Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Building Humane Communities: Facing the Facts

Let’s face it – until our culture undergoes a radical change in attitudes towards our relationship with animals:

  • There will never be enough homes for all the unwanted animals discarded by human society.
  • Communities will remain full of people who consider dogs, cats, and other animals, to be chattel not worth the consideration given to a worn out bicycle and not even close to the value of an automobile.
  • Power struggles over who’s right and who’s wrong will always veer to the side of those who have something financial or political to gain – never with those purely fighting for mercy, compassion, or morality.

This list could go on, but – you get the point. The point is that the welfare of the animals in our midst is not simply going to happen on its own.The desperately high rates of stray animals, abused animals, neglected animals, homeless animals, and euthanasia will not decline on its own. No matter how many no-kill rescues there are, there will still be far too many homeless and ill-tended animals as long as our societal attitudes about animals remains as it is.

Legally, animals are property.  In the Virginia 2011 legislative session, animals gained slight protection from an owner’s abusive partner only by their inclusion as “property” akin to a piece of furniture or equipment (HB 1716).  This is a troublesome, though currently necessary, reality.  The more we understand and grapple with this fact, the better able we will be to work with it effectively.

Legislatively, animal laws are far too weak and too vague to provide significant protection for animals at the mercy of an “owner” or retailer who is too uneducated, too lazy, too greedy, too ill-tempered, or simply too un-caring to provide proper care for the animal.  The better we understand the current laws, why they exist and how they are used,the better we’ll be able to help shape and build these laws to make them truly effective.

Administratively, counties and cities have high-priority concerns and financial needs that precede those of animal welfare such that little to nothing is left when it comes to animal issues and animal law enforcement – UNLESS the community residents demand it.   The animals have no defense but in us.  They depend on us to demand that our administrations enforce the laws that protect them. And the well-being of our communities depends on us to demand enforcement of animal laws that protect residents from stray, feral, dangerous, and unvaccinated animals.  In order to do this, we must first learn how our administrations address animal management – both sheltering and law enforcement; what laws they follow (or do not follow), what resources are available to help them, and who are the responsible and accountable players.

Morally – well, communities have a tough time with moral issues and responsibilities.  And sadly, communities of faith often seem to lose site of the fact that animals are God’s creatures too and find it easier to leave such challenging issues as animal welfare unchallenged.  Each of us can bring our knowledge and faith in the value and worth of God’s non-human creatures into focus in our own religious and spiritual communities and thus, help to spread our awareness of the importance of including our respect for animals in our moral and spiritual development.

Without your voice and your active, ongoing involvement and support -- dogs will continue to die in hot cars while the owners that locked them there go un-punished; cats will continue to over-populate in feral colonies and suffer from disease and hunger;  puppies and kittens will continue to be born to worn out, emaciated , sickly mothers;  millions of animals will die slow, premature deaths of neglect while languishing on a chain or under a shed in someone’s backyard – unseen, unheard, unloved. 

With your voice, this sad reality can be transformed.  As you and others like you become actively involved in learning about animal management practices in your neighborhood and community and learning to speak out amongst your friends, family, church congregation, and community about your concerns for the welfare of animals in your community, problems will find solutions, hearts will open up, people who care will step up to support each other, lives will be saved, tragedies averted, misery turned into joy, mountains will be moved.  Thus is the process of building humane communities. 

I hope this blog may help provide windows to the relevant issues of local animal welfare, and reveal opportunities available to those in Central Virginia willing and ready to learn about animal care and animal advocacy. Please share this information freely!

To find out how we can help or how you can become involved in our programs, call us at 540-967-0999, visit our web site at,  or email us at

Friday, July 8, 2011

Humane Investigators - Have they a future in Virginia?

A public meeting was held by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) on July 7 to solicit input and comments about the Humane Investigator program in Virginia.  Despite the fact that this would be the only public comment period for a current review of this program,  the meeting had only been announced six days beforehand and then, not given any publicity whatsoever to solicit public attendance.  Needless to say, there wasn’t much “public” in attendance.
I’d been lucky to have notice of the meeting forwarded to me and lucky that I was able to schedule the time.  Knowing little about the Humane Investigator program, I hoped to learn much.  The bulk of discussion came from the Humane Investigators in attendance.  I was  impressed with the professional demeanor and well-articulated comments of these individuals who, in most cases, had served for many years in their positions as unpaid, certified, trained Humane Investigators – working in tandem with Animal Control Officers to augment the eternally insufficient staffing of this workforce.   Anyone attending this gathering would have been struck by the commitment and integrity with which these individuals regarded their positions and their responsibilities.  Their stories told of mutually beneficial and valuable relationships between their municipality’s ACO’s and themselves and of the education, positive outreach, and law enforcement they were able to bring to their communities.   

The stated purpose of the meeting was to gather input on “the pros and cons of an expanded humane investigator program” and “how animal law enforcement in the Commonwealth could be strengthened and made more efficient.”   There were lots of pro’s in evidence but scant comment on any con’s of the program.  One commenter from the Virginia Farm Bureau questioned if it wouldn’t be preferable to expand the ACO departments rather than have Humane Investigators.  Knowing the weak support that our ACO program receives from the county and the unavailability of funds even for what’s currently in place, I found it inconceivable that the county would ever consider funding an additional ACO position, especially if a qualified, unpaid position were available to provide needed support.  No additional comment was made as to how an expanded ACO program might be preferable to the Humane Investigator program.

As the meeting wore on, tensions became apparent that heralded back to 2003 when the rug had been pulled from beneath this program and a tight lid placed on the appointment of new Humane Investigators.  Distrust in the meeting began to rise as Human Investigators and other animal advocates questioned, understandably, the process that has now been undertaken to review this program and determine its future.  The “study group” that will review the program was not identified in the meeting except for the fact that it included no Humane Investigators.   When asked about the workings, schedule, and process of this review, the answers were plainly evasive.  When asked why such little notice had been made of this, the only public input slated for the review process, the answers were again evasive and insufficient.  The distrust was certainly understandable if not warranted. 

I was disappointed that there was essentially no discussion on the topic of how animal law enforcement could be strengthened and made more efficient.  Neither the meeting’s leader nor anyone else had any meaningful input on this topic despite strong recognition of the need for such strengthening.  The implicit sense was that this Humane Investigator program was, by far, the best option available for providing added support to the dearth of attention placed on Virginia’s animal law enforcement.  And now, the future of this program was in question. 
The most productive proposal of the meeting was the reiterated suggestion that legislation be established to allow the municipalities to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to “employ” Humane Investigators.  In a state priding itself on individual rights, this certainly seems to be a most appropriate approach (even though it doesn’t bode well for my own county which had declined the cost-free support of a humane investigator years ago.)

In the end, I came away with a high regard for the Humane Investigators who are clearly committed to providing an affordable, quality service in support of the animal welfare laws currently in force, with great puzzlement about why there would be an effort to eliminate this program with no apparent alternatives for anything to replace it, and with the hope that given the obvious value of the program, the study group would find that rather than be discontinued, the Humane Investigator program should be supported and expanded.

Since only a small percentage of localities actually have Humane Investigators, perhaps if those recognizing the value of a program like this would make known to your community leaders the need for this program in your community, then awareness and common sense might prevail and we would all win.


Greetings and welcome to PAWS blog spot. We hope to use this blog to help us in our mission to promote humane communities in central Virginia.  We'll address various issues relevant to responsible animal guardianship and effective animal management in central Virginia. Our goal is to encourage dialog and discussion about topics that influence how our communities cope with the challenges of animal welfare and, subsequently, people welfare.  We believe a well-educated and well-informed society is the best foundation for a humane society. Please share your opinions and your knowledge.  And, of course, please be respectful and courteous of the opinions of others.