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September 10th, 2012
September 10th, 2012

Rebel With A Cause!

Penny Stone & BCSPCA

Penny Stone getting her morning cuddle!
Penny Stone getting her morning cuddle!
Photo credits: Kathryn Weese Photography

Imagine arriving at work at 7 a.m., only to find somebody has left a cardboard box of kittens or puppies at the front door.   And the heart-stopping panic when you realize the lid of the box is open.  How many of the little ones have scrambled out while waiting for the shelter to open?  A frantic search for escapees in the gardens, the parking lot and the road starts right away, just in case. kittens in a basket On occasion, this is how Penny Stone, Manager of Victoria´s SPCA shelter begins her work day.  

Stone has absolutely no idea what her day will bring when she arrives at the shelter.  She tries to arrive early so she can get her dreaded paperwork completed before doors open to the public.  Meetings and reports, not her favorite.  Following up on a tip made by a member of the public about an animal in need, in a heart beat.  Helping rehabilitate an animal that has suffered from neglect or abuse, anytime.  Liaising with community partners and arranging for health care for those already in the shelter, gladly. Accepting arrivals to the shelter from other agencies or locations, without hesitation.  Stone even helps with feeding and cleaning cages.  She epitomizes the term ´hands on management´.  
RabbitStone has never taken the easy road.  She was originally recruited to join the SPCA but quit after a week of working at the shelter.  Thus began a courtship process with the SPCA that eventually wound up with her accepting her current role as Manager. When Stone took over management, operations in Victoria were very different. It amazes her that ten years later, members of the public still think they can arrive with an animal they no longer want and get it euthanized. Stone has developed a dynamic team of staff and volunteers who epitomize her guiding principle: “Did we do the right thing for the animal?” The shelter currently has 282 animals, but has been known, at times, to house up to 400.  Visitors might find chickens crated in the bathroom during a busy period.  Crowded and hectic, but at the same time ordered and clean.  However, there is never a moment when work can´t stop for a few minutes to show an animal, starved for affection, the human touch.

This exemplary focus on well-being has been a mixed blessing.  It has garnered the Victoria branch a reputation as a place of extraordinary compassion, enough that one couple drove from Lytton, B.C. hoping the shelter would save their dog who crawled home after being shot a number of times.  Other organizations will forward their animals to Victoria because they know, if any shelter can find a permanent home for the animal, Victoria´s SPCA will.  As Stone summarizes, “We adopt out about 1000 dogs a year, 1500 cats, and 500 small animals and we probably do more medically than all the other SPCA´s in the Province.”  The longest time a dog has waited at the shelter for a permanent home is 2 years. Dog in KennelStone acknowledges some animals are unlikely to ever be adopted, despite her best efforts. Stone never gives up, but also recognizes there will be animals living out the remainder of their natural life within the SPCA.  Sometimes situations arise where what is best for the animal requires a creative interpretation of SPCA´s guidelines.  Stone has been known to take that risk and the flak that follows, if it is in the animal´s best interests.  

The issue of abuse and neglect is another matter.  Victoria´s SPCA branch does have a Cruelty Department that conducts investigations.  Stone knows successful resolution of such situations is dependent upon strict adherence to established legal protocol.   For Stone, intentional abuse or neglect is reprehensible, but she also acknowledges there are situations - hoarders, for example - where a degree of understanding is necessary, as the people involved are unwell.   It is always Stone's hope that abuse and neglect cases can be resolved through education.  However, when legal charges are warranted, there is no hesitation, “The number one thing we ask for when charging people is a ban on owning animals in the future.”  Her greatest frustration is the lack of support received from the court system because either Crown Counsel declines to prosecute or the outcome of a Court case provides little in the way of a financial or personal deterrent.  

“Ninety percent of the animals we take in here are owner surrender and the rest are abuse cases.” states Stone.   In most cases the reason behind the surrender can be summed up in two words “human error”.  The kids who managed to convince their parents to get a dalmation because they loved the movie 101 Dalmations. The street person who decides to enter rehab and can´t take along their dog.  The family that bought a puppy over the summer for the kids, and now that everyone is back at school and work, have found the dog is destroying the house because of separation anxiety. The Navy servicemen who can´t find people on base to take care of their animals now that they are being shipped out for several months.  But more disturbing, are the people who return to the SPCA several times over the years, each time surrendering a different animal.  A huge part of the shelter´s focus is on prevention through education.  Summer day camps and school programs are run so kids learn empathy for animals.  Talks on Reserves are given as a means of altering perceptions.  Counselling prospective adoptive owners about an animal´s character or a breed trait so they select the right pet for their home.   The shelter will always accept an animal back, but staff aim for the right adoption the first time around.
White KittenWhite Puppy

Stone´s passion for the animals serves as a magnet for drawing in community assistance.  Over 100 active volunteers help the SPCA with everything from newsletter preparation to helping with special events to twice daily dog walks. “So many of our animals lives are saved because of our volunteers.” Stone states proudly.  Shelter staff also work with five or six Reservations that permit, once a year, a round up stray dogs.  Huge reductions in the feral cat population are a result of joint efforts between the shelter and several groups who trap the animals for spay and neutering before being re-released. Pacific Coastal airlines transported, free of charge, 500 animals to Victoria´s shelter last year. Two local veterinarians - Dr. Chris Forbes and Dr. Alastair Bryson - provide a discount when helping with the shelter´s medical needs.  Elsewhere in the province, SPCA shelters routinely receive discounts of 30 - 40% from local veterinarians for the work they do, but this is not the case here in Victoria.  Considering the SPCA does not receive any government funding and is reliant upon the goodwill and generosity of the local community, the lack of support from the remainder of the Victoria veterinary community is startling.
Cost of CaringLeash Room

What does the future hold? Stone expects the educational work being done today will continue to pay dividends for the future. Already, in her 10 years at the helm of the Victoria branch, she sees positive changes in attitude towards owning and training animals.  Locally, Stone´s team is working towards ending the sale of animals in pet stores, a growing movement that has already had success in some major Canadian cities. Current efforts, both in Victoria and across the Province, are focused on changing the legal status of animals from 'property' to 'sentient beings.'  Such a change will bring animals many rights and protection under the law and the penalties for their abuser will be more difficult to avoid.

Penny Stone

In the meantime, Stone enthuses
 “Victoria is the best place in the world because people will always take our animals.”

NOTE: This article was featured in the Pet Loss Care - Creating Memories Newsletter - would you like to automatically receive our newsletter via email? If so, sign up here!

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