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New animal shelter policy puts gag order on staff, volunteers on euthanasia issues

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Staff and volunteers at the Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center, which euthanized 79 animals in 2023, can’t talk about euthanasia with anybody outside the shelter.

That’s one way to tamp down community controversies like the one that arose last year after the shelter put down four dogs – one that had been featured on the municipal shelter’s social media page as the “nice dog of the week,” another after the dog’s owner mistakenly signed over the rights to her pet, which had run away after being spooked by noises associated with a nearby fire.

This is, in effect, a gag order on the staff and volunteers, similar to what we’re all hearing about with Donald Trump and his criminal trial, only, that’s a defendant being prohibited from threatening a judge, prosecutors and jurors, not people working at an animal shelter who are being barred from expressing concerns about the deaths of people’s pets.

The gag order on staff and volunteers is among newly rolled out administrative procedures that, significantly, includes a policy on euthanasia, which, shockingly, the shelter had not had in place until an internal review sparked by the controversy over the high-profile dog deaths last spring.

Per the new policy, euthanasia decisions “are made based on behavioral concerns and medical/quality of life concerns,” shelter director Jon Hilbert told AFP.

OK, so, at least there’s a policy in place, finally.

That’s a positive development.

The shelter, which is jointly run by Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro, might want to look at the gag order that it has put on its staff and volunteers, who shouldn’t have to turn a blind eye toward issues that they may see out of fear of either losing their jobs or being told that their volunteer efforts are no longer needed.

Those who work and volunteer at the shelter are the community’s eyes and ears on the operations of the shelter.

We need to hear more from them, not nothing.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].