Local SPCA Hires New Director
By SHELBY MERTENS
Daily News-Record 1/3/19
HARRISONBURG — The Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA has hired a new executive director who wants to lower the shelter’s high euthanasia rate.
Huck Nawaz replaces Anne Anderson, who retired at the end of the year after 22 years. Nawaz officially takes over as executive director this month.
Nawaz, 36, most recently was vice president of operations at the Humane Society of Charlotte, N.C., a no-kill shelter, for the last three and a half years.
“He has a lot of fresh new ideas and we hope to move forward and get the community involved in adopting and being involved in the SPCA,” Darnice Pettigrew, the president of the SPCA’s board of directors, said in an email.
The Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA has one of the highest euthanasia rates for cats in Virginia at 62 percent in 2017, according to data from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The euthanasia rate for dogs was about 18 percent.
Pettigrew said the SPCA would remain an open-admission shelter and would not turn away any animals, unlike no-kill facilities.
“We continue to work each and every day to increase adoptions, as seen with our recent Home for Holidays event where in 2 weeks we were able to get 51 animals adopted,” she wrote in an email. “We do not focus on numbers but on becoming the first place people come to look for a pet.”
In 2016, a team of consultants from Animal Welfare Management Services, based in Reading, Pa., visited the Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA to evaluate its policies and procedures. Although the report labeled it as a “high-functioning shelter,” the consultants recommended the facility, located at 2170 Old Furnace Road, improve its adoption policies.
“Policies which are intended to ‘protect’ animals from bad adoptions ... are instead serving to keep the animals in the shelter where there is a high probability the animal will be euthanized,” the study stated.
Last year, Anicira Veterinary Center unsuccessfully attempted to take over the impoundment and sheltering services for the city of Harrisonburg, citing the shelter’s euthanasia rate.
Nawaz said the organization’s leaders have “not had any specific internal discussion in the language of nokill,” but said they would look at operations across the board.
The SPCA received about 15 applicants for the job and brought the top four candidates in for interviews. The board voted to hire Nawaz in November.
“He was the most qualified applicant we had,” Pettigrew said. “He has years of experience in shelters and with dog behavior.”
Nawaz, who’s from Northern Virginia, earned his bachelor’s degree in
animal sciences from the University of Maryland in 2005.
During his tenure at the Humane Society of Charlotte, Nawaz led “the effort to construct a new $20 million facility and transition into this space, managed and oversaw a $2.7 million annual budget, supervised the annual intake of 3,100 animals, and developed training programs which reduced the intake of owner surrender canines by 14 percent and felines by 9 percent,” according to a press release.
Nawaz, who previously worked at Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, said he wanted to move to the area to be closer to his family in Northern Virginia.
“It was an opportunity to move to the Shenandoah Valley, which I had spent time in before. It’s a beautiful area,” he said. “[I wanted to] be a part of this community.”
He identified pet overpopulation as an issue the SPCA faces.
“The needs of the pets in our community and pet overpopulation is a need in the community as a whole,” Nawaz said.
When asked how he would address animal overpopulation in Valley, he said, “I do have lots of thoughts on it that we are working toward.”
The SPCA is reviewing its strategic plan, he said, and plans to continue working with the city of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.
Heading into the job, Nawaz said one of his goals is to increase community support for the SPCA.
“One of the priorities for myself is building collaborative relationships with other agencies in the community, both in animal welfare and human services,” he said