The City of Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Humane Society are facing a penalty for mistreating animals, resulting from a state inspection which cited the shelter for lack of cleanliness and humane violations. Humane Society Director also confirmed a “feral cat colony” is maintained in the woods behind the shelter to reduce shelter population, according to WVEC.com
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has issued Portsmouth a $1,250 fine for several “critical failures to provide adequate care” at the shelter located at 4022 Seaboard Court, the state report shows.
The first violation came on March 6, 2013, after an inspection revealed problems with proper cleaning and disinfecting.
Then, on August 30, 2013, state inspectors cited the shelter again for cleanliness and not providing adequate food, water and space for animals. Inspectors observed dogs in crates that were too small to allow the animals to stand. Additionally, animals were at risk of escaping, getting injured and stolen, according to WVEC.com.
“We don’t see the State fine shelters often. These are very serious allegations,” Daphne Nachminovitch, Senior Vice-President Cruelty Investigations Department of PETA noted.
FERAL CAT COLONY IN WOODS
The Portsmouth Humane Society, known as a "no-kill" shelter, has been releasing feral cats into nearby woods and recording the animals as "adopted" by staff members in its statistics, according to records obtained by The Virginian-Pilot.
Although it is not exactly clear how many cats were released; state investigators estimate the number as high as 91, but noted they only reviewed adoption records for five shelter employees. The total number, an official said, could be much higher.
An investigation was started after a former employee filed a complaint with the Office of Veterinary Services. The worker said cats were often lost or forgotten, so she put the animals under her name as adopted.
“I later found out that was illegal, and it’s called cooking the books,” she wrote. The employee also reported that cats were kept in a garage at the shelter with no air-conditioning where temperatures reach higher than 80 degrees.
She alleged that feral cats were spayed, neutered and then released into the woods behind the shelter.
In an earlier report to the Virginian Pilot, Jenn Austin, the shelter's Executive Director, admitted that she and her staff have been personally adopting feral cats and releasing them for about a year and a half.
The revelation raises questions about whether the shelter was intentionally "cooking the books," as a former employee alleged to state authorities.
Adhering to an image of being “No Kill,” Director Austin emphasizes, “The Humane Society’s focus is saving lives. We refuse to put down any animal that is healthy.”
Portsmouth Humane Society Board of Directors President Rebecca Barclay says the city is going to appeal the fine. "We know things need fixing and we are moving forward. The state typically gives you time to do the remediation before they slap a fine on you, and they didn't do it this time."
Dan Kovich of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services explained that the state takes critical violations seriously. "For things that are non-critical findings, time is given to make corrections. For critical findings the fines are automatic. A critical finding is something that should not have occurred in the first place."
The Portsmouth Humane society is one of three shelters fined in the state this year. In past five years, eight public animal shelters have been required to pay penalties, WVEC reports.
By October 31, 2013, the City must ensure that animals are appropriately confined and provided proper care. The Portsmouth Humane Society must provide a corrective action plan to state regulators by November 20, 2013.