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New Rule for Strays Raises Concern

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"As of Monday there were 50 dogs," says Crittenden, who also works with the animal-welfare group Homeless Animals Protection Placement and Education (HAPPE).

This spring, shelter officials set limits on the amount of time some animals were allowed to stay at the pound. After a period of evaluation, unidentified animals considered to be unadoptable — for example, because they are sick or aggressive — and that have not been claimed may be euthanized after 30 days.

The new 30-day holding policy is necessary, shelter officials say, because with 6,000 animals coming through the shelter annually and only 90 cages or "runs," overcrowding has been a problem.

"What we had done in the past is hold the animals indefinitely," says Maj. Warner Williams with the Chesterfield Police Department, which oversees operation of the shelter. He adds: "It's legitimate to ask how long is too long. … You've got a shelter of a certain size and capacity."

State law mandates that Virginia shelters hold unidentified dogs and cats for five days; animals with collars must be held for 10 days. Most shelters extend this length of time. In Henrico, for example, animals that come to the shelter without a collar are held for nine days, while those with a collar are held for 13 days.

But that doesn't mean the animals are euthanized after 13 days, says Command Sgt. Al Dowdy of the Henrico animal shelter. Instead, he says, most are then put up for adoption or are taken by other animal groups that find homes for them.

Thomas Chatman, director of Richmond's animal shelter, could not be reached by press time for comment.

Crittenden says the 30-day rule curbs adoptions. She cites a Lab-mix dog named Marco that had been healthy but remained at the shelter for months. After numerous requests to the shelter for the dog's paperwork, Crittenden says her group, HAPPE, finally took possession of Marco and had him adopted in four days. "The 30-day rule is not the answer," Crittenden says curtly.

But Williams says it could be, in part. "We're monitoring it every week," he says. He points out that the shelter aims to find homes for as many animals as possible. Soon, he notes, the shelter will work with the Chesterfield Humane Society to become the first area municipal shelter to offer a spay-and-neuter clinic on-site.

"I'm not totally satisfied 30 days is the answer. But by law we've got to take in every animal," Williams says. "We don't get to pick and choose."

— Brandon Walters

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