newsfuture of shenandoah valley animal services center in jeopardy

Future of Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center up for discussion

Rebecca Barnabi

By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press

cat adoption
(© Kristina Blokhin –

LYNDHURST — The fate of the Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center is up for discussion in the coming weeks as the City of Waynesboro has placed the municipal shelter’s contract up for bid. Who will take on the responsibility of the shelter is anyone’s guess at this point.

Amy Hammer, president of Augusta Dog Adoptions, was animal control officer for Staunton Police Department from 2007 to 2012. When the shelter opened in 2011, she said, it had no director, so local animal control officers operated it.

“Before that there was no municipal shelter,” said Hammer. SVASC contracted with the SPCA until the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro and Augusta County decided to partner and save money. “So, that was the whole goal behind SVASC when it opened,” Hammer said.

At Monday night’s Waynesboro City Council meeting, she reminded the city that that was what they wanted then, but now they want to throw the hard work by staff away.

“We’re not even sure what issue they’re trying to address,” Hammer said of the city’s decision to place the shelter’s contract out for bid.

Hammer said she knows the shelter faces challenges, including a staff shortage since it has not had a director since the summer, providing medical care and providing a foster program. The building the shelter is in also presents spacing issues for housing animals. Hammer said the municipalities bought the first building they could find when looking for a location in 2011

But the shelter has done something right: its save rate is at 96 percent.

“We had a really good turnout,” Hammer said of Monday’s city council meeting. Local residents who recently adopted an animal from the shelter spoke.

Hammer said she cannot imagine city council members heard the stories they heard Monday night and then will say “we’re closing the shelter.”

“I felt like they were listening. I felt like they were attentive,” she said.

On Wednesday night, shelter supporters will turn out again at the Augusta County Board of Supervisors meeting, and at Staunton City Council on Thursday night to share stories and express concerns. Hammer said supporters also have another round of meetings the week of Thanksgiving to again express concerns during public comment on the future of SVASC.

Hammer continues to support the shelter because of the hard work that went into building it, as well as the great programs and staff.

“I’ve been in the field since 2006, and I just stay in it. I really, really care about homeless animals,” Hammer said.

Hammer said the best-case scenario for SVASC would be for the city to hire a new director and more staff to manage the facility.

“And let them continue to do what they’re doing because they’ve been doing it right. With a 96 percent save rate, they’ve been doing it right,” Hammer said.

Lindsey Huffman served as director of the shelter from 2014 to 2018 after serving as assistant director for two years. She left in 2018 for a position as director of the Charlottesville SPCA, where she served until September 2020. Huffman and Hammer started Augusta Dog Adoptions.

“We felt like we could do something to start a foster program,” said Huffman.

She said she suspected something was around the corner for SVASC because several months have passed since the shelter’s previous director left and the position was never advertised.

The shelter was formed to serve as Staunton, Augusta County and Waynesboro’s government- contracted shelter.

“I don’t know that they knew exactly what they were getting into,” Huffman said.

Huffman said that, depending on the organization, a third party taking over the shelter could bring about positive outcomes. That organization could end up being able to provide the shelter with the funding it needs. Better funding could provide financial stability for staff positions, care and programs. An organization could fundraise for the shelter to make up for funds not provided by the city.

“I feel like the success of SVASC was never created based on the shelter or the funding,” Huffman said. “It’s always been based on the people [who work at the shelter].”

On the other paw, depending on the organization that accepts the shelter’s bid, according to Huffman, staff positions could be in jeopardy, as well as the shelter’s save rate. If provisions are not put in place “to ensure that the practices we put in place and we hold near and dear would just be in vain.”

The contract should include provisions for current staff, a requirement that the save rate remain above 90 percent and an expectation that no lack in care occurs for animals currently at the shelter. For example, Huffman said that all animals with treatable behavior issues or illnesses should be treated and rehabbed, not euthanized.

“Trying to make Staunton, Augusta, Waynesboro a safer place for pets and supporting people too,” has always been the shelter’s goal, Huffman said.

“So, there’s going to have to be a lot of care taken,” she said about the contract.

And keeping current staff is a key component to the shelter’s success.

“I think that’s the biggest part of this and having security for those who have helped this place is the most important thing,” Huffman said.

A third-party organization taking over nonprofit status of an animal shelter does happen in animal welfare, Huffman said, usually to provide reorganization and funding.

“I just really hope that they’re delicate in choosing an organization [to carry on the shelter’s values],” Huffman said. “Typically, this is for the betterment of the organization in most cases.”

Huffman, who lives in Nelson County, said it is important to uphold the values of the shelter.

“And for them to be overlooked just seems questionable to me as well,” she said of the contract.

And she fully expects a reaction from the community just as the community reacted a few months ago to the possibility of the city placing restrictions on Waynesboro households regarding the number of cats and dogs that could reside in each home. Huffman said that the majority of residents in any community care about pets.

“And when that’s about to be threatened or taken away — yeah, absolutely people are going to come out in a big way,” Huffman said.

Huffman added that she will support whoever works for and volunteers at SVASC.

“My heart really is there for that organization, and I want it to be successful,” she said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.