Saturday, July 20th, 2024

Portsmouth Humane Society Story


Caring for the most helpless among us

by Rob Lauer

When driving home at night, who hasn't had to unexpectedly hit their brakes because a stray dog or cat has suddenly darted into the road in front of them? While one might momentarily resent the inconvenience of stopping or slowing down, reasonable people realize the animals themselves are not to be blamed. In a world that is dominated by technology, animals are remarkably at a disadvantage. While wild animals can retreat into the remaining wildernesses, preserves, and parks, domesticated animals have no such advantage. Our dogs, cats, and other pets are utterly dependent upon us for survival. They are, in fact, among the most vulnerable members of our society- all the more so because they cannot speak for themselves.
ong before Pearl S. Buck famously wrote, "The test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its most helpless members," the Portsmouth Humane Society was working tirelessly to care for abandoned, abused, and sick animals. Chartered initially on August 22, 1889, as the  "Women's Humane Society of Virginia," its objective was, "The prevention of cruelty to dumb animals and children and the cultivation of kindness and mercy to every living creature, and to aid by all proper manners the enforcement of the law in respect to such matters."

During its early days, the society focused its energies on making sure that the local laws against animal cruelty were vigorously enforced. The society placed books of complaint in various stores throughout Portsmouth. If anyone witnessed cruelty to animals or children, they could cite the circumstances in these books, and the matter would be taken before the court. Surviving records indicate that this system seemed to work. Those accused of cruelty or neglect were brought to court and reprimanded or fined.

Over the years, as the society's work expanded and changed, so did its name. In 1947, it was incorporated as the Portsmouth/Norfolk County Humane Society. Concerned about the poor conditions of the city's pound, the society petitioned the Portsmouth City Council to make improvements. In 1959, the City of Portsmouth did away with its pound and contracted the society to care for animals brought in by its Animal Control Officers. This harmonious relationship with the city continues to the present day. The Portsmouth Humane Society now serves as the public shelter for the City of Portsmouth. In December 2011, the society moved into a beautiful new facility in the industrial park off Greenwood Drive, which has the capacity to shelter 110 cats and 90 dogs- a total of 200 animals.

"During my years
of working in animal welfare,
one of the things
I've always found encouraging
is the number of people
who genuinely care about animals."
- Alison Fechino,
          Portsmouth Human Society Director

A wide variety of cats and dogs are waiting to be adopted by their forever families.

A wide variety of cats and dogs are waiting to be adopted by their forever families.

As the world has become more enlightened regarding animal welfare, the work of the Portsmouth Humane Society has evolved beyond merely ending abuse to promoting services that promote animal welfare and health. Among the most meaningful of those services are animal adoptions, which place homeless dogs and cats in loving families. The society also connects people with affordable healthcare for their pets- including low-cost spay/neuter and vaccine services. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the work of the society continues.

"We are still providing the same services that we have always offered," Portsmouth Humane Society Director, Alison Fechino notes. "People just need to call ahead and make an appointment before coming in. There are a few exceptions. We are managing our pet intake carefully. If a person has a medical condition or is in a financial situation that makes it impossible for them to provide needed care, we will accept the pet. If a pet has behavioral issues that make it dangerous, and the person thinks the situation is urgent, then, of course, we'll take the pet. We will still accept stray pets."

"We continue to offer adoptions," Allison continues. "In fact, we are doing more adoptions percentage-wise than we were doing at this time last year. Currently, we have 160 animals here, which is actually down from last year at this time; but the need is still great. Knowing that some people may have challenges in getting food for their pets, we recently had a drive-through pet food pantry. We had 2,200 pounds of food available, and it was distributed to those who were struggling to feed their pets."

Portsmouth Humane Society is dedicated to finding families to adopt the animals in its care

Portsmouth Humane Society is dedicated to finding families to adopt the animals in its care

"Looking ahead, we are concerned because we have had to cancel so many of our annual fundraisers due to the shutdown and COVID-19," Allison explains. "We rely very heavily on financial donations. Because of the economic downturn, we know that people may not be able to help us because of changes in their personal financial situation. We sincerely appreciate any donations that people are able to make. One way that people can help is to share information about us on social media. We're asking everyone to spread the word about the society and its programs online. People may not realize how much good can come from them mentioning us in a Tweet or posting a link to our website on their Facebook page."

"Of course, we are always accepting donations for our food pantry," Allison points out. "We accept any food, dried or canned, as long as it has not been opened.  In the past, we also accepted items such as used linen, but out of safety concerns due to the virus, we aren't accepting them at this time."

"During my years of working in animal welfare, one of the things I've always found encouraging is the number of people who genuinely care about animals," Allison observes. "Especially during the recent shutdown, we have had so many people ask how they can help us. We have a very supportive community of shelters throughout Hampton Roads. Anything that people do to support animal shelters in their local community really benefits all of us. If the humane society in one city runs out of a particular item that they need, the humane society in another city will usually give it to them. We all work very closely with one another. Everything we do is for the benefit of the animals."

Portsmouth Humane Society

4022 Seaborard Ct.
Portsmouth, VA 23701