You know something is different from the moment you pull onto the campus at Rockingham Harrisonburg SPCA. They hadn’t opened yet to the public, but the parking lot was filling up and the place was bustling with volunteers walking dogs, fosters bringing in their dogs for medical care, and staff already hard at work cleaning and caring for the one hundred animals in their care at the facility (there are twice that number in foster care!).
Taylor Rizzari, from WHSV Channel 3 in Harrisonburg, was also there to cover our visit. When we’re out on tour, we send a press release ahead of time, trying to entice the local media to come out and cover their shelter. Awareness is one of our main objectives, so any attention we can shine on a shelter, particularly in their local community, is a win. Taylor and WHSV often highlight and support the work of the shelter. Curating a relationship with the local media should be an aim of every shelter.
RHSPCA handles about three thousand animals a year, finding nearly all of them adopters or rescue placements (most are adopted). That number is only possible because of their extensive foster network, rescue partners, and the support of the community. Currently, RHSPCA has 130 dogs in care, but the majority are in foster care. They have 313 cats and 176 of those are in foster care! Some of those fosters are students at nearby James Madison University. Utilizing student or military members to foster is a brilliant idea that we wish more shelters would encourage.
The dogs at the shelter get plenty of daily enrichment and at least one walk each day. The large, dedicated crew of volunteers is key to that practice. They get the dogs out for playtime and/or walks while the Animal Care Team gets the cleaning done each morning.
The Animal Care Team not only cleans the kennels and cares for the animals but also facilitates Meet and Greets, and processes the adoptions. “They know the animals best,” explains Summer, the Client Services Manager who gave us a tour of the facility.
As we followed Summer through the winding halls to see the adoption kennels, intake kennels, isolation kennels, and multiple cat areas, she talked about the adoption process at RHSPCA, which is a little different from the normal shelter adoption process.
The staff utilizes a Matchmaking Survey, which all adopters fill out. They try to assess each adopters needs in terms of size of dog, energy level, etc., plus the dog’s needs—would he like to have a playmate at home, is he a couch potato, or looking for a running buddy? From that point, the staff can suggest dogs that might make the best match.
“We want their first placement to be their forever placement,” Summer told us.
Dogs are $200 to adopt (and puppies $250) but that includes spay/neuter surgery, microchipping, vaccines, Heartworm testing (and treatment if necessary), deworming, and flea/tick treatment.
Summer recently moved from Michigan to take the job at RHSPCA. She got into shelter work unintentionally while studying Family Studies at Central Michigan State. She thought that she would work in the geriatrics or hospice/end-of-life field, but after volunteering at a local shelter, she was asked to work there part-time, and that experience redirected her career focus. She does think that her degree helps her as she counsels people surrendering pets, but it also has led her to gravitate toward elderly dogs/cats. She’s even offered hospice foster care multiple times.
Summer is part of the Client Services Team at RHSPCA. They handle the intake/evaluation of animals, coming up with the best plan for that animal. The staff has started trying to schedule those appointments so there is time to offer counseling to the animal owner. If they can provide resources that can keep the animal in its home, that’s always their first line of defense.
Rockingham Harrisonburg SPCA is a nonprofit organization that handles the animal control contracts for Rockingham County and the City of Harrisonburg. The staff of about twenty is divided up into the Client Services Team, The Animal Care Team, and the Animal Medical Team. They are led by a passionate and determined Executive Director, Huck, who has led this transformation since arriving on the scene about five years ago.
In 2024, Huck plans to open a spay/neuter clinic on site in a double-wide trailer that was recently moved to the property.
It will be exciting to see this new resource become a reality in the Shenandoah Valley! We will be sure to come back and share that story in the spring.
And this is your last chance (probably) to order a Who Will Let the Dogs Out 2024 wall calendar featuring the photography of Nancy Slattery and some of the beautiful dogs we met this year on shelter tour. To get your click here.
Until each one has a home,
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To see our Emmy-nominated, award-winning short documentary, Amber’s Halfway Home, click here.
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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