WINCHESTER — Although there have been national media reports about people returning pets they adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s not the case at the SPCA of Winchester-Frederick-Clarke Counties.

Executive Director Lavenda Denney said on Thursday the organization’s pet-surrender rate has not changed for years.

“On average for the last three years, we have 45 owner surrenders a month,” Denney said. “We have seen no increase at all in owner surrenders.”

It’s important to note that she is referring to all owner surrenders, not just pets who were adopted from the shelter and then returned. The local SPCA’s monthly returns for animals that were adopted from the facility is in the single digits.

Denney said the SPCA at 111 Featherbed Lane makes the welfare of its animals a primary concern. It has been a no-kill shelter since 2014 and actively seeks to find forever homes for all of the pets in its care.

“The average number of adoptions has increased from 61 a month to 87 a month over the past three years,” Denney said.

While she said the nonprofit’s adoption process is fairly simple, SPCA officials take extra steps to ensure their pets end up in loving homes where they will receive proper care.

“We require a reference check [for potential adopters] from a professional in animal welfare — a veterinarian, a groomer, somebody who runs another rescue or shelter,” Denney said. “You would be amazed how honest people are when you call for a reference check for an animal. Nobody wants an animal to go to a less-than-ideal situation.”

Also, every SPCA staffer involved with adoptions receives nine hours of training that teaches them to spot red flags from prospective adopters.

“We believe in building a rapport with our adopters and getting to know them,” Denney said. “In the process of a conversation [with a prospective adopter], if somebody mentions that they always keep their dogs outside, that would be a red flag for us because we don’t like our dogs to live their lives outside.”

Additionally, the SPCA maintains a database of people who have previously adopted from them. If someone gets flagged for failing to adequately care for a pet, they are banned from ever adopting from the organization again.

“I believe that 98% of people who adopt animals do so for the right reasons,” Denney said. “It’s our job as adoption counselors to weed out the 2%.”

The SPCA’s policy of spaying or neutering its cats and dogs before making them available for adoption also serves as a deterrent to breeders who are looking for animals they can use to turn a profit, Denney said.

Once an animal is adopted, the SPCA stands ready to offer further help when needed. The nonprofit launched a program last year called Pets for Life that helps pet owners facing financial crises due to circumstances like the loss of a job. For example, if a person can’t afford things like dog food or pet crates, the donor-supported Pets for Life program can give those items to him or her for free if it keeps the pet in their own home.

“The first year, we kept 617 pets out of the shelter,” Denney said about the popular service.

At the end of the day, Denney said, nothing makes SPCA personnel happier than finding safe, loving and healthy homes for the animals in their care.

“We feel really good about what we do,” she said. “Most of our adoptions are good fits, and if they’re not a good fit, we ask people to bring them back .... and we can adopt them to another family.”

— The SPCA of Winchester-Frederick-Clarke Counties is in need of dry cat and dog food as well as financial donations. For more information, visit winchesterspca.org.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

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