“How to Make a Problem Way Worse” by the Portsmouth Humane Society Board President

Nearly four years ago, the former executive director of the Portsmouth Humane Society, Christie Chipps Peters, started a TNR program for the feral cats received at the VA shelter. The program was a success in that it saved the lives of feral cats and the staff maintained the colony created by the release of the neutered, vaccinated cats in the woods behind the shelter. The problem was that the records for each of the cats involved in the TNR program were intentionally miscategorized as “adopted” with the adopter in each case being a shelter employee. In addition, the state of Virginia does not have a law on the books that officially addresses the practice of TNR:

The law dictates that animals brought into shelters can either be adopted, returned to their owners, transferred to another agency or euthanized.

To complicate matters further, it seems as if the city, which contracts with the Portsmouth Humane Society for animal control, views the obligation to accept feral cats differently from the HS board president, Rebecca Barclay:

The city’s contract with the Portsmouth shelter remains in question. City officials believe dealing with feral cats was part of the deal.

“We’re disappointed,” City Attorney George Willson said.

Barclay contends the animal shelter was never equipped to handle feral cats and that its staff should never have accepted them.

“Because feral cats are unadoptable,” Barclay said. “They do not have the potential to become pets.”

When shelter officials worked out the contract with the city, Barclay said, it was made clear the shelter would not accept feral cats.

Willson and City Manager John Rowe could not confirm that, but noted that the shelter has been accepting them from the beginning of the five-year contract, in 2010.

It appears that the city and the HS board president have been operating under opposing assumptions for years.  And that the executive director of the HS was given free reign to address the issue as she saw fit.  When Jenn Austin took over the ED position at the shelter in February 2013, she continued the existing TNR program.

On May 31, 2013, a former Portsmouth HS employee filed a complaint with the state about the miscategorization of records for cats involved in the TNR program.  The state investigated and issued a fine:

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has handed Portsmouth a $1,250 fine for several “critical failures to provide adequate care” at the shelter located at 4022 Seaboard Court.

In response, the city reacted in a reasonable manner:

Portsmouth City Manager John Rowe said Friday that he wasn’t aware of the shelter’s practice, but is reserving judgment on the matter. He said he plans to let the shelter and the state resolve it.

“They’re saying they’re in compliance with the law,” he said. “I’m not a judge.”

The HS board president however, claiming she was “shocked and appalled”, went Matrix on the shelter, firing the executive director, ordering the staff to stop accepting feral cats immediately and hiring a team of lawyers to defend the HS.  Amidst this kind of hysteria, PETA was bound to smell blood in the water and their spokesman inserted herself into the melee in order to promote their Yay for Killing Cats agenda.  PETA, which actively seeks out homeless cats and dogs and kills nearly every one they get their hands on, supports TNR – when it’s for deer.  But the practice they call a “humane alternative” for controlling deer populations somehow doesn’t apply to wild cats.  Cats must die.  All die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11!!!

I hate to bring reason back into the picture here but I’m wondering if this whole issue couldn’t simply be solved by the city putting an ordinance on the books that addresses TNR.  (Virginia is a home rule state.)  Then the city could still have a place to bring its feral cats and the shelter could provide care for them while correctly categorizing the cats’ records as TNR.  The board president lady and PETA can still have their pearl-clutching tea party where they can hyperventilate to Polly Prissypants about the horror of community cats being neutered, vaccinated, and allowed to live.

In the meantime though, the Portsmouth Humane Society staff will still be allowed to maintain the colony established in the woods behind the shelter.  Recommendations on how to remove the colony without killing the cats are reportedly being sought.

(Thanks Clarice for the links.)

13 thoughts on ““How to Make a Problem Way Worse” by the Portsmouth Humane Society Board President

  1. I’m not clear on what happened to the cats? Is this actually a maintained colony with proper acclimation and food/water/shelters or is this a case of “let the cats go in the woods behind the shelter and set food and water out now and then and hope for the best” sort of thing?

    Because a maintained colony is not abandonment, but dumping in the woods and hoping for the best is not a maintained colony.

    I will say that I’m amazed at how fast the sh*t hit the fan with firings and whatnot. How is it that serial abusers get pardoned time and again, but this that requires actual investigation and possibly mitigation is met with a wall of fire?

    1. The articles didn’t give a whole lot of specifics on the colony and nothing about whether they were properly introduced, etc. But the presence of cat carriers and a feeding station makes me think they were at least making an effort to do it right. One the one hand, the size of the colony is allegedly so enormous, the board president had to bring the hammer down. OTOH, the reporter could only find one person in the area who ever saw a cat – one cat. I also saw no mention made of ear-tipping so that’s another unanswered question which will become significant if they attempt to re-trap these cats.

      On Sun, Oct 13, 2013 at 12:06 PM, YesBiscuit!

  2. Let’s hope that someone who knows what they are doing and has some clout can get involved – like Alley Cat Allies? I agree with mikken that they certainly are moving quickly about this. Why are people so fearful of having feral cats around? That makes no sense. Most of them are so frightened of people that they hide if people are around. It took my feral over 2 years before he would stop hiding every time he saw me. Geez, folks, and what part of “humane” does the “humane society” not understand? As far as peta – they are a non-issue, far as I’m concerned.

    Is there any way to fix stupid? There seems to be a lot of it going around . . .

  3. As president of Portsmouth Humane Society, I would like to respond to the postings and clarify the issue. The feral colony at Portsmouth Humane Society was not properly maintained. Based on the “adoption” records, which were falsified, more than 60 animals were dumped into a wooded area without proper introduction and acclimation, dry food was simply put on the ground without elevated feeding stations, and adequate shelter was not provided. After the state vet cited the PHS colony, the former executive director was instructed to obtain information from Alley Cat Allies about how to maintain and manage a colony successfully and to reach out to local feral cat experts for assistance. She did not do so. I am “shocked and appalled” that anyone who purports to care for animals would treat them in this way. On Tuesday, October 15, I will appear before the state vet in a hearing to appeal and to seek a truly humane and compassionate solution for these animals so that they may live in a properly managed and well maintained colony. Please get your facts straight before you vilify me.

    Rebecca Barclay

    1. Perhaps you can enlighten us further on this story since details are scant. How is it that that the board, and specifically you as board president, were unaware of the TNR program all these years? Did you really believe the employees were adopting 50 cats each? Or did you fail to review animal records?

      From this article:

      Chipps Peters said that she started the practice about three years before she left. She said she personally adopted 30 to 50 cats, and that other staffers did, too.

    2. Ms. Barclay, I think we can all see that it’s a problem that the feral colony was not being maintained properly. There are several other problems here as well. The records were not just falsified; they were *blatantly* falsified in such a way that they could not have passed the most cursory review, let alone an actual audit. How often are reviews and/or audits scheduled to be performed? Do they happen at all? Whose responsibility is it to make sure they happen? When was the executive director told to get information about proper management of a feral cat colony, and who was following up to make sure she was doing it? Was anyone on the board paying any attention to what was actually happening at the shelter? How could the contract be so ambiguous as to the shelter’s handling of feral cats? Seems to me that it should have been specified one way or the other. Who was responsible for writing and signing this contract? Who was, ultimately, responsible for all of this?

    3. I would like to know what’s happening NOW to the feral cats. If you are trapping and killing them, then I’d much rather they took their chances in an ‘unmanaged’ colony. Killing feral cats for being feral and not socialized to live with people is irresponsible and mean. If you’re not going to release them, then let them be. It doesn’t take much to manage a feral colony – some shelters and feeding stations will do it. Yes, new members should be confined before being released, but if you are working with Alley Cat Allies then you already know all this. OH, by the way, yes I do care for ferals and strays. Let’s hear what you have to say about this, other than defending yourself.

  4. OMG, right in PeTAs back yard!!! They must have peed all over themselves with glee. Racing each other to the cabinet to see who can get to the pink stuff first. Who will be the first on the scene and get the first kill.

  5. Once they decided to do a feral Colony, would it have been possible to get an addendum to the contract so everyone was in the loop. Or did this have to be done because there were people who did not agree to help Ferals that would have forced the shelter to kill them instead. If the latter is the case, then the BOD needs to review itself and it’s mission. It is entirely possible this backdoor approach was the best staff could do with the situation and keep the cats alive.

  6. And here we are. ..four years later and now Portsmouth has a serious issue with rats and squirrels. The cats never bothered anyone.)

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