, he said, and county officials met with Richmond SPCA CEO Robin Starr “about a week ago.” Some e-mails have been exchanged since then, he said, and more conversations have taken place.

“I think we’re pretty close,” he said.

In November, Starr informed the Board of Supervisors of the Richmond SPCA’s interest in developing a no-kill partnership with Chesterfield County, said Tamsen Kingry, the Richmond SPCA’s chief operating officer. In December, the organization presented a written outline of such a partnership to the county, Kingry said.

On Dec. 16, the Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution outlining goals for the County Animal Shelter and directing Stegmaier to “expedite efforts to reach” those goals. Among the goals outlined in the resolution is initiating a process in January to develop a plan and partnership process to reduce the number of homeless animals in the shelter, with the ultimate goal of becoming a facility where “the lives of all healthy companion animals will be saved.”

A no-kill organization is one that saves every healthy and every treatable sick homeless animal, Kingry said. The first step is to guarantee that the life of every healthy homeless animal will be saved, she said, and the second is to do the same for treatable sick homeless animals.

In March, the county presented a memorandum of understanding that “departed considerably” from the Richmond SPCA’s proposal, Kingry said. Since then, the groups have been meeting to work out the details of the partnership.

“There are certain items that are still under consideration, but I think we’re getting close,” Kingry said. The items still under consideration are “relatively small things,” she said.

“I think over the last couple weeks, it’s been moving along at a satisfactory pace,” Kingry said of work on the partnership, though the organization would have loved to have entered into an agreement by now.

Once completed, the agreement will probably go back to the Board of Supervisors for approval, Stegmaier said.

While some positive steps have been taken, Weisenfels said, more remain to be taken. She still advocates for the creation of a committee of citizens that would work with the shelter, an idea that was presented to the Board of Supervisors in 2008, she said. The Coalition for Shelter Improvement would also like to see increased volunteerism at the shelter and a better shelter website, she said.

“We just want the shelter to be the best it can be,” she said.

At this point, Stegmaier said, he isn’t expecting the proposed citizens committee to be on the agenda at the Board of Supervisors’ April 28 meeting. But, the county has been working with a number of rescue and advocacy groups, and it will continue working with them, he said.

A number of significant steps have been taken in the last six months, he said. The county has moved to the Asilomar Accords, which, according to their website, include a set of guiding principles, standardized definitions, a statistics table for tracking shelter populations and a formula for determining shelter live release rates. The shelter’s staff has been working closely with the Richmond SPCA and receiving training, he said.

Since Jan. 1, no healthy, adoptable animals have been euthanized at the shelter, Stegmaier said. Officials think the shelter was “basically achieving” that goal before, he said, but it has only had verifiable data since Jan. 1.

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