The Richmond County Animal Shelter in Warsaw on Virginia’s Northern Neck was built in 2019. It’s a small, bright, clean building with 9 regular kennels, 2 isolation kennels, and a cat room with a bank of cat condos. The lay out is efficient and the spaces tidy.
Tonya has been the Animal Control Officer running the shelter since it opened. She loves her job and is completely dedicated to the animals. “I’d move in, if I could,” she says, and explained how she’d rearrange the office to fit her bed. She has six animals of her own at home (all adopted from the shelter) but feels like the shelter animals are also hers.
Prior to the shelter opening, Richmond’s animals were housed at the Westmoreland shelter and Tonya was working as a cashier at a Seafood restaurant. When she heard the county would be opening a shelter, she told the sheriff she’d love to be considered for the position. He knew a good idea when he saw one, and sent Tonya to Animal Control Officer school.
There are two other ACO’s who run the Animal Control calls, and while Tonya sometimes runs calls too, she primarily takes care of the animals at the shelter. Clearly, this small county takes the responsibility for its animals seriously. The county handled 138 dogs in 2022.
The community has been generous with donations of food and cat litter, so they are well supplied. The county does not have a medical budget but will pay for necessary emergency medical care. Thankfully, the Animal Welfare League pays for spay/neuter surgeries.
I wish we’d had the opportunity to interview representatives of the Animal Welfare League because their impact on the animals of the Northern Neck is impressive. All four of the shelters depend on their support to pay for spay/neuter surgeries, and without it, no doubt the stray population of the Northern Neck would be even larger.
The Richmond County shelter’s dogs leave primarily through reclaims and adoptions, but they are also blessed to have a great rescue connection with Old Dominion Humane Society, which takes many of their dogs.
Adoption fees are just $25 and include a rabies shot and a certificate for spay/neuter (from AWL). The shelter does not vaccinate for distemper, a risky practice that hopefully they will not someday regret. Over the years, we’ve visited at least six shelters that did not begin giving distemper vaccinations until they had an outbreak that led to many dogs dying. Hopefully, Richmond’s luck will hold out or they will make the vaccine their practice. Tonya has the ability to give the vaccine and, on occasion, has paid the local vet to give it.
The shelter is open intake and does euthanize for space, but Tonya says they have only had to do that 12 times since they opened. When the only option for medical or behavioral reasons is euthanasia, Tonya stays with the animal and holds it because she believes no animal should die alone.
I watched as Tonya played with the longest-stay dog (one she is planning to adopt as soon as she and her husband move into a new property) and cuddled a tiny kitten. Clearly, Tonya is doing the job she was meant to do.
This shelter is writing a new story for the county. So far, that’s a good one.
We are currently selling our 2024 Who Will Let the Dogs Out calendars that feature some of the beautiful dogs we met this year on our shelter tours. If you’d like to order one (or two!), click here, or message us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shipping is free.
Until each one has a home,
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Learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.
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