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Posted April 4, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Residents upset by policies at shelter

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Groups concerned over animal rescue

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- The fur was flying during a heated exchange at the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors' property and public works committee meeting Thursday.

At odds were employees at the Shenandoah County Animal Shelter and members of several animal rescue organizations.

At one point, an audience member called out, "You're a jerk," to a man who had addressed the committee.

Until recently, a sign outside the shelter informed pet owners they couldn't surrender their animals unless there was space. That was put up about a year and a half ago, County Administrator Vince Poling said on Friday, in a bid to cut down on euthanasia rates.

"Back in 2005, there was like 35 cats euthanized in one day -- that's tough on the people doing it," he said.

When shelter manager Peggy Lahn was hired, Poling said at Thursday's meeting, he didn't want to continue a policy where animals were being euthanized to make room for others, so when the shelter was full, people surrendering their pets were put on a waiting list, he said.

Another bone of contention is the animals that rescue workers seek from the shelter not being there when they arrive to pick them up.

"We've been denied animals, and I don't understand that," said the Shenandoah County Humane Society's Jane Blair on Thursday.

Leila Smith-Osina, a founding member of String of Pearls Animal Sanctuaries Inc., said when owner-surrendered animals are refused, the problem falls on rescue volunteers' shoulders. Nearly 350 animals have been adopted through String of Pearls since 2005, she said.

"It can be done," Smith-Osina said. "It takes work. You have to make the commitment."

Shelter employee Tammy Keaton said the rescue groups only wanted to take the animals that are easy to adopt out. She said some cages are left empty -- which some rescue volunteers complained about -- so they can be used when animals are released from observation or isolation areas.

Calling it a "communication issue," District 4 Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli recommended a mediator be used.

"I understand the passion and the emotion," she said. "I see you both wanting the same thing. It's a matter of how you get to this point."

Others bristled at the suggestion.

"I think our shelter is run extremely well," Board of Supervisors Chairman David Ferguson said. "You're all adults. I don't think we as a board need to say to our staff, 'You're not communicating.'"

Poling and Assistant County Administrator Mary Beth Price were quick to defend shelter employees.

Baroncelli stuck by her conviction that a mediator was needed.

"Sometimes a facilitator sets false expectations," Ferguson said.

Before she'd be willing to sit down and talk with shelter staff, Blair said she needed to know if the sign would be going back up.

"Will the facilitator help that?" Poling asked.

On Friday, Smith-Osina and Lahn both said they'd be willing to work with a mediator.

"We're willing to work with everybody," Smith-Osina said. "We've all got to learn to work together here."

She said there was a communication problem.

"We would like to see ourselves as adjuncts to the shelter," Smith-Osina said. "I think in a shelter where there's a lot of cooperation, we could increase the number of animals being placed. Rescue groups feel as though they've been led on, neglected, whatever, by some of the shelter people."

Lahn said there was no issue between her staff and rescue groups, and says she has "an open-door policy."

"We do use them," she said. "We always have. We're just very fortunate right now. We have a lot of adoptions going on."

Lahn said she does "stand behind" her shelter's policy of only taking in surrendered animals if there's room.

"It has worked," she said. "We're making a difference. That way, an animal doesn't have to be euthanized to take your animal, or your animal doesn't have to be euthanized because we don't have space."

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