Animal Welfare Survey

Animal Welfare Survey

The Lexington City Council candidates were recently asked to respond to an animal welfare survey. I am posting my responses here in their entirety….

What are your thoughts about having our community use innovative solutions practiced in other areas that have resulted in saving more cat lives, such as Trap/Neuter/Vaccinate/Return (TNVR)? How could you address the needs of “cat communities” in our area?

For their own well-being, the well-being of citizens and domestic pets that may come in contact with them, and because of their adverse impact on songbirds and other wildlife, I am not in favor of allowing feral cats (even altered and vaccinated cats) to roam freely in Lexington.

The local animal shelter does offer trap and return (TNR) services, so private citizens can bring in free roaming cats to be spayed or neutered and then returned. The cost for this service is $40 per cat, but the SPCA receives limited grant funding which may cover some of the cost based upon financial need. I do support the TNR service, though I believe it is more appropriate for outdoor cats in rural settings rather than for cats in more densely populated areas. As a city council member, I would try to find ways to publicize this program as well as strongly promote the spaying/neutering of domestic animals.

What would you propose as lifesaving policies at the shelter to save more animal lives.

My understanding is that our local SPCA (which serves Rockbridge, Buena Vista, and Lexington) currently has a 96% save rate for dogs and a 74% save rate for cats. The dog save rate has been above 90% for the last four years, which is particularly impressive and would be hard to improve upon for a shelter such as ours, serving a predominantly rural community, that by contract must accept any animal that is surrendered to them.

The Rockbridge SPCA’s cat save rate overall has seen improvement over the last few years, and I understand that if you were to just consider cats surrendered to the shelter from Lexington City proper, the Lexington cat live save rate is already well above 95%.

I believe the best way to further improve the local shelter’s overall numbers is to strongly encourage pet owners to spay/neuter their pets. As a city council member, I would look for ways to encourage Lexington residents to do just that.

I also believe that people who have direct contact with dogs and cats in need of homes are much more likely to adopt an animal themselves. As a city council member, I would look for opportunities to have more people visit our local shelter, such as promoting the shelter’s volunteer program, or encouraging field trips to the shelter for Lexington school children.

Many in our community wish for greater transparency in the operations of the SPCA to promote accountability in policies and procedures, citizen involvement and accountability of taxpayer money. Can you think of ways to address these concerns?

I would encourage all community members to visit the animal shelter themselves to gain a better understanding of its operation. The SPCA’s policy and procedure manual as well as their animal intake records can be viewed at the shelter upon request. I would also encourage Lexington citizens who are passionate about animal welfare to join the Rockbridge SPCA’s volunteer program.

If you are seeking reelection, what initiatives have you proposed or supported to save more animals during your tenure?

Not currently a council member.

Many citizens want to ban the tethering or chaining of animals within the city. How would you support such an ordinance?

It is heartbreaking to see a dog tied up to a tree or post for hours at a time, functionally abandoned by its owner. Dogs are social animals and they have a strong desire to interact with their human family members. Further, they can easily go without food and water or be exposed to life-threatening heat or cold by a neglectful owner.

I do recognize that there may be some occasions where a responsible pet owner might need to tether their pet for short periods of time, so I probably would not support an outright ban. But tethering should never become a way of life for a dog.

Other localities have sought to address this issue by passing ordinances that place reasonable restrictions on tethering. For example, Smithfield, Virginia’s ordinance prohibits tethering for more than 8 hours a day in any 24-hour time period and forbids tethering between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Lexington does not yet have such an ordinance. If elected to city council, I would work to gain consensus to pass one.

There are residents that support implementing innovative programs at the shelter, such as: a partnership of the shelter with the Rockbridge Regional Jail to allow inmates to train dogs to make them more adoptable, using an empty storefront in Lexington to have adoption days, and opening a pop-up cat cafe as ways to get more animals adopted in our community. What ways could you assist the shelter in establishing such programs?

Through my work at the Commonwealth Attorney’s office I have some familiarity with both staff and inmates at the Rockbridge Regional Jail. A rehabilitation program pairing inmates with dogs in need of training would require extensive staff oversight and would create significant security and liability issues. I would not be in favor of such a program, nor I think would the jail staff or the SPCA.

Unfortunately, the SPCA cannot provide animals to a third party for a cat café due to liability reasons. But I certainly agree with the underlying goal of a pop up cat café or employing an empty storefront for adoption days – which is to introduce more people to adoptable pets. As a city council member, I would look for any opportunity for Lexington residents to interact with shelter animals. One great example is the SPCA’s adoption booth at the annual Community Festival on Main Street. I would encourage the SPCA’s presence at other events within the city. (Bringing the animals to the people.) I would also encourage them to host more community events at their facility. (Bringing the people to the animals.)

We need the creation of a local low­-cost spay/neuter program to reduce the number of animals coming into the shelter. One way to establish such an operation would be to use the revenue from the sale of dog licenses to help fund a local low­-cost spay/neuter program (as is the practice in most other jurisdictions in Virginia). How could you help the City Manager address this issue and establish this fund?

The licensing fee for dogs in Lexington is currently $10, and this year the city issued just over 500 dog tags. (Cats are not required to be licensed.) The revenue collected from animal tags is thus a little over $5,000 annually, and that small sum, which currently goes into the city’s general fund, does not come close to covering our existing animal control expenses.

As a city council member, I would not be in favor of raising the dog licensing fee to fund a spay/neuter program.

It is my understanding that both the SPCA and the Rockbridge Animal Alliance (RAA) already offer regional (Lexington, Rockbridge & Buena Vista) need-based low-cost spay/neuter programs. If elected, I would look for opportunities to promote those options to Lexington residents. I would also promote Virginia DMV’s spay and neuter specialty plate program. For every one of these plates issued in our community, the DMV donates 15 dollars to our local shelter to subsidize spay and neuter programs.

A dog park is an excellent tool for economic development. In what ways could you support the effort to establish a dog park in Lexington?

I believe that a dog park could be a very attractive community feature. I personally would love to see a green space in Lexington where my much-loved mutt Olive could go off-leash and socialize with other dogs. However, I also recognize that dog owners are a minority in our city– and even a lot of dog owners have no interest in a dog park. Out of fairness, I would not be in favor of a dog park if its creation and maintenance resulted in significant ongoing expense to city taxpayers, or if it would be forced upon a neighborhood that didn’t want it.

There are major hurdles to establishing a dog park, but the city might still find the means to do it as part of a larger green space project and in partnership with a private organization. If elected to City Council, I would want to further explore this subject with interested groups such as the Rockbridge Animal Alliance.

Adding specific markers to the SPCA contract can give staff numeric goals – on an annual basis – to assist in reaching no-kill numbers. How can you help this become a reality for our shelter?

The Rockbridge SPCA staff is not employed by the localities, so I don’t believe it would be in Lexington city council’s purview to set a numeric goal for the Rockbridge shelter’s live release rate. (The SPCA Board of Directors sets the standards and expectations for management and the organization’s mission statement.) But I do think a better metric than a specific numeric goal might be to compare our shelter’s performance to other similarly situated shelters in Virginia. Unlike a private no-kill shelter that can decline to accept sick, dangerous, or otherwise unadoptable animals – or stop accepting animals altogether when near full capacity – our local shelter must accept every animal surrendered to it. Thus, their live-release rate can sometimes be adversely impacted by factors well outside their control.