A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about the efforts of rescuer Rhonda Kay to make Tazewell County, Virginia, No Kill. I went through the multitude of factors that make No Kill tough in Tazewell County, including the fact that average income in the county is very low, educational attainment is low, shelter intake is very high, and there are a lot of homeless animals in the environment who are not picked up by animal control. I had not expected to do a follow up on Rhonda’s efforts so soon, but there has been an explosion of activity and offers of help in the last two weeks and there are some exciting possibilities on the horizon.
One key to the new possibilities is Maggie Asbury, who was elected to the county Board of Supervisors recently. She is animal-friendly and is serious about helping the shelter to change. There are other people on the Board who may be interested as well, but cost is a limiting factor. One commissioner told Rhonda that he would like to see positive changes at the shelter, but he cannot support any increase in funding. The county is currently losing population and its economic situation is not good.
On the one hand, the lack of any additional money from the county is a big handicap because the shelter is in an old, dysfunctional building and the current funding for the shelter was reported to Rhonda as being under $200,000 per year. That is an exceedingly small amount of money to operate a shelter that takes in over 2,000 animals per year. On the other hand, No Kill people are used to working around government funding restrictions by raising money in the private sector, so Rhonda is going to concentrate on showing the commissioners some ideas that can be implemented at no cost to the county.
One of the most exciting developments in the last two weeks is that a No Kill consultant has offered to help. The consultant is going to make a presentation to county officials and find out if there is enough common ground for their team to be able to work with the county and make a difference. This would be a huge plus for Tazewell County if it proves to be feasible. Rhonda hopes to have her list of free resources available at the meeting as well. The meeting is being planned for later this month or early next month.
Particularly important, and one thing that will be a high priority, is having low-cost spay-neuter programs as a centerpiece of efforts in Tazewell County. A few people have contacted Rhonda with some interesting ideas about how this could be done. She has also e-mailed with Matthew Gray of HSUS, the Virginia state representative, about the Pets For Life program, but is still trying to set up a time to speak to him.
Another very exciting development is that local shelters in Virginia are making offers of help to pull animals from the county shelter. Rhonda has been contacted by the Richmond SPCA and by Debra Griggs of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies. This would be huge, because one of Rhonda’s biggest problems in facilitating transports out of state are the associated costs. Transporting animals in state, to shelters that are well equipped to do their own quarantine, would be much cheaper as well as easier on the animals. Tazewell County has a large number of puppies that Rhonda has had difficulty in helping because of the expenses associated with puppies. Help from shelters within Virginia could save many of these puppies as well as the older dogs.
A wild card in all this is that management at the shelter is in flux since the former shelter director retired. Rhonda is hopeful that new shelter management will embrace outside help and be enthusiastic about increasing the live release rate.
Several other things have happened. One No Kill leader suggested to Rhonda that it would be worthwhile for her to start attending the HSUS Expo or Best Friends national conferences. She would love to attend both, but will have to see if finances will allow. In the meantime she will be able to attend the Virginia Federation conference next spring in Charlottesville. She is continuing to work to place dogs that her rescue group, Tazewell ARC, has in their shelter. She also recently had a breakthrough in getting local teenagers interested in volunteering for the rescue. She sees young people as the key to changing attitudes about animals in the community.
One thing that is becoming clear to Rhonda is that there is far more help available, at both the state and national level, to a public shelter than to a rescue. This is not surprising, since the organizations and grant agencies that support No Kill naturally see the public shelter as the most important piece of the puzzle in lifesaving. Rhonda is trying to maintain a balance between her focus on the shelter and her work with Tazewell ARC rescue. The photo above is a montage of over 100 dogs that Tazewell ARC has helped so far this year, and Rhonda hopes there will be many more in the future.