Volunteers come with legal implications

Published 11:32 am Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Q: Does Prince Edward County have a volunteer-involved adoption program at its animal pound?

Emily DeMasi, a Longwood University senior, says she has spent the last year attempting to get Prince Edward County to allow volunteers at the county’s animal control facility.

“I got my dog last May and the former (animal control officer) was difficult to work with to say the least,” DeMasi said. “He has since retired, but he didn’t want anybody taking pictures of the dogs. He didn’t want any social media kind of stuff.”

DeMasi said she initially started a Friends with Prince Edward County Animal Care and Control Facebook page, where she shared photos of animals in the shelter.

Wade Bartlett

She said since Adam Mumma, the county’s new animal control officer (ACO) has been on board, “he’s been absolutely wonderful. The dogs get vetted even if something tiny is wrong, so they’re all in really good health.”

DeMasi, who spends a lot of time volunteering in the community, said the workers at the shelter would love extra free assistance.

“However, Prince Edward County refuses to allow volunteers into the facility under the guise of ‘liability’ fears,” DeMasi said. “Almost every county surrounding Prince Edward has a successful liability waiver form and wonderful volunteer programs.”

“We have actually sent questions to our insurance (company) about that,” County Administrator Wade Bartlett said. “And just because you have a liability waiver, you get a good lawyer that’s worth about the paper you print it on. That does not absolve you of legal liability.”

Bartlett said that while people think the liability waivers do absolve entities of legal liability, there have been many court cases where legal liability has been thrown out “for all kinds of reasons, and I’m not a lawyer to tell you about that,” Bartlett said.

He said there are dogs in the pound that can be vicious — which is part of the reason for a lack of a volunteer program — but the bigger reason is a lack of manpower to supervise volunteers at the county’s shelter.

Bartlett said currently there is only one animal control officer to cover the entire county.

“He does not have the time to manage volunteers,” Bartlett said. “We cannot leave (volunteers) alone at the shelter.”

Bartlett said once the shelter is fully staffed and its staff are fully trained — which he projected to take about one year — the county will review the volunteer policy. 

“The reliability of volunteers sometimes isn’t the best because they’re just that, volunteers. They don’t view it as their main function in life because it isn’t, and that’s OK,” Bartlett said. “But I cannot expend man hours waiting for someone to show up and then they don’t.”

DeMasi cited Leigh McCrea who organized Friends of Cumberland County Animal Control that now runs a volunteer program.

“She’s a certified 501c3 and she works in conjunction with the ACO at that facility,” DeMasi said. “(McCrea) basically helps run volunteers and (the) Facebook page and facilitates adoptions.”

DeMasi said McCrea started the program in Cumberland, which has had great success.

“I know they’ve had younger youth, like middle school, high school kids who come out and walk the dogs or clean the kennels, and all they have is a liability form,” DeMasi said of the volunteers working in Cumberland.

“If you’re not 18n a parent or guardian signs it … they’re good to help assist with the animals. Some of the older kids get to give dogs baths and have a good time with the animals and allow dogs to have that interaction with people that they’re needing before they get adopted out.”

According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), in 2016 the Prince Edward County Animal Shelter euthanized 93 animals, including 70 dogs and 23 cats. In 2015, 199 animals were euthanized, 105 of which were dogs and 94 were cats.

In 2016, the Cumberland County Animal Control and Public Animal Shelter euthanized 10 animals — seven dogs and three cats, and Buckingham County Animal Control and Public Animal Shelter euthanized 223 animals — 150 dogs and 53 cats.

DeMasi said she adopted her dog, which she had brought to the shelter as a stray.

“I found (my dog) on the side of the road and I called animal control and they said they’d hold him for a stray period, but after that, if no one adopts him, he’ll probably be euthanized,” DeMasi.