In a city of 28,000, with a surrounding county of more than 111,000 what is an animal rescue supposed to do to balance the needs of the community and the needs of homeless animals? One rescue in Virginia has it pretty well down pat and has conquered a few growing pains we can all learn from along the way.
Fredericksburg Regional SPCA, or FREDSPCA for short, is a non-profit, no-kill humane organization located in Fredericksburg, Virginia. FREDSPCA is not affiliated with any other animal care agency and contrary to some thoughts, receives zero funding from those heartbreaking, make you change the channel quick, animal commercials on television. FREDSPCA funds their entire operation by the goodwill, effort and generosity of their community.
As a resident of said community I have been following FREDSPCA over the last two years and have seen the impact their organization has had on animal welfare in the region. This includes seeing their development and maintenance of such great programs as their Pet Pantry, which supports local pet families experiencing financial hardship and their annual participation in the nationwide adoption event know as Clear the Shelters. With such great programs as these and the amount of outreach and life saving opportunities they provide I had to find out more about what makes this place so successful, so, I interviewed some of the amazing staff members at FREDSPCA to include Deputy Director Dalia Salah, Foster and Placement Coordinator Sarah Chiles and Community Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator Candi Armstrong.
When I visited FREDSPCA I was warmly greeted in the lobby by staff and immediately saw some of the friendly felines that FREDSPCA has up for rescue. This lobby area plays an integral role in placing cats into forever homes for FRED. Deputy Director Salah gleaned with pride in reporting that since FREDSPCA moved cats into the entry way a year and a half ago FRED has seen an unbelievable decrease in the length of stay for cats at the rescue from 200 days to 30 days on average. The exposure in the lobby has given way to 150 cat adoptions and has contributed to the decrease in illness among the rescue’s remaining cat population.
Moving through the rescue building you are met with the cat condos. This is where felines stay, play and sleep in rooms surrounded with items like fan favorite the Tuna Can Bed and warm blankets. Past the cats you start to see dogs available for adoption. Greeting me were multiple precious pups who were happy to be in a safe place, but certainly ready for their own mom or dad. The FRED team is proud of the facility they have created, but there are improvements they would like to see, and hopefully over time, with generous donations, they will be able to make the building even more conducive to animal rescue.
As an avid social media follower of FREDSPCA, using their Facebook and Instagram pages respectively, it was amazing to see the animals in person. FRED’s social media is constantly booming and followers can see the dedication they put into pulling animals at risk of euthanasia, as well as those with dire medical needs from Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Washington, DC. FREDSPCA and Ruffugees certainly promote spaying and neutering all pets as FREDSPCA sees high populations of feral cats in Washington, DC and hounds from King George County, VA for example. Deputy Director Salah says that over time FRED has built a network of shelters to work with as partners in animal rescue. FRED receives 10 to 15 requests each day to pull animals from shelters in the Mid-Atlantic. On average, the animals that FRED rescues cost the rescue between $60 and $300 each (for a healthy animal). They leverage what they have for resources and rely on volunteers to help with transports, fostering and finding adopters.
With seeing such a great number of adoptions through FRED I asked them for some input and wisdom for potential adopters. FREDSPCA offered some great advice: familiarize yourself with the body language of animals, adopt adults, adopt kittens in pairs and have an open mind, heart and home. FREDSPCA has seen animals returned in the past because the relationship between owner and animal started a bit rough as expectations may not have been met. So, when you adopt an animal it is suggested that you bring them home and introduce them in a neutral area, giving them time to acclimate, as it will take time for them to relax and feel safe. And when in doubt, ask! FREDSPCA says the lines of communication are always open. They have seen a lot in their day and are always willing to offer advice.
So, how do they do what they do? From what I could see in my short time at FREDSPCA, it’s the people! Between the staff and youth and adult volunteers FRED was crawling with people who love animals. Community Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator Armstrong, who coordinates FRED’s newly minted Compassionate Care Camps for elementary, middle and high school students, reported that they simply “Couldn’t complete the work without volunteers." They see the majority of their volunteers during the week and they have recently seen an increase in large groups of volunteers from businesses or organizations. Volunteers not only walk dogs and interact with cats, but they “fill the gaps." FREDSPCA said their volunteers are truly helpful in accomplishing tasks that sometimes get placed on the back burner, but are so important to the functioning of the organization, such as sorting donations or folding towels. Volunteers also play a huge role in animal transports, which are vital to rescue work. Community Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator Armstrong personally finds it “inspiring to see” these transports take life through volunteers.
FREDSPCA is also very proud of the fact some of their adoption events are run solely by volunteers. These are private citizens investing their free time to ensure animals can be paired with the best caretaker possible. FREDSPCA has seen an impressive response from the youth of the greater Fredericksburg area, too. The Team reports they have encountered youths in the community who rival any adult with their knowledge of animal welfare. FREDSPCA stated they believe wholeheartedly the youth of the community are the future of the Fredericksburg Regional SPCA.
FRED not only relies on people, but donations. They must support their rescue with supplies needed for healthy and happy animals. FREDSPCA expressed that the number one item they need is, no surprise here, food! Food is a priority at FRED and they take all kinds, including dry and wet. If there is ever an abundance of food FRED is not afraid of sharing with other shelters in the area or adding to their Pet Pantry. I asked FRED what else can they benefit from that the community might not think of? Foster and Placement Coordinator Chiles quickly responded: “Office supplies!” FRED needs office supplies to function and they are forever running low. The number one office supply they need though? Plain white copy paper. If you are interested in donating office supplies to FRED Deputy Director Salah suggested a great time to purchase and donate would be during back-to-school season. Picking up those extra pack of pens, pack of paper or pack of sticky notes can go a long way for FRED. They also feature Wishlist Wednesday on their social media, which has generated a following across also the world to include receiving donations from individuals living internationally.
When asked how they are so successful, the modest group responds they still have so much to do and improve upon. Deputy Director Salah explains FREDSPCA tries to be “As welcoming, open and transparent as possible.” She states, “We love it here. We want everyone else to, too.” FREDSPCA staff anticipates big things for the future of the rescue. They would like to maintain their steady growth through open and honest, name with a face, conversations and be a one-stop shop for all things rescue. Foster and Placement Coordinator Chiles stated “We are not afraid to make mistakes.” They do not mind testing the boundaries of what works for animal rescue and the community and they encourage feedback. They only want to continue to grow as a rescue and the feedback they have received in the past has been tremendously helpful and has only increased their effectiveness.
There you have it, FREDSPCA is the quintessential American animal rescue. They have a small feel with a big heart and are here to stay.
Tell me about your neighborhood rescue! Who are they? What are some of the programs they offer? Can’t wait to hear from you!
See you on the wild side,