Home Animal shelter policy prohibits volunteers, staff from discussing euthanasia

Animal shelter policy prohibits volunteers, staff from discussing euthanasia

svasc animal pet euthanization
Annabelle, photo by Jessica Evans

It’s been more than one year since the Shenandoah Valley community expressed outrage after four dogs in Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center’s care were euthanized.

Pictures of the four dogs were shared widely on social media with the devastating news of their deaths. One of the dogs had been featured on the municipal shelter’s social media page one month earlier as the “nice dog of the week”.

A Rottweiler Lab mix named Annabelle was one of the four animals killed after the owner mistakenly signed over rights to her dog. She had signed paperwork to surrender the dog because she couldn’t afford the fees associated with retrieving her dog from the shelter. Her dog had run away after being spooked by noises associated with a nearby fire.

The Craigsville owner had planned to pick up her dog after she got paid in approximately one week but her dog was euthanized before she could bring her home.

Enraged animal advocates showed up to Waynesboro City Council and Augusta County Board of Supervisors meetings and in impassioned speeches demanded the development of policies and procedures before an animal is euthanized.

Many advocates asked the center to reach out to other rescues before euthanizing any animal or to share details on social media for rescues to intervene when possible.

Two months later, SVASC closed its doors for three days for the development of “administrative procedures.” The shelter reportedly did not have a policy and procedure manual at the shelter, and more specifically, did not have a euthanasia policy, according to Augusta County Administrator Tim Fitzgerald.

While this seemed at the time like a positive step, it appears that while policies are now in place, the communication aspect of the demands landed on deaf ears.

SVASC Executive Director Jon Hilbert shared with AFP the policies that were approved by stakeholders over the past year including a social media policy and euthanasia policy.

“The euthanasia policy is designed to review behavioral concerns, medical concerns, and decisions are made based on a committee of staff, and also animal control or a veterinarian, if necessary,” Hilbert told AFP.

Behavioral concerns, he said, include aggression toward humans or other animals.

“Euthanasia decisions are made based on behavioral concerns and medical/quality of life concerns,” Hilbert said.

Decision makers for euthanasia, according to the policy now in place at the shelter, include a committee that includes the executive director, operations manager, lead kennel attendants and animal control officers. The executive director has the final say in any decision, according to the policy.

Any dog declared dangerous or vicious that is court- or owner-surrendered will be euthanized.

The policy also states that “staff and volunteers are expected to adhere to the Shenandoah Valley Animal Service Center’s social media policy and not discuss euthanasia online or with outside entities.”

In other words, it appears the center’s solution to the public outcry is simply to remain tight-lipped when it comes to the tough decisions that staff make regarding life and death for any animal. A violation of its social media policy, even after hours, could result in “disciplinary action or termination.”

The owner-surrender intake application also now makes it clear that by signing it, the animal may be euthanized.

In its intake application, in bold, is a statement that reads in part: “I certify that: I am the owner of these animals; no other person has a right of property in these animals; and I understand that this animal may be immediately euthanized, adopted or transferred to another state-approved organization.”

In 2023, Hilbert said 79 animals were euthanized including 36 dogs, 42 cats and one small animal.

Hilbert said the live release rate for SVASC was 95.97 percent.

Downloads: SVASC policies

Euthanasia Policy

Intake Policy

Social Media Policy

Vet Policy

Volunteer Handbook

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.