Animal Control Center Operations Being Investigated

UPDATE: at 4:33 PM on Thursday July 26th the SPCA made the following announcement:

Today, the Roanoke Valley SPCA (RVSPCA) Board of Directors announced that William M. Watson, Jr. has resigned as Executive Director, effective July 31, 2012. The search has begun for a new Executive Director. Members of the Executive committee, who are very well-educated on RVSPCA operations, will serve together to lead the RVSPCA in the interim. “We are thankful for Bill’s service to the RVSPCA over the last 6 years,” stated Barbara Dalhouse, president of the RVSPCA Board of Directors, and for the many successes that have occurred during that time. We are equally excited about the opportunity of a new era of leadership on the staff of the RVSPCA and the opportunities that will provide, as well, for the operation of the Regional Center for Animal Control & Protection. The Board of the RVSPCA remains committed to its mission and looks forward to the opportunity to continue to serve the animals and the people they touch in the Roanoke Valley.”

Original Article: Officials with the Roanoke Valley SPCA and the Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection (RCACP) are conducting an internal investigation following allegations of neglect and cruelty to animals at the Animal Control Center.  SPCA Board President Barbara Dalhouse hopes to have the results within the next two weeks. “You’ll see some major improvements,” she said. Dalhouse gave no specific timeline, “because we want to do it right.”

The special committee is comprised of members of the executive committee, board of directors and outside consultants.  They’re already busy interviewing staff, volunteers, and local elected officials.

According to Dalhouse, the committee members will go back in time as far as is needed to get answers.  “If a locality has specific allegations that they are making, we will go back to all of them.  And so there’s nothing that we’re going to hide.  We want this to be as open [and] transparent as possible.  Because really, this does not do any good for the SPCA and it doesn’t do any good for the animals.  So we’re anxious to get this out.  We will look at everything  [so we] can move forward, after we’ve taken the necessary steps to make it a better facility.”

The internal investigation comes on the heels of an announcement that the City Auditor is beginning an investigation in the Center’s  (also known as the pound) finances.  Roanoke City Police are also looking specifically into the welfare of a dog known as Trinity,  who’s leg had to be amputated, allegedly because of a lack of care during its stay at the Center.

Dalhouse said she can’t comment on the allegations but did say she’s “anxiously awaiting the report” and that police told her they only had one more interview to conduct before they finished their investigation.

Two volunteers were recently suspended, one after she reportedly put pictures on a Facebook page of cats due to be euthanized because of a lack of space.  Dalhouse says while she can’t comment specifically on personnel issues, guidelines for using social media were violated. Botetourt County officials then pulled about 23 cats from the pound earlier this month, saying they feared they would be euthanized even though there was space available. According to Dalhouse, there must be space available for incoming animals to the Center.

Botetourt Countyis one of four localities that contracts with the RCACP to bring in their stray animals and animals relinquished by their owners.  The others are Roanoke City, Roanoke County, and Vinton.  Dalhouse says members of the executive committee are meeting with Botetourt Countyofficials to address their concerns.

When asked if one outcome of the report might be to separate the RCACP and the SPCA (which operate out of the same building), Dalhouse replied, “When this was all set up back in 2004, it was difficult to get four municipalities together to work this out and it was decided that the shelter would be a no-kill facility.  The municipalities decided that the people that were most capable of managing the pound would be people like us that have the experience and the knowledge of dealing with animals.  They wanted it to be that way.”

The RCACP reopened this week after closing for several days following threats made against staff.  “We have had threats made at the Center and inappropriate communications and we’ve reported those to the police and they are looking into them.”  She says the threats were made by phone and email.  The Center is open “and we’ve put some additional security in place.”

Following Monday’s news conference, Lisa O’Neill, a spokeswoman for the Roanoke rescue group, Angels of Assisi was taking a wait-and-see approach to the announcement of the internal investigation.  “I’m not sure we had a whole lot of answers yet.  I guess time will tell and [we’ll] see what their internal reviews come up with.  But I’m not sure we got a lot of answers today.  We’ll just have to wait and see.”