Animal advocates unite after Norfolk reverts shelter to ‘no kill,’ unexpectedly removes director


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — There’s frustration over “no-kill” policies in animal shelters.  The director of the Norfolk Animal Care Center, the city’s shelter, was let go last month.  Now PETA and other local shelters are speaking out — saying they support her.  

The city says it’s a “personnel matter.”  However, PETA says it’s because former Norfolk Animal Care Center director Barbara Hays refused to make the shelter “no-kill” overnight.

More than a decade ago, the shelter was “no-kill,” and it didn’t go well.  Hays was brought in to clean it up and now the shelter community is worried things will get worse once again. 

“Our shelter has been open admission, meaning that citizens have somewhere to turn,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, the senior vice president of PETA’s cruelty investigations department.  “There are liability concerns, there are public safety concerns, and of course there are animal welfare concerns.

Nachminovitch says no-kill could mean overcrowding in shelters and lots of sick animals.  She said, “Animals suffering of untreated illness, overcrowding, filth, animals dying in cages without being afforded euthanasia.”

At a city council work session at the end of August, council heard from a “no-kill” advocate, Makena Yarbrough. Soon after that presentation, council changed the euthanasia policy at the Norfolk Animal Care Center.

Then, Barbara Hays was no longer employed as the center’s director.

“Barbara turned the shelter around and made it from a place that people didn’t want to set foot in, to an inviting place,” said Nachminovitch.  PETA has joined forces with the Norfolk SPCA, Virginia Beach SPCA, and Chesapeake Humane Society.  The groups are advocating to reinstate Hays and get rid of the new “no-kill” label. 

“Our city needs understand the policies may sound good, but they’re extremely damaging and we want our city to stand by the shelter and the open admission policy that it has had since its inception,” said Nachminovitch.

They are also fighting to share their input with the city.  She said, “Let the sheltering community have a seat at the table.”

Another animal advocate, David Allen, says a focus on numbers and release rates could do more harm than good. 

“A lot of people who are knowledgeable in this area of animal rescue are concerned that decisions are now going to be made with an eye toward no-kill status, which is a live release rate of 90 percent or higher,” said Allen.

He believes the shelter should become no-kill, but doesn’t like the way the city has handled things.

Allen said, “No-kill is a journey and a process, it’s not a destination.  It takes years to get there, and once you’ve achieved it, you have to work hard to maintain it.”

A city spokeswoman says Hays is no longer working for the city due to a “personnel matter.”  She says the city is currently investigating the Norfolk Animal Care Center, which is being run by an interim directior.  

PETA, the Norfolk SPCA, Virginia Beach SPCA, and Chesapeake Humane Society released this joint statement:

“Barbara Hays is a passionate and committed leader who mentored, supported, and engaged her team and volunteers at Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center (NACC). Over the last nine years, she played an integral role in raising the standard of care and the image of the shelter. Through her strong sense of community, she put NACC, the animals it cared for, and the plight of homeless animals in the forefront of people’s minds. Her passion and exceptional photography skills captured the spirit of each animal, garnering a loyal Facebook fan base eager to share NACC’s posts, which led to increased exposure, adoptions, and financial support for the shelter. She was a pillar of the animal sheltering community in Hampton Roads, and her knowledge, expertise, and decades of experience with animal welfare have strengthened the center beyond any previous capacity. She will be missed as the driving force behind NACC’s efforts to improve the quality of care for sheltered animals.”

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