The Roanoke Valley SPCA, an ostensibly No Kill organization, has a contract with four municipalities (City of Roanoke, Roanoke County, Botetourt County and Town of Vinton) to run the Roanoke Valley Regional Center for Animal Control & Protection, an animal pound in Roanoke, VA. RVSPCA and RCACP, which share an executive director, are both in the same building owned by RVSPCA , which also owns Animal Care Services, the company that runs the daily operations. Last year the RCACP took in 6,438 cats and dogs and killed 3,355, or 52% of them.
“So a No Kill organization owns a company that performs euthanasia on pretty much a daily basis. Kind of misleading isn’t it?” said former volunteer Tina Robertson, who was banned from the facility two weeks ago after having logged hundreds of volunteer hours there since last November. Ms. Robertson often took photos of cats and kittens in RCACP to post on Facebook in an attempt to get them adopted. She believes her banning was because some photos she posted showed the white tags outside the cages listing the reason each animal is to be killed.
“The reason for euthanasia was space but there were three empty rooms of cages, probably 25 cages empty” Ms. Robertson said.
Two days after the photos were posted to Facebook, RVSPCA volunteer coordinator Ruth Pierce sent Ms. Robertson an email saying “In view of the events this past Saturday, your volunteer privileges have been suspended until further notice.”
Because of the attention brought by a news story about Ms. Robertson’s banning, RVSPCA’s directors found themselves dodging calls from reporters when they made the news again, this time because Botetourt County decided to pull all of its cats out of RCACP so they wouldn’t be killed for spurious reasons. The future of participation by other municipalities may also come into question.
Then the City of Roanoke announced plans to audit the use of public money between the RVSPCA and the RCACP and the use of town employees to do RVSPCA work. The RCACP is already under a cruelty investigation by the Roanoke Police Department stemming from a June incident, and the localities that fund the pound are now looking closely at the agreement to see if criminal charges or convictions can void the contract.
The June incident that sparked the cruelty investigation involved a pit bull mix named Trinity, who came into the RCACP and was seen by a veterinarian on May 29. That vet said Trinity’s foot would need treatment in the long run, but there was no mention in the May 29 paperwork of any serious injury to the foot. But almost two weeks later, on June 9, another veterinarian saw Trinity and concluded that as a result of an untreated severe bed sore, the leg could not be saved. “The bone itself had been exposed long enough that it was dying and dissolving.” he said.
This is not the first time RVSPCA cruelty or neglect has come to light. In 2010 a cat named Pumpkin, who had been seized from a home along with 20 other cats, was impounded at the RCACP. She was examined right away by a community veterinarian who then went over her needs with the staff. Despite the fact that the card on her cage said she needed insulin, she was given none for an entire week at RCACP. Pumpkin went into a diabetic coma and the RVSPCA vet recommended she be euthanized.
In a transparent attempt to defuse criticism and scrutiny of its operations, the RVSPCA has decided to conduct an internal investigation. The task force carrying out the probe is made up of RVSPCA directors, including board president Barbara Dalhouse and her husband Warner.
Volunteers at pounds across the country are often afraid to speak up about the cruelty, neglect and needless killing they witness because they are afraid it will get them banned and they won’t be able to help the animals. But as Ms. Robertson’s case illustrates, getting banned could open up a brand new hope for the animals stuck in pounds like RCACP by shedding light on an empire of indifference, neglect and corruption.