By Ashley Astolfi and Courtney Ridenhour
For Jane Cornett, a typical day in the office can get pretty wild.
During her time at the Rockbridge County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) – currently as executive director – Cornett has seen it all. In addition to cats and dogs, the SPCA has welcomed horses, pigs, ferrets, guinea pigs, an emu, and an eight-foot-long Burmese python through its doors.
The Rockbridge SPCA serves as the humane society for Lexington, Buena Vista, and the county, as well as being the area’s pound. Animal Control officers from all three entities share the facilities with the SPCA.
The shelter is run by six full-time and two part-time staff members, and receives help from roughly 100 volunteers.
Colleen Moore is a Washington and Lee University student who volunteers in one of the shelter’s two cat rooms. Moore says there were five other volunteers, mostly from the community, on her first day at the SPCA.
A typical day volunteering could include cleaning the cats’ cages, or just giving them what Moore says is some much-needed attention.
“They just need to be loved,” Moore said. “That’s really it, because the second I open their cages and pick them up, they are already purring.”
According to the SPCA’s Form 990, government grants make up 76 percent of its revenue.
“Without them, we couldn’t operate this shelter, I’m sure,” Cornett said.
She says she thinks the relationship is mutually beneficial.
“They’re always happy we do the job. They think they have a deal.”
Although government funding has remained stable over the past four years, Cornett says the shelter has felt the financial downturn in other ways, as cash-strapped pet owners have come to the shelter to find help.
“In the beginning, when people were really hard up, they just had to unload their animals, especially if they had children,” Cornett said. “It was hard. We just have to work harder and try and find homes. It works.”
Because of its partnership with Animal Control, the SPCA cannot serve as a no-kill shelter, and it must take in every animal that comes through the door.
Strays are held for seven days and animals with a collar are kept for 12. If an animal is not adopted or placed with another animal rescue organization in that time, it is euthanized.
The shelter does all it can to prevent that. The shelter manager also serves as a rescue coordinator, placing cats and dogs with foster homes from Maryland to New Jersey. The shelter also works with other local nonprofits like Rockbridge Dog Rescue and Cats Unlimited to find placements for animals.
The SPCA tries to raise awareness by advertising in the Lexington News-Gazette and Rockbridge Advocate. In 2011, the nonprofit organization spent $7,694 on advertisements.
Mimi Knight has volunteered with the SPCA for 30 years and says the shelter also tries to participate in a regional event at least once a month. In the summer, the shelter brings all of the animals to the Rockbridge Community Festival in downtown Lexington. In October, the group will travel to Mountain Days in Buena Vista. These events often lead to adoptions.
While potential owners meet the animals at the events, the SPCA does not let people adopt on the spot, instead asking them to come to the shelter to make sure they are prepared to welcome pets into their homes.
“It’s emotional,” Knight said. “They have to remember it’s expensive to own an animal properly.”
The shelter requires adopting families to spay or neuter the animal and to give their new pet a rabies vaccination. The SPCA tries to take care of these requirements for the families. Veterinarians visit the shelter weekly and a mobile transport from Harrisonburg comes once a month to spay and neuter up to 30 animals.
In 2012, 49 percent of dogs and 15 percent of cats were adopted. Others were either returned to their owners or euthanized. It’s especially difficult, Knight said, to see animals put down.
“When I’ve gotten attached to some dog, when we’ve been taking him out on weekends, and maybe we’ll do things fairly close together…and then I don’t see that dog anymore, I don’t usually ask Jane what has happened to that dog because I just don’t want to know.”