Municipal Shelter in VA: Your tax dollars at work. Question mark.

In Roanoke, VA, the Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection evaluates pets to determine adoptability, according to their website:

In accordance with Virginia law, stray animals are held for a minimum of ten (10) days if the animal has any form of identification and five (5) days if the animal has no identification.  There is no minimum holding period for animals relinquished by owners, but the Regional Center endeavors to hold animals relinquished by owners for a minimum of two (2) days.

While at the Regional Center, animals are evaluated for adoptability.  Animals that are not considered to be adoptable are humanely euthanized once the animal has been held for the required length of time.

The local news reports that the adoption process and the behavioral evaluations are resulting in complaints from potential adopters:

Several pet owners have complained to 10 On Your Side they had to jump through too many hoops in order to adopt an animal from the regional center.

Teresa Powell and Bonnie Moore said dogs they adopted recently were at first deemed “unadoptable” by the center’s behaviorist, Mary Marr.

Behavior evaluations should never be used as an excuse for killing treatable pets.  They are a guide to learn what direction the pet’s rehab needs to head in – if any rehab is needed at all.  Most shelter pets should be considered adoptable immediately after their hold period has expired.

Powell and Moore understood being deemed “unadoptable” meant the dogs were in line to be put down.

“That happens all the time as far as animals being deemed unadoptable that are adoptable,” said Amber Perrin, a former employee at the regional center.

All the time?  The news station looked at the shelter’s stats and found that in 2010, the Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection killed more than 99% of the pets in its care:

State statistics show the center put down 3,432 cats in 2010 while adopting out 30.

The same stats show the center put down 1,139 dogs in 2010 while adopting out only 8.

What the heck is going on here?

[Executive Director Bill] Watson said he could not comment on the qualifications of his animal behaviorist, Mary Marr.

He said a question on if Marr had sole discretion on deciding which animals are adoptable and which ones aren’t was “more complicated than just saying it’s right or wrong.”

“Until we get a handle on overpopulation, [euthanasia] is inevitable,” Watson said.

Ack.  Mr. Watson is “also executive director of the Roanoke Valley SPCA, which sits in the same building.”

Oh really?  Do tell.

The SPCA had around a 90 percent adoption rate in 2010, according to state statistics.

Impressive.  I bet those stats garner a lot of donations from unsuspecting animal lovers who don’t realize they are being scammed.

Speaking of funding, the Regional Center apparently gets plenty.  The news station reports the following figures paid to the shelter in 2010:

  • The city of Roanoke:  $610,000
  • Roanoke County:  $200,000
  • Botetourt County:  $155,000


Botetourt County’s finance director said the county made the check out to the Roanoke Valley SPCA.

Vinton’s town manager, Chris Lawrence, said it contributed more than $38,000, also making the check out to the SPCA.

Hmm.  Curiouser and curiouser.  I wonder if anyone besides the local TV news station is interested in investigating this place.  If you live in one of the municipalities which sends your tax money to the Regional Center, you might like to contact your local representatives and ask.

Video of the piece here.

Thank you Clarice for sending these links.

39 thoughts on “Municipal Shelter in VA: Your tax dollars at work. Question mark.

  1. I am appalled by the number of animals killed at the RCACP, which is what lead me to volunteer and foster for the RVSPCA (because the actual RCACP does not take volunteers or foster families) in hopes of doing something to improve the situation. I would be curious to know if the “8 adoptions” included animals transferred to the RVSPCA?

    I know that locally this news story has raised a lot of outcry about how to fix this abysmal numbers. Unfortunatly the loudest cry seems to be to shut the shelter down entirely (not a bad idea, except what would happen to the animals that are already there or would have been taken there?).

    I’m very new shelter systems and the concept of no-kill communities. What is something that could be done (besides a change in leadership) to help improve these numbers and make the current shelter more receptive to implementing a no-kill strategy?

    1. I agree – they need to fire Mr. Watson! In addition I would reccomend reading BOTH Redemption & Irreconcible Differences by Nathan Winograd. Both have a wealth of info on things that you can do to help change things, but if you don’t have the leadership behind you then you’ll get nowhere. You need to get a group together and tackle this by going ABOVE Mr. Watson’s head – maybe a city council meeting?!?!? You definitely need to make a BIG STINK about it while things are already fired up…now is the time to act while this story is fresh in everyone’s minds.

  2. The title “Animal Behaviorist” should only be used by a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Veterinary Behaviorist. Too many shelters are improperly calling their trainers and behavior staff “Behaviorists.” For more info please check out: and and

    Worse yet, shelters aren’t the only ones guilty of exaggerating the credentials of their “behaviorists.” Every Tom, Dick and Harry with a cable TV and internet connection is suddenly a dog “rehab” expert. I’ve seen the most incompetent handling and fumbling attempts at “rehab” in my life by browsing these folks’ sites. For some reason, when it comes to dog behavior, everyone at the local dog park or anyone who’s fostered a dog is an expert. You see this more in dog behavior than in any other field. Perplexing.

    1. Did you also watch the video? – not only did Mr. Watson refuse to answer Shirley – he also told the news channel to turn off the camera when asked about their behaviorist. Makes me wonder if this is a situation is one where the “behaviorist” is one of those types.

      While I never claim to be an animal behaviorist – I have rehabbed dogs before (also uncertified in the training field – although I started the process) and while there are some times when it is easy to tell a lot about animal’s behavior from being around them all the time and also working with a certified trainer while I first began working with pit type dogs – I would NEVER try to pass myself off as a ‘professional’. I have always been VERY honest with people and told them that I am not certified, but that I do have history working with pit type dogs (15 yrs) and have been successful in doing rehab on all the dogs I have had. BUT, I always run through my ‘training plan’ prior to beginning it – with the certified trainer I use to work with. Plus I know that if I ever encounter any problems I can call her to discuss what other options she & I can come up with to solve them prior to trying anything ‘new’.

      While I would NEVER even try to attempt to claim I am certified and I certainly would NEVER try to pass myself off as being qualified to the point where I would want to handle the responsibility of deciding what animals are adoptable and which ones need to be killed – that a HUGE responsibility that should ONLY be done by a professional. Makes me wonder how many other places don’t have a certified behaviorist doing similar things at other shelters????

      1. Erica – Just wanted to clarify that my post is based on the text article only. I haven’t spoken with anyone involved. All credit goes to the investigative news team at the TV station there.

      2. I apologize – I was under the impression that you spoke with him and he refused to answer you as well. Thank you for clearing that up for me.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this. I am with Angels of Assisi in Roanoke. (Yes, i’m the one that snagged a photo of your dog and the Kong toy- thank you). We have been hitting on these problems through our blog and appreciate the extra attention. Thanks so much.

  4. I could not agree more with this statement: “Most shelter pets should be considered adoptable immediately after their hold period has expired.”

    Far too often, animals in kill shelters are deemed unadoptable simply to make the numbers look better or because it is convenient to do so. “We killed the animal so it must have been unadoptable.” How can any animal who is no doubt traumatized, hungry and fearful present in any normal manner in a “shelter”? Our local kill shelter is loud. It smells of feces and urine to me and no doubt smells of death and anxiety to the animals housed there. I would not expect any animal housed there to behave in a manner which remotely resembles how they will behave outside of such a death house. Any time I read that animals have been deemed unadoptable, it just makes my blood boil. I know some are suffering and we should not prolong that but the ease with which we use the “A” word is just as offensive to me as the ease with which we use the “E” word.

  5. I live in one of these localties have have been sickened by what has been happening at this pound. It has been the Roanoke Valley’s best kept dirty little secret for years. I am so thankful that channel 10 got involved and exposed them for what they are.

    If RCACP or RVSPCA truly cared, they would have released these numbers long ago with an outcry to the community to begin creating change. Instead, they have chosen to try to keep these stats quiet and continue with their mass killings.

    Mary Marr’s qualifications, according to the RVSPCA website are that her mother trained dogs and she grew up with animals in the house. That’s it folks!

    I agree the only way to change this situation to to change leadership and find people who really care and want to create a better environment for these unfortunate animls.

    I find it most disturbing that no one from either organization has stepped up and said, “you know what, we do have a problem, now let’s work together and fix it.” They are too busy claiming the fault lies with a tight budget, irresponsible pet owners and a skewed news cast. Let’s take all of the numbers and percentages out excepted the actual number killed in their facility: close to 10,000 in the last two years. Enough said

    1. Well – crap if that’s all Mary Marr had to do to be “qualified” then I’m qualified without even knowing it! LOL Actually that is so sad that any place would hire someone based on their up bringing and not on any real credentials they have…..

  6. What bothers me about this story is that we have a Regional Center with ridiculous numbers of animals being killed, yet in the SAME building is the SPCA that has high numbers of adoptions…something is smelling fishy here.

    Is there any way we can find out if they are transferring dogs from one to the other location to inflate numbers in one group (of killings) while making the other groups adoption rate goes up?

    I also found it highly ridiculous that there has been approximately $1m in money given to the group – BUT the checks were made out to the SPCA not the Regional Center. AND Mr. Watson said on tape with the news station that they just don’t have the funds needed to treat sick owner relinquishments? WTH? With darn near $1m for the SPCA to be given all that money – and both areas are overseen by Mr. Watson – you would think that the fund would be available to be used to treat ANY of the animals within both centers.

    This place needs to fire Mr. Watson first and foremost and bring in a new person that is willing to tackle this issue. To me it appears as if they are shuffling animals around between the 2 places to make one look good and the other to look like it is there only to kill. What boils my blood is that Mr. Watson can sit there and claim this is a problem of overpopulation and basically putting the blame for all the animals killed on the publics shoulders – yet we have one group that has high adoptions while the other has high kill rates….

    Some one needs to get a group together to tackle this problem. Especially while the story is so fresh in everyone’s minds. Sounds to me like a place that is ripe for No Kill to come on board and straighten things out. UGH!

    1. Fishy – You took the words right out of my mouth.
      I’d say somebody is cooking the books here.
      The SPCA, being a nonprofit, accepts donations, and donors respond to good news. The ACP I presume is a govt entity and since they do not take donations they don’t care what their stats are. Maybe the SPCA is cherry picking highly adoptable animals and sending the rest to ACP to be killed.
      And taxpayer money going to the SPCA? Somebody needs to audit both these orgs. Sounds like hanky-panky to me.

  7. I believe the “behaviorist”, in question in Roanoke, is the daughter of a board member. No joke.

    1. I’m wondering if the behaviorist’s salary wouldn’t be better spent on a shelter vet? I don’t know how much it is and maybe it could only get a part time vet but heck, I’d take that!

      1. Whaaaaa? This is some kind of game these folks are running here.

        Look – we have a 90% adoption rate and a vet on staff! Everybody donate! No, don’t look over THERE, look on THIS side of the hallway…

      2. The RCACP halls are blue, and the SPCA halls are green. the staff has been told that “green is for good, blue is for bad”

    2. Maybe that explains why the director refused to comment on Mary Marr’s qualifications on camera.
      Sounds like they may need more than a new director and staff at the pound. Time for a new board?

      1. I second that given the information that Mark supplied us with. They need to wipte the slate clean and start from scratch – including the board members!

  8. Is behaviorist at a 99% kill facility kind of like weatherman in LA?

    Instead of “Warm and sunny, warm and sunny, warm and sunny,” it’s just “Kill it, kill it, kill it …”

    1. hehe, I was thinking the same thing. I wonder if she bothers to fill out the forms anymore. Maybe there is a rubber stamp that says “Poked dog in face with plastic hand while he was trying to eat. Kill.”

    2. For cats, they could have a pre-printed form:
      Cat is…(Circle One)

      …hissing/spitting. Feral. Kill.

      …meowing/blinking. Feral. Kill.

      …sleeping/purring. Feral. Kill.

      Dang, if we couldn’t make jokes about this awful place, I think I’d cry.

      1. I’m with you on this one…the stories keep getting worse and worse. AND unless you can find some way to have a sense of humor you will be miserable ALL the time because of the craziness going on in many shelters that we can’t fix.

        When I was active on HumaneWatch…we supported Shelter Supply Saturday…interestingly enough right around the same time we had the story of a shelter that was just an awful facility. There were many people commenting on it and quite upset about it. Then along came SSS and people on SHW called us out as not being for our shelters in the first place and said crap about how it was just a ‘joke’ that we were doing it because we actually hated shelters?!?!?

        At that point I was just like “if we can’t TRY to help then we’re just looking the other way at the problems and only focusing on the good ones”. Well, the good ones don’t really need our help…but the bad ones sure do! And it makes me think about the saying on how it takes a village to raise a child – it takes a country to fix out shelters!

      2. sorry – that should say “to fix OUR shelters” – I really need to start proof reading!

  9. I’ve already posted my thoughts on my own blog as I worked there temporarily for the behaviorist. This was also the time frame the Mr. Watson came on board. I don’t think anyone remembers that. The old director Mr. Thorne had retired and Bill, who was a board member, was sent in to temporarily fill in until a permanent person could be found. Funny that HE was the permanent one found. Was there a job posted? What other applicants applied? It seems to be all about who you know there and the same goes for the” behaviorist” if she is indeed the daughter of a board member. Shame shame.

    1. Is there any way that we can find out if there was a job posting? Since you brought that up – and it’s been said that Marr has a relative on the BOD…it is smelling fishier and fishier with the more info that comes out!

  10. The board of directors for the RVSPCA is posted on their website. I don’t see anyone named Marr listed. the RVSPCA does not receive tax dollars to operate. the books of both organizations are audited annually. RVSPCA posts their tax returns and audited financials on their website. None of this is kept secret. all you have to do is look for it. You all want to think there is some big comspiracy but none exists. Statistics from the Regional Center are posted on their website, with comparative figures going back several years. There is no cover up, folks. Just a lot of people outraged at all the wrong people. they didn’t make the problem, but are held responsible for a lot of our society’s irresponsibile attitude toward living creatures.

    1. In fairness, I found the posted stats for the shelter and the news piece interpreted them incorrectly. The reporters probably are not accustomed to reading shelter stats. The correct numbers for this facility for 2010 are:
      Total intakes (cats and dogs): 6948
      Total killed (cats and dogs): 4571
      That makes this shelter’s kill rate 66%. This is still above the national average and a very poor showing when compared with the lifesaving efforts at the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA in VA and other no kill communities. There appears to be a failure of leadership and myriad troubling issues at this facility.

    2. You are right Bill that there is a community issue with pet overpopulation. Mr. Watson and his organization also see that, but apparently don’t see it as a problem in the Roanoke Valley. I think if they felt the Roanoke Valley had a pet overpopulation problem, they would have opened their low cost spay neuter clinic in Roanoke rather than the New River Valley. That’s right, I did just as you suggested and looked at their paperwork. Guess what? RVSPCA owns Mountain View Humane, the new beautiful low-cost spay neuter clinic in the NRV NOT in the Roanoke Valley where they are killing 5,000 animals a year not because they don’t promote these animals or because they would rather let “adoptable” animals die waiting for open cage space right next door, but because of an irresponsible public that Mr. Watson obviously doesn’t think is a problem in this valley. Can’t have it both ways!

      1. Well – that makes things even worse. With the SPCA bringing in almost $1m a year you would think they would have a low cost/free spay & neuter program in place – especially given the amount of animals killed.

      1. Good point – maybe she is married or the ‘relative’ is from her mom’s side of the family?

  11. Animal Care Services is the company contracted to run the RCACP (“pound”). The audited tax form says The RVSAPC and “it’s wholly owned subsidiaries Animal Care Servies”.

    From the news report “Botetourt County reported it contributed around $155,000. Botetourt County’s finance director said the county made the check out to the Roanoke Valley SPCA.”

    I believe under new leadership both facilites can make a lot of changes. They have a wonderful facility and a caring community behind them.

  12. hey fire them all , clean house find people that love pets, and want to help them find loving homes, something fishy going on there for sure, money be used for something else or someones pocket, poor animals!!!! fire them all !!!!

  13. We need everyone’s support to change RCACP to a real shelter for the unfortunate animals that end up there.

    So all of you PLEASE mark your calendars and join us at the City Council Meeting to ask that RCACP become a NO KILL shelter:
    April 4th 2:00PM
    Roanoke City Council Chamber
    fourth floor
    Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building
    215 Church Avenue, S. W.

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