Animal Shelter of the Week: Episode 43 – Peninsula Regional Animal Shelter

The Peninsula Regional Animal Shelter (PRAS) is a collaborative venture supported by four separate Hampton Roads communities: Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson, and York County. This “open-admission” shelter contains a full-service veterinary clinic for the shelter animals as well as the animal control offices. The mission at PRAS is to rehome the needy, reunite the lost and reeducate when needed.


Welcome to the ARPA Animal Shelter of the Week podcast where we introduce you to incredible organizations around the country that are focused on helping animals. We’re proud to be sponsored by Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal shelter.

The Peninsula Regional Animal Shelter (PRAS), located in Virginia, opened its doors in 2015 as a collaborative venture supported by separate Hampton Roads Communities. The shelter’s top priorities are to hold stray animals until they can be reunited with their owners, re-home owner surrendered pets, and facilitate pet adoptions. Hence their mission statement: “Re-home the needy, reunite the lost, and reeducate when needed.”

Hi, Bridgette, welcome to the show. Hi. Thank you so much for having me. Of course. I’m so excited to have you here with us today, and you know, learn a little bit more about your organization. So you’re the Shelter Coordinator for the Peninsula Regional Animal Shelter in Virginia. is that correct? Yes. So we are located in Newport News, Virginia, but we do serve four jurisdictions in our area. Oh, Okay, wow. So you guys work with a lot of other people and everything like that. So can you tell me a little bit about your organization and how you got started there? Sure. So we actually opened our doors January 5th of 2015. So we’re not quite five years old yet. And we took over for what the Peninsula SPCA had been doing for many, many years, probably 30 plus years. I’m taking in the public animals, the strays, owner surrenders, the animal control court holds. And that’s for Hampton, Newport News, York County and Poquoson. And so the SPCA was finally able to become a private nonprofit facility–much, much smaller in size. And we open our doors. It is a multi jurisdictional, but Newport News does kind of spearhead the facility, and we’re 30,000 square feet and we can hold up to about 300 animals in our facility on any given day, and we certainly are that full most of the time.

So you had mentioned that you guys were able to become a much smaller part of that, but you guys still serve four jurisdictions. Is that kind of like a hard thing to do? Or do you guys just find it? Just as easy as before? The SPCA, which is in the same city that we are. They were–I’m sure I didn’t work there when I actually worked for animal control of the time–But I didn’t work for that location. So I’m sure we’re incredibly tight on space because they were so small. I know that they had to have their owner surrenders on a wait list and then they would let them know when they could be brought in our facility because it is so much bigger theirs. We don’t have a wait list, we do accept under surrender seven days a week. That does become an issue with space at sometimes. But we do have lots of rescue partners and fosters and volunteers. So we try our very hardest to get the animals out the door in a positive way. You know, it sounds like you guys have a good setup and you guys kind of know your community pretty well and the needs.

So I’m kind of interested in that a little bit because I know that you have brought up that you guys accept the owner surrender seven days a week. So it strikes interest in me that that could be a common issue that you guys have within your community. Can you kind of share a little bit about that? Is that a challenge for you guys? Or how do you go about handling that? With us being the upper end of what we call Hampton Roads, we are probably one of the largest, if not the largest military areas in North America between Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Newport News and then just in our small area. We have many military bases, so military deployment and moving and degree location, you know, whatever the case may be, that is probably one of our big hang ups with people having to surrender, you know, even when they’re going overseas. And I’m an army brat. So I know the military will move your animals for you. I do know there’s quarantine, stipulations, and you know, different things that you have to arrange. But I’m finding more and more, and I’m sure you hear this often with Pit bulls, they’re banned in some countries. I don’t think any military installations take them, at all. That’s an issue that we have. The two military bases we have just here in our city do not accept Pit bulls on base, so that definitely is a problem. And while we’re trying to work through with the head of military out here. And then also general under-served areas, not having funds to find housing that allows pets and even if they do, can they afford the pet fee, the deposits, and just general–the care, your general triag-ing vet care? A lot of people can’t for that. And so, in lieu of the animal not getting any medical attention, they’ll surrender, which is probably in the long run, the better thing for the animal, that is all programs that were eventually gonna work towards on helping people keep their animals.

That’s new for me to listen to in here about, because we always hear, you know, the Pit bull epidemic right now, is just–it’s crazy. I will say it seems like it’s getting a little bit better. I find it kind of fascinating because I haven’t heard a challenge that kind of relates around the military, and it’s interesting to me because this is an issue that we hear about very often, and for me, I was not aware of stuff like this.

So thank you for sharing that, and I’m happy that you guys are aware of that. So what is the community like for your organization outside of the military aspect? Are you more rural? Or do you guys have, like, a lot of overpopulation issues? We have the York County and Poquoson, which that’s a little more on the rural side, you have larger acreage homes. There tend to be a little bit higher income in those areas. We don’t see nearly as much cruelty cases or running at large, animals that are brought in the strays. There are a sprinkling of—we have some, like lower income areas out there, but not much when you get into Hampton and  Newport News, there are some areas that, they’re not so bad. And then there’s the downtown, and that’s where you know, at least when I did animal control, those cities now have a no tethering laws. But when I was animal control, that was not the case. Those were kind of the areas that government assistance, and dogs out on chain, then trying to get the community to accept help, you know, and not that the dog catcher was coming to take your dog, you know, trying to get past those barriers and offer help and assistance and education. That’s probably the biggest thing is education. So it’s really a mix, and we do have, of course, I would probably say about 80% of the dogs that we take in are, have some sort of pit breed, it’s a big community based with Pit bulls. They’re obviously very much valued in the community out here. Then you get into, when we try to adopt them out a lot of like breed restrictions on like, rentals. So that’s definitely a hang up. There’s not a need for them or a want for them. We certainly have plenty of people that come in wanting Pit bulls. It’s that challenge and hurdle of getting over “well, landlord won’t allow it,” with leasing office for apartment.

And then hunting dogs, we do have a lot of–hunting is big out here. and so we do get in Beagles and the Walker Hounds. So those are probably the biggest groups of dogs that we get in. And then lots and lots of cats. We’re kind of split on that, too, with our four jurisdictions. We have two jurisdictions that are okay, like, government-wise, they are okay with the TNR. And the cats being self-sufficient. As long as there’s no, you know, medical care being provided or rabies shots, and things like that, you know, they can just run rampant. But then Newport News and Hampton, there’s definitely a lot of challenges with the government allowing–and by that I mean like City Council, when there’s laws and ordinances allowing TNR. So we’re starting to make some changes in a better direction. It’s just the cities have never had a government run shelter before, so everything’s new for everyone. And so now we get to kind of make things the way we would like to see it go. Like, we’re trying to work towards that direction, and we’re getting a lot of community support with that, whether it be veterinarians, our spay and neuter clinics, just local council people that are huge animal rights activists to help with that, because at this point we take in feral cats and a lot of shelters don’t do that, and we do. So a huge amount of our cat numbers are feral cats. And so, rather than just like taking them in and taking them in, you know, it would be nice to kind of stop that cycle, and so that would be spaying and neutering. So we’re working on that issue.

I kind of want to back up just a little bit because I know that you had mentioned that when you guys go and you know you’re trying to educate some of these pet owners with some of the issues, people are seeing that they are possibly, they’re mistreating their pet or not aware of something like that. When you say that you educate them, is that a program that your shelter offers? Our shelter itself has three missions. Re-home, reeducate, reunite. So the reeducation part is everything, in lieu of animals being surrendered to our facility. Let’s say it’s a behavior problem. The dogs chewing something up, the cats spraying. So we provide education. Whether it’s written material or, you know, just a phone conversation like this, myself  or our animal behavior coordinator on some tips and tricks. “Have you tried this? Have you thought about taking them to the vet?” We have trainers that are willing to donate their services. So we cut a field through what the needs are of that specific person, and that specific animal, and see what we could provide. And when I was out in the field–which animal control does work out of our facility. They are their own separate departments, but they do work in our shelter, so we work hand in hand. But when I was out in the field–and they still do this–whatever I could do to keep that animal in its home safely. There are certainly some situations where that animal needs to be removed, 100%. But if it’s a matter of lack of education, lack of money, like maybe they weren’t aware that the doghouse that they had wasn’t legal, you know things like that, like they’re trying. And maybe this is a dog or a cat that would not thrive well in a shelter, may not be a great adoption candidate, at least to the average person from outsider looking in, you know, like maybe they shouldn’t own an animal–probably not. But that animal, maybe all that person has, and that person might be old and so breaking families apart is never our intention.

What I could do to keep everybody safe, happy, healthy, and stay within the legal guidelines. And, you know, sometimes people, they have a lot of pride. They don’t know how to ask for help. They don’t know there’s help offered. And I mean, we even have programs in our area that offer free spaying and neutering. Oh, wow. Transportation to that surfaces. I mean, there’s all kinds of stuff, but a lot of people don’t know to ask, so they don’t know that those are services that are provided. And so we offer those links on our website. Anybody can call us. And if I can deter people from surrendering their pet and give them other options that they didn’t know existed, you know, just like when people have financial issues with family or her kids and they know there’s churches, that they can go to; food banks, that they can go. Yeah. Social services, and there are surfaces like that for animals. You just have to know where to look and what I ask. And we do have those in our area.

The fact that you guys take the time to try and educate these pet owners to keep their families together, because ultimately that’s what we want. And, like you said, a lot of people don’t realize the type of education that’s kind of needed when you care for a pet. It really warms my heart to hear that you guys are really trying to make a difference in your community, and the pet owners. And the fact that you guys offer if somebody needs, you know, pet sitter for a night or something along those lines. Is that something that’s offered by you guys? Are you guys just kind of have, like affiliates that, you know, people that offer like that kind of helped to pet owners? Both. So the Peninsula Pet Pantry, which is on–when I say this side of the water, we have the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel that kind of divides the east and west of Hampton roads–so this side of the water that we’re located on, the Peninsula Pet Pantry offers, and it’s not just food, it might be transportation to the vet. It could be a flea and tick medication. It could be the little lady that has meals on wheels that can’t get out and get her animal where it needs to go. We help with all of that and our shelter also takes in donations for the Peninsula Pet Pantry. So if somebody comes in, and let’s say, in lieu of surrendering animal, they just need a couple bags of dog food, you know, we give them what we have. And crates, and grooming supplies, coats for dogs.

And in PETA, which their headquarters, or national headquarters is right on the other side of the water. They provide straw for dogs that stay outside, cause that’s, you know, still very legal–dogs that stay outside vet care. They can also provide free euthanasia services, which that’s the bigger need than, I think, a lot of people know because it’s very expensive to euthanize your animal at a vet, at a private vet. And so there are people that need that service provided for their animal, rather than letting the animal die a very terrible, painful death. Yeah. So PETA does offer those service is at a very discounted rate, if not free. If the folks that need it can’t afford it, and they service this whole area here, so that is a huge resource that we send to people to. And then on the other side of the water, they have plenty of resources down there. And we do get phone calls from lots of people in the area just needing help, especially if they’re local SPCA or Humane Society does not accept owner surrenders. So they’re kind of stuck in a rut of what are they supposed to do this animal that they can no longer keep? And so even though our facility does not service their area, we certainly still give them plenty of resources on how to help.

I know that you shared a little bit of some of the challenges, but what issues would you say is the top challenge for your organization? Share with me a little bit about that. I would say, at this point, we are tax funded, so we are able to meet at least our very basic needs in the shelter, which is often. But we are not a 501(c)3, so fundraising, at times, can be quite challenging. So we are in the process now, I think one of our volunteers just submitted paperwork to become a nonprofit, and so we’re gonna have a “friends of” the Peninsula Region Animal Shelter. Oh nice! So yeah, so we will be able to fund raise and do a lot more things in the community that folks that aren’t necessarily affiliated with the shelter, in a financial way, can do. We’re gonna have like a Board of people, so they can kind of speak independently from the shelter but still provide a lot of support. So I think that that probably has been the biggest challenge in the last four years that we’ve been open–is our fundraising is very limited. We have to be, kind of, careful on how we ask for things. So, you know, now we’ll be able to branch out in so many more ways than we’ve ever been able to before, and do a lot more of the community outreach, which is what I’m passionate about personally.

So helping people that need our help, in lieu of, just bring it to the shelter. And then now it’s the taxpayers responsibility to take care of these animals and, you know, ultimately–and this is something that I had to wrap my head around in animal control. Yes, I can take that animal away from that owner, but what is stopping them from getting another? It’s just going to be this cycle. And should some people only own animals? 100% not, but there’s nothing stopping that from happening. So how can I make sure that if they’re going to get another one, that it’s done properly this time? And how can I better educate? And so community outreach and providing community assistance for people. And some people do get evicted or, you know, whatever the situation is. And then now they have to come up with this $300 pet deposit. That’s like they don’t have money for groceries. Yeah. Where are they gonna come up with that money? And these people come into our shelter, and I mean, crying. This is not like, you know, “Oh, I’m just returning my T shirt,” you know, they’re crying like this is their baby, that they have for 10 years or whatever, and they can’t take it because they don’t have the money. And it breaks my heart that we can’t help them with that.

So we’re kind of hoping that our 501(c)3 can now fund raise for things like that. You know, maybe, maybe they can apply, you know, and there might be some things that they have to do, maybe show income, stuff like that. But there’ll be an application process to help with things like this. So, you know, maybe there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. That sounds like it would be an amazing program for people. Because when you move in somewhere and it seems like the pet deposits are getting more and more expensive. Oh, yes. And that’s like asking somebody to pay for their kids to live there. And it’s terrible, and it is a huge issue right now. I’m excited to check in with you guys and see how, you know, if you guys were able to get the 501(c)3 and I think that would be an awesome program for you guys to offer.

So I know that you had said that you were a previous animal control officer, so clearly you’ve got some background in the animal rescue field. I do. Do you have any type of memorable stories that you can share with us? That kind of pushed you on your journey to get the role that you’re in now? I’d started volunteering with my local Humane Society back when I was like, 14. So that’s where—well, I grew up with the animals. So that’s where my passion had started. And then I got into horse rescue. And I’ve been with, you know, humane societies, animal welfare leagues, animal control department. And each job, kind of, lead into the next one. And so my passion was animal control in the sense of I mean, you certainly saw the worst of the worst. But the community outreach, that is where my passion is. And when I left to animal control in this city, I transferred over to a position at the shelter. We hadn’t even opened our doors yet. And it was brand new, and we were going to be able to make it whenever we want it. You know, like however we wanted to be present in the community. All of us that got hired with our different backgrounds were excited to get that started. And very soon after I started in that position, my current position became vacant, and it was the media, and the marketing, and the community outreach, and I was like, “Oh, this is it!” And it really is the perfect marriage of all of my background because I get to work with animal control directly, and the animals that are brought in as a result of that, plus folks needing help. And then I get to see the happy side too, with the animal adoptions.

So I do get to do both. And I, uhm, try to be judgment free you when I talk to people that need help. I mean, it’s hard, we’re humans. Yes. And, you know, after hearing the 20th story for the day, you kind of get, you know, a little worn down with it. But I have to remember that these people are calling because they have nowhere else to go. And I might be the only person that saves the day, you know. And maybe I don’t give them the answer they were hoping for, but at least they know what I’m saying. And I will never put an animal in a situation where they get dumped on the side of the road, or abandoned in an apartment that they’ve been evicted out of because people didn’t think they had an option. So I make sure I let everybody know what their options are, and it may not be the answer that we were hoping for. But at least they know what they need to do. So it’s just one animal job just kind of led into another. And I just kind of grew, as I got older and got along in life with the career path. And so I’ve been able to kind of merge all of my previous jobs, kind of, into one. I’m happy that you can share stories like that because I feel like it kind of shows hope for other animal lovers out there that, you get involved in smaller ways and then you build up from there. So thank you for sharing that with us. Oh, you’re very welcome. I do. I am very lucky that my job is my career and it is my passion. Absolutely.

Do you have any type of future vision for this organization that you’re currently with? We’re still really new. I mean, we’re still a baby. So every year we try to add to our programs and we’re still tweaking a lot of things. Like we just recently had a staff meeting and we were talking about possibly restructuring how our shelter operates with different management, taking over different programs. So we’re still trying to figure all of it out. What’s gonna work best? You know, when we first opened, I think our first year we did like 1,000 adoptions. And now we’re almost doing 2,500 year. Wow. Yeah, so it’s by volume. We have just exploded in intakes, but also in adoption. So having to manage these programs, bringing the volunteers on board. We actually just got $100,000 grant from PetCo to start up a foster program. We have been doing fosters, but not in the numbers that we need. So our grant funded position, we’re gonna be hiring a foster coordinator, that that’s what they do, on getting animals in and out of our shelter as quickly as possible and then potentially getting them adopted from fosters. So we can take more in, have a lot more positive outcomes. And, you know, some of these animals don’t show well. Yeah. In the shelter environment. And that alone is the reason they’re not getting adopted because their breed, or their age, or their behavior, because they could be amazing in a home. But you put him in a scary kennel and they act a certain way. But totally different. Yep, it’s a deterrent for people and then, like checking that box. It’s like “they’re a Pit bull, and now they act like this in the kennel, and this isn’t this”. So a lot of people just kind of pass over them. So if we can put them in a home environment and showcase them, what they look like in a home with a family, it’s gonna–the outcome’s gonna be completely different, and that’s gonna be happening very soon.

So that’s probably the newest thing that we have going on. And then I’m always running our adoption promotions, our events, and community connections. We’re always partying with other city departments. We have a huge police departments, we’re fantastic with them. And so we’re always like “how could we make it work for both of us? and getting more eyes on our animals?” I am always having group’s reach out, “how can they help?” And one of our local pinup groups, called the Hepcat Honeys, they do a lot of, like our vintage car shows around here, like they dress up here and they go out. So they asked, “how could they help the shelter?” And so they came and did a photo shoot of our animals and made a calendar. Oh wow. And they asked me to be in it. I was super excited. So I’m miss November, and so they donated their time. Their services, and so we finally got those coming off. And they’re 2020 calendars and all the proceeds go right back to the shelter.

That is amazing. I know, I mean, it was so cool to have—we always have, like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. And, you know, we have like these on schools. They’re always wanting to partner. But it’s really cool when somebody thinks outside the box of ‘how can they help?’ And so we have been getting a lot more–a musician asked about featuring our shelter in a music video. We get all kinds of really neat request, and so little by little, we’re starting to get out there and even get like, nationally known. We get phone calls from other states. We have people from Canada reach out. “How can they adopt?” So it’s kind of cool. That is so awesome to hear because I literally, like you said, like a pinup calendar-type-thing, and you don’t hear about stuff like that. So that is really neat. And I think that that helps you guys stand out in a unique way.

We have things in the works right now for potentially a drag show. Wow. Featuring dogs. I’m like, you know, I’m trying to get in with every community with how can we get people from certain aspects of our community, draw them into our shelter? And so we’re thinking drag show. We do have a very strong LGBTQ community out here, too. So we’d love to get them involved with the shelter. Yeah, I think that that would be a perfect way to do that.

So I’m curious. When I was scrolling through your guys’ Facebook a little bit. I clearly see you guys have dogs. You have cats. I saw in there that you guys have fish and also a duck as well. What kind of animals do you guys take in over there? Oh, my goodness. So everything. We don’t turn anybody away. So if we could make it work, we do. We don’t accept wildlife. Although in extreme circumstances we have taken them in. But we do have wildlife rehabbers, of course, the vet, and our park rangers. In the localities, you handle wildlife. If somebody brings in, I don’t know, let’s say a bird that was hit by a car or something, we will also take it in. But we take in farm animals. We have goats, pheasants and turkeys, and the list goes, so many bizarre things that you would never think. And then the fish thing. We don’t normally take fish like over the counter. We don’t take fish in. However, if animal control has to do, let’s say, an eviction or some sort of, you know, somebody was arrested and they have to go in and take the animals, the fish come too. So that’s usually how we end up with fish.

And then hoarding cases, that is another one. Usually all the animals are removed in the home, so it could be 80 rats. It could be aside from cats and dogs, we’ve taken in lots and lots of rats, mice, and I think that is just really uncontrolled breeding. Iguanas, all kinds of reptiles. And unfortunately, if you can buy it in a pet store or online, you know, eventually it’s probably gonna come in. But we do get like, really cool things like ferrets. That’s really cool. Yeah, so. You guys are like a jack of all trades over there with all the animals. That baffles me, like, how do you guys entertain such a variety of pets over there? Well, the neat thing is, and I will have to say every single staff member that we have–although we have a lot in common–we all have very different backgrounds. Quite a few of our staff have zoo background, so that has helped a lot with some of our exotics. A couple of our staff actually have, like, degrees in different, like biology, zoology, reptile.

So we seem like to always have somebody in the building who is well versed on whatever it is that we may have. Farm animals are kind of my thing, Like I said, I did horse rescue for a long time, so I’m very comfortable with that. Aside from dogs and cats, reptile’s not my thing. We’ve had, like, bird–what I would consider a bird expert. But for us, and then our veterinarian has a slew of critters at home, including some exotics. So she’s well schooled in the care. So we seem to make it work. We have taken in some very bizarre animals that almost immediately went to some sort of rescue or education because they weren’t gonna be good adoption animals. We actually have an organization out here called Viper, and they do a lot of public education with reptiles and exotics. So we kind of always seem to have some sort of resource around here that we’re able to reach out to. We have the Virginia Living Museum, and the Virginia Zoo here as well, too. So we were really lucky that way to have a lot of resources for help.

Before we wrap things up a little bit, how can one go about getting in touch with your organization? Whether it be to adopt or to volunteer, what do they need to know about getting in contact with you guys? Our website I do run that site, and I keep it up to date as possible as I can. There’s clickable links. There’s all kinds of ways to get in touch with us, whether it’s phone number, or email. I do also run our Facebook page, and I’m usually the one that answers that Facebook messages, so you can certainly get ahold of organization that way, and then our phone number is 757-933-8900. And then there’s a phone tree to get you where you need to go from there.

And we are open seven days a week from 8 to 5 for folks to look for their lost animal, turn an animal in, or bring a stray in that they have found. And then our adoption hours, we’re open every day but Tuesday. So six out of seven days we’re open for adoptions from noon to five, and we’re always keeping our doors open, you know. Like if we’re going to take them in as often as we are, we can get them out as often. And we’re always willing to help. I mean, somebody if somebody just really needs help with whatever the animal problem is, of course, we can’t offer vet or medical help because we’re not veterinarians, but we can certainly help point people in the right direction. But there’s always somebody in our building that is well schooled and whatever the issue is and help, and I think a lot of people they just need someone to talk to and not feel judged. Cause a lot of the issues that I think people run into are financial, and that’s embarrassing for a lot of people, and especially they don’t want to feel like they’re doing the wrong. We want them to bring their animal to us. We want them to ask for help, and so I don’t want people to ever feel like that’s not an option for them. We know how tough it is, and I think a lot of us in the animal field have been there. I didn’t make the smartest decisions when I was younger with things, you know. Yeah, I don’t think any of us did. No looking back, I’m like “I did some knucklehead things,” you know, back in the day and knowing what I know now, you can’t judge people for things they did. Yeah, it’s a learning process, too.

Yeah, there’s ignorance and there’s education, and you know, some people just don’t know, and they need help know. So anybody is welcome to call and ask questions or ask for help or how we can help them, and they don’t even have to live in the four cities we serve. Now, they do have to live in the four cities for us to take their animal in. Yes. But they don’t have to for help. We can certainly–or even get them in touch with whoever’s in their locality, you know. Maybe we know who to ask or where to look to get them. The whole thing. It’s amazing that you guys are even willing to offer that, you know, even know these people may not be in your community or anything like that. The fact that you guys are still willing to help them truly makes you guys stand out and it makes you guys unique, and especially you. I can tell you have a passion for helping people and helping animals. And I thank you for that. And I think that you are gonna go very far. I think you already have. I would love to check back in with you in a few months and see how you’re doing. Absolutely. That would be wonderful. I would love to see how far we are able to–with things and how fast we can get the ball rolling in that. Because we all have a lot of great ideas, we’re ready to get off the ground. Yeah, I would say so.

So, Brigette, is there anything else that you’d like to share before we wrap things up? Just follow our Facebook page. Very active and anything that who we knew, with us, or how we are in the community, it’s going to be on there, so definitely follow our Facebook page. Alrighty, well, our listeners heard that, and we look forward to connecting with you in the future. All right, thank you so much. I really appreciate you looking into our animal shelter and our whole thing. Of course, thank you for joining me.

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