“A pet is the only true love money can buy”- My interview with CASPCA Executive Director Leslie Hervey

Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA

I was excited to kick off my shelter project with a one on one interview with Executive Director Leslie Hervey! What better way to start my learning about Charlottesville’s very own shelter than by going straight to the women who does it all?

I made my way to the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA (CASPCA) on Monday just as the first flurries of snow started to come down. As I pulled into the driveway, I was delighted and relieved to see bundled up volunteers walking and playing with the dogs, despite the brutal teen temperatures. I wandered through the shelter, cooing at the cats and kittens in the hallway, and eventually found myself outside of Leslie’s office. After spotting me through the window, she quickly hurried out to greet me, exuding the brightness and warmth I so desperately needed on this snowy day. We settled into the couches in her office, accompanied by Hardy, a fluffy therapy cat, and began to chat about everything I should know about animal shelters and CASPCA. Here are some quick facts before I dive into our interview!

Hardy is Volunteer Coordinator Kaicee Robertson’s kittie. They recently become a registered therapy cat team in December, 2014

National Statistics vs. CASPCA Statistics

  • There are two types of animal shelters: open and limited admission. Open admission accepts all animals while limited admission accept animals based upon a predetermined selection criteria and based upon their available space.
    • The Charlottesville ASPCA is an open admission shelter, meaning that they accept animals from all different scenarios, including bite cases, seized animals, court ordered holds, and ill animals. Some of these animals come to the shelter with a predetermined destination of euthanasia, such as one’s that have been determined as dangerous by the state.
  • There are two ways to measure “No-Kill” in shelters. One is by using the Asilomar Accords measure where no healthy, adoptable animal is euthanized. However, it is up to each individual shelter to determine what that really means. The second is that a “no-kill” shelter should euthanize less than 10% of the overall intake of cats and dogs for the year.
    • CASPCA has met both definitions of No-Kill for almost 10 years
  • Approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs
  • Each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized. Of those, approximately 1.2 million are dogs
    1. The euthanasia national average for dogs is 31%
    2. The euthanasia CASPCA average for dogs is 2%
  • Approximately 2.7 million shelter animals are adopted each year, 1.4 million of those being dogs
    1. The adopted national average for dogs is 35%
    2. The adopted CASPCA average for dogs is 64%
  • There is no live release rate average (the total number of adoptions, transfers, and return to owners divided by total number of intake animals) because there is no national organization monitoring all shelters, so this statistic has not been collected
    1. CASPCA has been monitoring this statistic, and is proud to say that their live release rate for dogs is 97%, 95% total for all animals

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From the looks of these statistics, the Charlottesville ASPCA is doing PHENOMENAL! Not only do they provide a safe space for dogs and other stray animals, but they also provide so many additional services that make these animal’s lives exponentially better.

Here’s a look into my interview with Executive Director Leslie Hervey:

Executive Director Leslie Hervey
Executive Director Leslie Hervey

Can you tell me a little bit more about CASPCA?

“We are an open-admission shelter with an animal control contract. And we are a hybrid in that we have a vet clinic here. So the building is really divided up into three pods, one is the pound, which is now called the public shelter, the SPCA, and a full service veterinary clinic. There are four county animal control officers and one city animal control officers and they are amazing! They on average answer two calls for every one call a regular police officer does, and they are our hands into the world because they are so kind and humane oriented. They are working with people to try to get them to do the right thing for the animals.”

How would you describe what you do?

“I would say my primary function is fundraising. It takes such a big amount of money to keep the organization running. It’s a $3.5 million dollar operation and much more than $1 million dollars of that is raised every year. We do a lot of special events, fundraising, and grant writing. I have staff that does it as well, but I am the face of the organization, if you will, so a lot of times it involves me. After that, I would say it is management of people. It takes a lot of hands to take care of the animals; it takes a lot of volunteers. But the Executive Director has the ultimately responsibility for all of that.”

What is your background in animal shelters?

“I worked for the Martinsville Henry County SPCA for ten years. That was a private shelter, so we pulled from the two animal controls that were there fast enough to take them No-Kill. That was an exciting thing. We built dog parks in that community and had lots of support and happy people surrounding that organization, and Martinsville is still a leader in shelters in the state today.”

What’s your favorite thing about working CASPCA ?

“I get my pick of the animals! No, that can be dangerous; I already have six dogs and a cat from Martinsville! That’s your favorite part of the business, but it’s also the hardest part because your immediate answer to anything, especially for an animal that’s had a hard time, is to say you’ll take it home because you can guarantee it’ll have a happy rest of its life at your house! But that can’t be the answer. At some point you just have to say no; I haven’t reached that point obviously because I have six, but I’m trying!”

What challenges do you face at the shelter?

“I don’t have good emotional boundaries. I feel a lot of empathy for animals, and people but primarily animals. So I have a hard time making good decisions once I’ve looked into an animal’s eyes. My ability to judge and to understand an animal’s future once I’ve met and been with it is not as effective anymore. I have to work at that. Even when you understand that the best thing for the animal might be for it to be euthanized, it takes a bite out of you that you can’t replace. It wears you down a little bit, one at a time.”

Why do you think people should adopt a shelter dog?

“I don’t have any problem with responsible breeders. Before I got into the animal shelter business that’s where all of my animals came from. I had a Bouvier, you’re rarely going to find a Bouvier in a shelter! I was just unaware of the fact that there was so much more supply of animals than available homes. Hopefully everyone working in this industry is fixing that gradually. There are a thousand good reasons to adopt, whether you just want to do the right thing or give an animal who had a rough start a new home. Then there are the great selfish reasons. Where else are you going to go where you are going to see this variety of ages, weights, breeds, personalities? Puppy training is extremely hard, many times if you go to a shelter it’s already done! A lot of the times, what you see is what you get at a shelter. Even if you go get a puppy from a responsible breeder, you don’t know how that puppy is going to turn out; it’s just a baby! But if you adopt a little older of an animal, you know what it will turn into. You can come to CASCPA and I’ll let you take an animal home for the weekend to let you see how it’ll fit in. If it doesn’t fit in, you can take it back and try a different one! Where else do you get to do that?”

What are the most common misperceptions people have about shelter dogs?

“That they are damaged goods. Animals aren’t like people. They are terribly resilient, they are forgiving, they remember but they don’t dwell. So whereas a person might spend the rest of their life being angry because of something that happened to them their past, dogs don’t do that. They may flinch every time you raise your hand, but they don’t dwell on the fact that they came from a bad home where somebody beat them, they’re just grateful to have you and this good situation now.”

Do you ever get favorites in the shelter?

“I fall in love every day. There is so much happiness here; it’s not every minute of everyday, but 95% of the minutes are fabulous. There is so much joy, so many good outcomes, and it’s not just the animals that are getting such a better life but the people are getting such a better life. My favorite saying is that ‘A pet is the only true love money can buy’.”

I’ll be going in for my dog-walking shift this Thursday, so stay tuned for the first highlight of one of the shelter dogs!



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