2016 Award Winners

Congratulations to the VFHS award winners for 2016.  Our recipients received recognition at our awards ceremony on April 1, 2016 during the VFHS Annual Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia.

advocacy AWARD - Stacey Norris

The Advocacy Award is presented to a person or organization who has made significant improvements in animal welfare on a policy level.  This award recognizes those who influence and instigate changes within a private organization, to local ordinances, or to state or national legislation. This year, the Advocacy Award was presented to Stacey Norris.

 Stacey Norris is co-president of Voices for Animals and founder of the Houses of Wood & Straw (HOWS) Project.  Since 2008, Houses of Wood & Straw has been committed to providing adequate shelter, food, water, toys and other comforts to approximately 80 dogs each year (and other species).   Her team works hard to develop relationships with, and to educate, animals’ owners. Thanks to Stacey’s efforts, in February 2011, the Albemarle County’s board of supervisors unanimously approved significant improvements to the county’s animal ordinances, including a ban on heavy chains and higher standards for sheltering outdoor dogs.  Anyone who has attempted to strengthen animal protection ordinances or legislation knows what a daunting, uphill battle it is.  

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AYRSHIRE AWARD - Loudoun community cat coalition

This award is presented to Loudoun Community Cat Coalition for their significant contribution in reducing pet overpopulation through spay and neuter services and other resources throughout their community.

Since in 2014, the Loudoun Community Cat Coalition has provided outreach programs to the public, partnered with rescue groups and veterinarians, and held free TNR spay/neuter clinics for feral cats.  They have brought several local and national rescue organizations, the veterinary community, and the local animal control together to unite efforts to solve overpopulation and help community cats. The Coalition has also developed educational programs for the public and training sessions for volunteers who help with clinics and trappings. The latest spay/neuter clinic included 159 cats from 35 different trap sites. Volunteering their services were 13 veterinarians and 70 volunteers, and 10 different animal welfare groups were represented.  Most recently, the Coalition launched a new program called “Fix Me Now” to offer rescue groups and community members access to affordable and accessible TNR services.  

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Bravo AWARD - alice ann blevins

This year's recipients of the Bravo Award is Alice Ann Blevins for her outstanding leadership to promote animal welfare in her community.

 Alice Ann was a founding member of the SPCA of Martinsville-Henry County.  In 1974, she and a group of humane, animal-loving citizens formed the organization, and over the years she has selflessly donated both her time and money to its efforts.  She has run several projects and programs, including a Pet Therapy and “Read to the Paw” program where children improve their reading skills by reading to and interacting with shelter dogs.  Alice Ann also established Fido’s Finds & Kittie’s Kollectibles, a volunteer-run thrift shop that serves as a major fundraiser for the SPCA of Martinsville-Henry County, raising over $40,000 in 2015.  The SPCA of Martinsville-Henry County may not exist if it weren’t for Alice Ann’s dedication.

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Companion Award - Shady Briggs 

The Companion Award was established to honor an animal who has made a tremendous contribution to human lives, and who exemplifies the strength and value of the human/animal bond.  This award is presented to an animal that has provided a benefit to its human companion or community through saving, preserving, or improving human life. This year, the Companion Animal Award is being given to Shady Briggs.

 Shady Briggs was adopted by his family from Ring Dog Rescue in 2007.  He was a great addition - a young spry, adventurous guy - and for many years he and his family were happy and healthy.  But in August of 2014, his human mom, Christy, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Soon after, he developed mast cell cancer on the left side of his body, the same side as Christy’s cancer.  But both he and Christy were fighters, and cancer wasn’t going to beat either of them.  Christy says that Shady’s love, the comfort they gave each other, and having him by her side got her through the very worst days.  He is now 9 years old, and is still a loving companion to Christy and their family.  Both remain cancer free to this day. 

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compassion AWARD - Anicira veterinary center

This annual award is presented to an Active Member organization that has demonstrated strong leadership qualities and whose accomplishments reflect the Federation's goal of eradicating the euthanasia of healthy and treatable dogs and cats in the community.  The 2016 Compassion Award was presented to Anicira Veterinary Center.

Since Anicira has been in the Rockingham-Harrisonburg area, the staff has performed over 137,000 spay and neuter surgeries and intakes at the local SPCA have decreased by 45%.  In addition, Anicira has expanded its services and now provides essential veterinary care and dental work to lower income families at affordable prices.  This January, Anicira also successfully spearheaded the effort to out an anti-tethering ordinance in place in Harrisonburg.  In addition to these accomplishments, they have started a dog foster/adoption program that gives Rockingham-Harrisonburg residents a no kill surrender option for rehoming their pets. 
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Humanitarian AWARD - officer stephanie cherry-rupert &                                                                                Officer sheila irving

This annual award is presented to an animal control officer who has made a significant positive impact on the image of the animal control profession within his or her community, established positive relationships and maintained safety and health within his or her community, and demonstrated overall excellence in the performance of his or her job. This year, the Humanitarian Award was presented to two recipients, Officers Stephanie Cherry-Rupert and Sheila Irving.

By all accounts, Officer Stephanie Cherry-Rupert is wholeheartedly dedicated to her job and performs at the highest standards of professionalism.  Unfortunately, in August of 2014, she was seriously injured while on duty.  She reported to the scene of an incident involving seven dogs attacking a man and his pet.  She conducted an extensive investigation and ultimately obtained seizure orders for the animals involved in the attack.  During the owner surrender, and due to no fault of her own, Officer Cherry-Rupert was viciously attacked and bitten in the face, tearing her lower lip.   She remained calm and responded appropriately.  She is likely to have permanent scarring, and the incident caused her to need time off from her ACO position.  However, she was ultimately able to overcome her fears and return to work with the same dedication she had before the attack.  Today, Officer Cherry-Rupert continues to go above and beyond by both helping animals in need, and educating people about the Norfolk Police Department’s animal protection unit.
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Officer Sheila Irving began her career with the city of Virginia Beach in 1985 as a caretaker for animal control.  In 1988, she was promoted to animal control officer.  During her 30 plus year career in animal control, she led the fight to allow ACO’s in Virginia Beach to earn overtime and authored a portion of the animal cruelty law that gave ACOs the ability to obtain felony warrants.  In the recent past, Officer Irving was given the unfortunate task of investigating a pit bull left with its mouth muzzled, its legs duct taped together, and body set on fire. While the dog did not survive, she thoroughly investigated this horrific crime, and never gave up despite several challenges.  Through her outstanding commitment to justice, and determination that this poor dog’s death would not go unnoticed, Officer Irving was able to get the depraved person responsible for these acts prosecuted and found guilty on three charges. Because she put in time, effort, and hard work that others may not have, this tortured dog was given a voice.
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longevity AWARD - elaine miletta

The Longevity Award is new in 2016, and is presented to an individual or organization that has shown dedicated service to animal welfare for more than a decade.  The recipient’s contributions may be in any form, whether it be working for policy change, sheltering, reducing euthanasia, or any other efforts which exhibit exemplary dedication to improving the lives of companion animals over a significant amount of time.   The 2016 Longevity Award was presented to Elaine Miletta. 

Elaine Miletta has been a leader in the Fairfax animal welfare community for over 40 years.  She is President of the cat rescue, Animal Allies, and the spay/neuter group, Pets Ltd.  She was also a founding member of the Fairfax Shelter Advisory Commission which was formed to address concerns about the treatment of animals in the local shelter.  In addition, after recognizing the extent of the homeless animal problem, Elaine established a rescue group with the primary purpose of spaying and neutering animals, and purchased a surgical van to accomplish that goal.  She holds weekly clinics serving low income clients and many in the community involved in TNR.  Each year, her organization alters over 2,000 cats.  Elaine has also played an integral role in the humane deer spay project that began in Fairfax in 2013.  

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This award is presented to an individual who has devoted significant time and effort to improving the lives of companion animals through volunteer work in his or her community.  The recipient of this award exemplifies the value of compassion, and is tirelessly devoted to those animals living in unfortunate circumstances, whether they are in a shelter, on the streets, or in unfortunate private ownership situations.  This year, the Outstanding Volunteer Award was presented to Marnie Russ.

 Marnie Russ has volunteered with the Animal Welfare League of Arlington for nearly 10 years. She started off volunteering in the cat room, and fell in love with fostering, especially the fragile bottle babies.  As the owner of a lobbying firm, she began to mold her professional life around animal welfare.  She started working with the federal relations division of the ASPCA, traveling to developing countries to assist in spay/neuter programming in under-served areas, as well as joining Feline ORE and traveling to shelters to teach about neonatal care.  Marnie was named AWLA’s Volunteer of the Year in 2015, and she fostered her 100th animal last November.  

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TNR hero AWARD - meredith buist

As you know, the prevalece of feral cat communities has garnered great attention in the media and the General Assembly in recent years.  It is one of the biggest challenges faced by the animal welfare community.  The TNR Hero award was created to give special recognition to those who work tirelessly to address the problem in a humane manner.  This award is given to a person or organization that has devoted extensive time and rescources to promoting participation in trap-neuter-return efforts in the Commonwealth.  The 2016 TNR Hero Award was presented to Meredith Buist.

 Meredith Buist came to the Lynchburg community in 2011.  She is now a full-time volunteer with the Lynchburg Humane Society, where she devotes her days to trapping feral cats and bringing them to the Humane Society’s Spay/Neuter Clinic.  She also provides assistance and education to citizens with respect to trapping techniques and working with feral cats.  Meredith has helped the cat population in the Lynchburg area more than any other individual.  Since she began, she has singlehandedly captured, obtained veterinary care, and returned approximately 1,500 feral cats to their communities.       

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 veterinary partnership AWARD - Dr Roy barnes

The Veterinary Partnership Award was established to recognize a veterinarian who gives time and services to promote animal welfare in conjunction with an agency that provides direct care to animals.  This award is presented to a veterinarian who donates services and support to a local animal care and control, animal shelter, or rescue group in its effort to provide free or low cost veterinary care for homeless and abused animals.  This year, the Veterinary Partnership Award was presented to Dr. Roy Barnes.

Over the last decade, Dr. Barnes has repeatedly gone above and beyond to help not only owned animals, but also those in rescue and local shelters.  As a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon, he has taken on the hardest of surgical cases with honesty, integrity, and compassion.  Dr. Barnes literally gives life and limb back to those in need, and is always willing to make time to help.  He has come into work on his days off, stayed late, and seen many a sheltered animal at no charge. He does not discriminate based on size, breed, or condition.  Dr. Barnes also sits on the Medical Advisory Board of FETCH a Cure, an organization that supports canine cancer research, provides assistance to people whose dogs suffer from cancer, and works to extend the lives of those fighting this disease. 

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president's AWARD - Animal welfare league of arlington, Homeward Trails animal rescue & Richmond spca

As I suspect everyone here knows, SB1381 passed by an overwhelming majority in the 2015 General Assembly session and VFHS was the catalyst for that legislation which made clear in the Code of Virginia that a private shelter must have as its purpose to find permanent adoptive homes for animals.  Over the summer of 2015, we heard rumblings of a movement to un-do the clarity of that definition and, sure enough, in December of 2015 we learned that a number of bills would be introduced by a very senior member of the House of Delegates to do just that.  We also discovered that not just one, but several lobbyists from what we were told was the most effective and expensive firm in Richmond had been hired to get those bills passed. 

I must tell you that it was personally sickening to me to contemplate what we were up against, David & Goliath all over again, but we simply could not NOT fight this battle which, if we lost, would restore the privileged title of “private animal shelter” to one entity in Virginia that pretends to be an animal shelter while, in fact, killing nearly 90% of the animals it takes in, year after year.

I am enormously proud of the VFHS Board for voting unanimously to hire our own lobbyist to fight these very bad bills.  It was unprecedented in the history of the organization, to my knowledge.  It was neither budgeted for nor planned but we believed it was the responsible thing to do with so much at stake.  Alongside our lobbyist, VFHS Board members and friends spent hundreds of volunteer hours to defeat some very bad legislation and I am delighted to report to you that the private shelter adoption purpose was protected, is intact and stands. 

The reality is that we could not have accomplished such success without the unique support of three member organizations and some pretty terrific individuals.

The Animal Welfare League of Arlington, under the leadership of Executive Director Neil Trent, supported VFHS very generously in our efforts. AWLA is a model organization for progressive sheltering but clearly also understands that good policies are vital to best outcomes for animals.  When I reached out to Neil and asked for help with this unexpected expense, he and the AWLA Board responded quickly and I am so thankful to them for that.  It is my pleasure to present this award to Neil Trent and the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

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Homeward Trails Animal Rescue also offered generous monetary support to our advocacy efforts.  In addition, Sue Bell founder of Homeward Trails and Heidi Meinzer, whom many of you recognize as VFHS Vice President but who also serves as a Homeward Trails Board member – spent countless days at the General Assembly.  Sue and Heidi were a formidable team – meeting with legislators and rallying broad support from northern Virginia constituents.  Sometimes they were there together, sometimes they tag-teamed and during one memorable week of a particularly critical committee hearing, Heidi left Richmond at 2 PM to teach a class that evening in northern Virginia but was back at the General Assembly building the next morning hard at work.  The energy, the commitment and the passion of these two was an inspiration and a gift.  I am delighted to recognize Sue & Heidi and present this award to Homeward Trails Animal Rescue.

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The Richmond SPCA has been our faithful partner in first achieving the private shelter adoption purpose in 2015, and then preserving it in 2016.   Without the generous financial support and commitment of considerable staff time to our efforts by this organization, we simply would not have achieved the level of success we did.  It was my personal privilege to work closely with the Richmond SPCA Director of Advancement, Tabitha Frizzell Treloar in the 2016 General Assembly.  Tabitha came early and stayed late, and she was fearless and persuasive.  She brought particular effectiveness to our efforts by generating powerful, hand-outs with graphics and color that immediately captured the attention of legislators.  It is important to understand that our messaging was sometimes a moving target depending upon what was being stated by opponents so these hand-outs often had to be created quickly and Tabitha did just that.  She would be at the General Assembly bright and early, ready to talk to legislators, ready to testify, ready for whatever was needed and we are deeply grateful for her.  It is my pleasure to personally thankTabitha and present this award to the Richmond SPCA.

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PRESIDENT'S AWARD - smyth county humane society

I am proud to present this second President’s Award to Smyth County Humane Society.  In June of last year, I got a call from Dr Jeff Newman about a cat situation in Smyth County.  Jeff asked if VFHS could help but had few details.  Little did I know what would be ahead as a result of that brief conversation.  I immediately reached out to VFHS member Smyth County Humane Society and got the full magnitude of what was true cat crisis.  A once-rescuer had gone off the deep end and left behind 109 cats which had been seized by Smyth County Animal Control.  The cats had a variety of ailments, most were under-weight, had upper respiratory issues, crusty eyes, many were sneezing and had skin problems from fleas, as well as ear mites.  Most were friendly and their condition stemmed primarily from lack of care and proper nutrition.  There were 2 mothers and babies and a few of the cats were feral.  Smyth County Animal Control has no large facility and only 3 kennel attendants.  Thankfully, the Sheriff welcomed Humane Society members to care for the cats but the circumstances were challenging.  The cats were housed in crates and cages, in an un-air-conditioned, over-flow building but volunteers were faithful in tending to the cats. I contacted several VFHS members and it appeared that in a matter of days we would be able to move out approximately 50 cats.  The generosity of receiving shelters was overwhelming.  The cats were due to be released and transported 4 days after I got the initial report.  Transport was scheduled and shelters were ready to receive.  At 5 PM on the day before release, I got an email letting me know that the owner of the cats had filed an appeal and the cats had to stay at animal control.  It was devastating to everyone involved.  Smyth County Humane Society volunteers did not give up; they continued to care for the cats for what would be weeks.  Ultimately on July 8th, the owner lost custody of the cats.  Over the next week, VFHS members and partners took a total of 60 cats.  As for the remainder: 20 cats were taken by the Virginia Alliance for Animal Shelters.  A few cats were adopted locally, and Smyth County Humane Society volunteers placed the remaining 15 feral cats in barn homes around the community.  Ultimately, only a few cats that were very, very sick were euthanized in Smyth County.

This is an incredible testament to the effectiveness of the Federation, of the heroic, individual action of Smyth County Humane Society, and of the compassionate generosity of the following receiving shelters:  Angels of Assisi in Roanoke, Animal Welfare League of Arlington, Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA Homeward Trails Animal Rescue in Arlington, Lynchburg Humane Society, Loudoun County Animal Services, Martinsville-Henry SPCA, Norfolk SPCA and the Richmond SPCA.

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PRESIDENT'S AWARD - laura palin

The final President’s Award goes to a young woman who is known to virtually any animal advocate in Virginia who finds him or herself from time to time trying to move a dog or cat from a locality to a shelter where the animal’s chances of adoption are greater.  And for particularly under-resourced communities where saving the lives of homeless dogs and cats is achieved by transferring them out on a regular basis, this award winner is a genuine God-send.  She is always willing to help, she is kind and caring, poised, demonstrates incredible patience and is always, always professional.  She and her team regularly visit other Virginia shelters where they pull animals and bring them back to her home shelter where the animals are cared for and adopted into loving, forever homes.  She has been known to personally drive long journeys in her shelter’s van to move large numbers of animals to safety.  In the case of the Smyth County Humane Society Cat crisis – that meant a solo 600-mile round trip and that is no exception.  As Admissions Manager at the Richmond SPCA, this award winner has been personally involved in saving the lives of thousands and thousands of companion animals in Virginia.  She clearly cares deeply for the animals and performs her duties with heart, grace and compassion that is unparalleled.  It is my sincere privilege to present this President’s Award to Laura Palin of the Richmond SPCA.

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special recognition 

VFHS would like acknowlege the following organizations for responding to the Smyth County Cat Emergency with compassion & generosity:

Angels of Assisi, Animal Welfare League of Arlington, Caring Hands Animal Support & Education, Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, Lynchburg Humane Society, Loudoun Community Cat Coalition, Martinsville-Henry County SPCA, Norfolk SPCA & Richmond SPCA

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