Saving Lives - Providing Hope, Help and Homes for Animals in Need

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A Whole New World - Of Toys!

My office is in the Adult Cat Room at RAL. I spend my day with up to 20 cats every day. While I am not actively interacting - unless I am chasing a cat out of my office or tracking down Georgia, the escape artist - I do get to know the cats, their likes, dislikes, and daily activities.

Damaris has been at RAL for quite a while. She usually keeps to herself and prefers to sleep all day next to the cat room door. Recently, she moved her sleeping spot to a pillow on the counter.

Today, however, Damaris changed her napping patterns and found a toy. She LOVED it! This is a great part of my job, watching homeless pets come out of their shells and discover a whole new world. 

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Richmond Animal League awarded $9,992.37 grant from Best Friends Animal Society®

Grant will support Richmond Animal League’s lifesaving work for homeless pets

Richmond Animal League (RAL) is pleased to have received a grant from Best Friends Animal Society as part of its $10 kitten and cat adoption fee initiative to help homeless pets in Central Virginia.

RAL participates in Best Friends’ No More Homeless Pets® Network, a program offering help and support to grassroots animal rescue groups saving lives in their communities.

“This means we can transfer at-risk cats and kittens from municipal shelters and continue to offer the felines at a reduced adoption fee of just $10. This grant alleviates some of the cost associated with getting the cats ready for adoption, specifically by subsidizing the cost of spay/neuter,” said RAL executive director Amy McCracken. “Our goal will be to rescue and spay/neuter an additional 249 cats and kittens and adopt them to loving families. We appreciate the support of Best Friends Animal Society in making a reduced cat and kitten adoption fee possible.”

Liz Finch, senior manager of Best Friends’ Community Programs and Services, added, “This grant project definitely targets animals that are most at-risk to be killed and provides an innovated solution to save their lives in alignment with Best Friends’ determination to Save Them All®.”

Every day, approximately 9,000 pets are killed in shelters because they don’t have a home. Best Friends Animal Society and its No More Homeless Pets Network partners, such as Richmond Animal League are committed to saving them. This lifesaving grant is part of Best Friends Animal Society’s work to help Save Them All.

About Richmond Animal League

Since 1979, Richmond Animal League has been finding homes for homeless dogs and cats in the Richmond area. RAL provides temporary shelter and medical care including vaccinations, sterilization, microchips, and treatment for illnesses until permanent loving homes can be found. In 2013, over 1,700 animals were rescued by RAL from shelters across Central Virginia, many of which euthanize due to limited space and resources.

Learn more about Richmond Animal League on their website:

About Best Friends Animal Society

Best Friends Animal Society is the only national animal welfare organization focused exclusively on ending the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters.  A leader in the no-kill movement since its founding in 1984, Best Friends runs the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals, as well as lifesaving programs in partnership with rescue groups and shelters across the country. Since its founding, Best Friends has helped reduce the number of animals killed in shelters from 17 million per year to about 4 million. Together, we can Save Them All.

Become a fan of Best Friends Animal Society on Facebook:

Follow Best Friends on Twitter:

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RAL: Where Richmond Kids Become Budding Philanthropists


In the weeks before your childhood birthdays did you lie awake at night thinking about all of the things party guests might be bringing? Brightly colored packages of….dish soap, paper towels, canned cat food and Milk Bones?  That’s exactly what dozens of Richmond children are asking for as they host parties and donation drives for Richmond Animal League.

Richmond Animal League (RAL) is seeing budding philanthropists who are choosing to give up their special days for animals in need. RAL has visits from kids who dedicated their birthdays, lemonade stand proceeds, and even Christmas presents to helping homeless animals. In return, RAL welcomes the children and their families for a tour of the shelter and a chance to see just what an impact their generosity has on animals waiting for a home.

Emily Newsom, a Chesterfield 10-year-old told her family she had all that she needed and asked for donations to RAL in lieu of Christmas gifts, and inspired the nation to open their hearts (and wallets) for homeless animals.  As word of Emily’s compassionate gesture spread, RAL received donations from every state in the US and seven countries.  The outpouring of support become known as “Emily’s Chirstmas” and resulted in more than $10,000 for the shelter. For Emily, it was an eye-opening experience. “I learned that everyone can influence someone. Young or old, you can always make a difference and I was amazed that I could be a part of making a difference for them.”image

Emily’s mother, Misti Newsom, said Emily experienced firsthand the joy of giving. “Emily’s Christmas ballooned in a way we would have never imagined. RAL invested time connecting with Emily, helping her see what her gift meant and sharing it with others. I wasn’t sure if Emily realized how far reaching her actions had gone until RAL plotted a map showing all the places, all over the world, where donations had come in.  My daughter gave a gift, but what she got in return from RAL and all those people who supported Emily’s Christmas, is the lesson that giving brought her more joy than receiving. It wasn’t just the cliché, she lived it.”

Since Emily’s selfless actions, RAL has seen a great increase in children “giving up” birthdays and having donation drives instead. Kids of all ages are hosting parties encouraging guests to bring supplies that are always in need at the shelter.

A group of four young girls recently took advantage of the beautiful weather to host a lemonade stand to benefit RAL. Taegan and Macey Judge and their friends Molly and Olivia Stutzman delivered the proceeds from their sales and got to visit with all of the animals at RAL last week.

Parents play a great role in cultivating this kind of generosity and compassion.  When kids exhibit empathy and the desire to help, parents are often eager to help their kids follow through with a plan. Taegan and Macey’s mom, Terry Judge, jumped on the chance to pull her daughter’s idea together. “The girls have been begging to have a lemonade stand for a long time and they love animals, so this was the perfect combination! We saw this as a great opportunity to teach our girls about giving back and that every single person can make a difference and contribute to society. It boosted their esteem and I think it helps build life skills for the future, too. It was so fun, and it was a meaningful connection for them because we have rescue pets at home.”

Find out how your kids can get involved. 

-By Amy McCracken

Filed under kids animals dogood

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Seniors Supporting Seniors


Did you know… brushing your cat can help you lower your heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, and reduce stress?  Adopt Miracle and not only help out this senior cat by providing her with the love she deserves, but improve your health, too.


Would you like to get out and meet your neighbors? Adopt Katie! Walking a dog in the neighborhood helps you become more social. You can improve your health by walking and meet your neighbors as you go along. Plus, when you get home, Katie would love to snuggle, too!

RAL staff have been on the road this summer sharing with community members at local libraries and the Lifelong Learning Institute about volunteering and the Seniors Supporting Seniors program. If you are 55 or above, or know someone who is, check out the info below.

Studies have shown that having a pet in a home with a senior can provide many health benefits along with improving overall quality of life. Here are just a few:

  • Lower cholesterol
  • Increased Exercise and Movement, helping the cardiovascular system and improving flexibility
  • Lower Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
  • Reduced stress
  • Companionship
  • Sense of purpose and responsibility

There are also benefits to adopting a senior pet vs. a younger pet:

  • The pet’s personality has been established and may be known
  • The pet’s activity level may be lower and better suited for a senior owner
  • Older pets can be more gracious and their human bonding is accelerated
  • The long term commitment may be less than that of a puppy

If you or someone you know are interested in adding a pet to family, here are some things to consider.

  • Why do you want a pet?
  • Are you ready for the commitment?
  • What kind of pet is best for you?
  • Can you afford it?
  • Is your space appropriate?

Adoption Fees for Seniors Supporting Seniors*

*For qualifying Senior Adopters 55 and Older

  • Dogs:     5-7 Years: $50, 8+ Years: Waived
  • Cats:      5+ Years old: Waived

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Volunteer of the Month - Robert Miller

Robert has been a RAL volunteer since August 2013. Robert serves as a Wednesday night adoption counselor and a Friday night dog crew member. Robert also performs a special task: changing the HVAC filters on a weekly basis. Robert always remembers and gets the job done with a smile. (It doesn’t hurt that he is tall, too!). Robert’s favorite pet is his very own RAL dog, Dudley! Thank you Robert!

Filed under volunteers

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Opening Doors and Healing Hearts: Cash’s Story

Several months ago a little beagle arrived to the safety of RAL. We named him Johnny Cash. Johnny was an older guy with some medical issues, but he had an amazing personality and was immediately a volunteer and staff favorite. We recently received this story for his new family. We all knew Cash, as he is now called, was something special. We just didn’t know how special he would become. 

My two oldest children have been asking for a dog since they could say the word but with a total of five children ranging in ages of 10 to 4 our home seemed plenty full. It wasn’t until the beginning of this year that my husband and I felt the kids were all old enough and responsible enough to take on a family pet.  A friend down the street had recently adopted a beagle from RAL and the dog’s sweet and loving nature reminded me how wonderful beagles can be for families with young children. So after a family discussion to see if we were truly ready to make such a big commitment off we went to look for a dog at RAL. 

Upon arriving we were greeted by Lisa one of the volunteers at the facility. Typically when I show up somewhere with 5 young children in tow people begin running for the hills or look as though they are preparing for a catastrophe; however this was not the case at RAL and most definitely not with Lisa. When I explained that we wanted a beagle because of the many qualities which seemed to match what our family needed Lisa smiled big and told us we were in luck because they had several beagles. We did an initial pass through and then decided on a few we wanted to visit with. After interacting with 2 dogs Lisa brought us to see Cash. She exclaimed that he was one of her favorites and would be so great with the kids.

Looking at him I had my doubts, his tag listed that he was 9 years old, positive for heartworm and honestly he just looked a little homely. After some coaxing from Lisa we decided to take Cash out into the yard.  It may not have been love at first sight with him but it was most certainly love at first touch. He went directly to the children and gently greeted and nuzzled against each of them. He was an old soul who seemed to know exactly how to interact with my kids and a tender bond was formed in the short time we were with him. We left that day with a promise to return after we discussed what we wanted to do.

The weekend was filled with the children all claiming with a resounding plea that Cash was the dog for them. There were no suggestions to see other dogs or requests to get a puppy, the kids had found their dog. We returned to visit him once again and after being with him for only a minute I knew he was the perfect addition to our family. Being a mother to 5 kids has made me wise enough to know that making him a part of our family wouldn’t come without it’s challenges but I knew he was worth it.

Unfortunately Cash came to RAL in such poor condition, not only with heartworm but pneumonia as well and so after putting in our adoption papers we had to wait just over two weeks to  bring him home as he had to remain under RAL’s diligent care for the most dangerous parts of the heartworm treatment. It was difficult to be separated from him as he felt as though he was ours and had been for years and yet we could not be there with him.

Over the two weeks of the initial treatments I tried to visit him daily at the shelter so that at least in some way he knew me and knew we were not leaving him there. It was during these one on one visits I had with him I saw just how special he was. Even though his body was stressed and sick he would muster all his strength just to come to my side and nestle his head in my lap or chest. His heart was bigger than his problems and he just had so much love to give and his spirit of wanting to please was contagious.  I began to wonder if he could touch more people’s lives than just our families. Before we even brought Cash home I had already begun to look into the requirements to certify him as a therapy dog and started  making arrangements.

Cash was still on bed rest for another 4 weeks when we brought him home to allow his heart worm treatment to work but even though his body was weak his mind was willing and able and we began training him immediately. He caught on to all we taught and the rules of the house so quickly it was amazing. He aimed to please but more than anything he just wanted to be by our side.  He was very aware of each family member’s moods, emotions and temperament and would alter his behavior to match theirs which is amazing considering there are seven of us.

Our oldest son has a fairly rare and incurable disease that often leaves him in pain and physically weak and tired. It takes a toll on his body but also his mind and sometimes it is hard for him not to become sad or overwhelmed about the limitations his body creates. I had secretly hoped that when we brought Cash home he would become close with our oldest son and wondered how I could make that happen. I quickly realized I didn’t have to force anything, Cash was wise and gentle and he knew our son was different and needed special attention. It can be difficult for me not to  become emotional when I walk into a room and find my son on the ground resting his tired body but now instead of him lying alone Cash is pressed up against him and allows my son to just stroke him as long as he needs it. Cash has put a smile on my sons face during times his body would tell him he had nothing to smile about.  

When Cash was finally off bed rest and able to go for walks it was easy to see that he would be a great therapy dog as he enjoyed greeting anybody and everybody who crossed our paths in his uniquely passive and loving way. Anyone who received him left with a smile on their face.

This past week was Cash’s first therapy visit to an assisted living facility. I was anxious to see if he could duplicate for these people what he does for our family and specifically my son. He did not disappoint. One elderly lady in particular was so over joyed to have Cash tenderly love on her that the entire visit she repeatedly said, “Thank you so much, this has made my week, I just love Cash please come back again” and then would go back to kissing, squeezing and hugging him.

Adopting Cash from RAL certainly was not what we had pictured in our minds, it was much better. Cash has not only healed hearts and brought joy into our home he has opened doors for our family to branch out and use him to do the same for others. He is helping to teach our children not only responsibility but how to care for someone even when you don’t know them. He has shown us how easy it can be to simply trust in our natural ability to love and let it be our guiding light.  Our children see more easily now that there is a joy which comes from serving those around us and that joy is a distinctive blessing and reward for thinking of others needs before our own.


Filed under adoptlove

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The Truth About Gracie Magnolia

Soon after we launched our campaign for a new transport van, I saw a photograph of a dog—a mangy senior hound named Gracie—at a rural animal control facility. Gracie personified the kind of animals waiting for space at Richmond Animal League. With the caption, “Who waits to hear the sound of the RAL van pulling up?” I posted her photograph on our Facebook page and included a link to the fundraiser. We got a few donations, sure, but we also got comments on the photo: “RAL ROCKS!” “Thanks, RAL!” “Way to go, RAL!”image

These comments were tough for me to read. The truth is, Gracie was still at Cumberland when I posted that photo, and still on the “URGENT “list. Her time was coming to a close and I did not know if we were going to transfer her to safety. Would we have space for her?  Would her mange start to heal? Would there be even more “urgent “animals ahead of her? The most troubling question for me was, “Did I use the heart wrenching photo of Gracie to promote our own campaign without a plan for her future?” Did I? I was haunted by this.

I could not stop thinking about her. Our fundraising goal continued to grow while Gracie’s time continued to shrink.

We talk about numbers a lot when we talk about RAL. More than 1,700 animals found refuge and love here in 2013. Gracie’s face (and reaching paw) reminded me that they come one by one—each as important as the last and the next. I could not stop thinking about the quote we have all seen before: “Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely for that one dog, the world will change forever.”

Because of your incredible support, and because an adoption makes space for another life to be saved, and because we see the beauty and hope in an old, itchy hound dog, Gracie did hear the tires of the van pull up to Cumberland County Animal Control. And she got to ride the van to the safety of Richmond Animal League, where she was renamed Magnolia. We’ll let her bloom into the perfect Southern Belle here.


I am surrounded by people who work to make these miracles happen every day, but none of it would be possible without your support.

There are thousands of animals on urgent lists throughout Central Virginia. Animals like Gracie Magnolia. We’re working one by one on happy endings for as many cats and dogs possible.

Thank you for being along for the ride.

- Amy McCracken


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Volunteers of the Month

Jessica Bondurant

Jessica has been a RAL volunteer since January 2013. Jessica serves on Wednesday night dog crew, and is a dependable kitten foster as well. Every Wednesday when the new pets come to RAL, Jessica bathes them; shedding the layers of greasy, smelly crud they picked up during their life before RAL. This bath gives them an official (and literal) “fresh start” here at our shelter, and is an integral part of our intake protocol. Jessica’s current favorite pup is April, while her all-time favorite pet is Nelson (who, interestingly enough, needed weekly baths for dry, flaky skin).

Elizabeth Whitby

Elizabeth has been a RAL volunteer for just a few short months, but has jumped in on multiple cat crews, and in turn helped us out tremendously! Elizabeth is always willing to come in and help when we are short staffed, even with very, very little notice. Her current favorite cats are Bubbly and Britney Spays (pictured here), but her all-time favorites are her adopted cats, Neville and Shoebutton!

Filed under volunteers

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Strut Your Mutt Q & A

We asked Tarra Balcom, RAL Volunteer and Board Member, some questions about Woofstock and Strut Your Mutt. If you have been thinking about getting involved in Strut Your Mutt but don’t know quite where to start, read about Tarra’s experience and advice. 

Register for Strut Your Mutt 2014 here:

Q: When did you first participate in Woofstock and Strut Your Mutt?

I first participated in Woofstock by volunteering at the event in 2012. At the time I did not have a dog of my own but I helped run the adoption stand. It was rainy but there is a bright side to this story.  This is the day I fell in love with a pit bull mix named Terra Mae. Soon after I learned her foster was moving away and she needed somewhere to go. I never thought I would own a pit bull but those moments (and fate) led me to adopt Terra (now Zoey) and advocate for not just all homeless animals but animals that are discriminated against because of their breed. Woofstock led me to my best friend!


Q: Was there any specific motivation that led you to get involved in raising funds for the RAL?

I started volunteering at RAL when I was brand new to town (2009). I moved to Richmond from Michigan and knew no one. I always loved animals and I heard about RAL at a fundraiser in the fan. I became a volunteer and RAL became my family away from home. There is an amazing group of people involved in RAL from staff, to volunteers, to everyone who wants to help homeless animals in our community. I know that RAL would not be what it is without the donations from the community. Unfortunately, we can not save animals and provide expensive surgeries and keep the lights in the shelter on without donations from the public. I know the money I raise will go directly to saving some of the best animal I have ever met.

Q: What have been the most effective tools for asking your friends, family, and coworkers to donate?

Annoy them…just kidding. Kind of. When you show your passion about something to your friends, family and co-workers they tend to want to support your cause. RAL is a great cause and most people that know me know how much I love it because I talk about it ALL THE TIME. Also, I am fortunate that the company I work for matches donations over $50. You bet I started my fundraising plea by asking my co-workers! Check to see if you company offers a match.

Q: What’s your best tip for someone who might be hesitant to get involved as a Strut Your Mutt fundraiser?

The biggest fundraising secret is to never be afraid to ask! It’s not like you are asking someone to give you $20 so you can spend it on a new shirt. You are asking them to save lives of some of the best animals that exist. Whether you are a volunteer, supporter, or you want to get more involved, Woofstock and Strut Your Mutt are a great way to help and RAL really depends on revenue from fundraisers like these to continue all of the good work.


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Klaus’s Evening Out

Written by volunteer Lauren Brown:

"Am I krazy about Klaus? The answer is “you bet!” At The Towers Retirement & Assisted Living facility on Monday, he was amazing! Although he is a big boy, he is very gentle, waiting patiently for treats until he gets the “ok”. His tail was a blur for most of the time, and he impressed everyone with the height he could get when jumping to fetch a ball!

After we played in the activity room, we headed to the Memory Unit, where one resident eagerly took Klaus’ lead (as you can see in the last picture) down the hall. He invited us into his room, where he and his wife live together. As Klaus sat by his wife’s side, the gentleman was excited to show me pictures in his photo album of the dog he once owned, enthusiastically noting the similarities between his dog and Klaus.

I’m sure Klaus’ family photo album is waiting somewhere for his pictures to fill it. Whoever it may be, his forever person will want to capture every moment with him!