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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Volunteer of the Month

This Month’s Volunteer of the Month is Daniella Muir.

Daniella has been a huge asset for RAL since
she started volunteering with us back in September
of 2012. A dedicated Friday night adoption counselor,
Daniella also lends us her time and assistance on
Tuesdays and Thursdays, coming in before we open
to help us administratively. She’s become a master at
preparing packets for animals scheduled to go home,
getting medication ready, making sure we have
enough supplies and materials for the day, answering
phones and returning voicemail messages, calling
applicants to follow up, and generally keeping things
organized and running smoothly.

Thanks, Daniella!

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Volunteer of the Month

This month’s volunteer of the month is Angie Barlow. Angie has been volunteering at RAL with her family since 2004! She comes in twice per month and leads the Sunday night crews with a positive and welcoming attitude. Angie is always willing to work with and train new volunteers. Her all-time favorite RAL dog is Petunia, who was here in her beginning days of volunteering. We appreciate everything you do, Angie!

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Volunteer of the Month


RAL loves all the volunteers that help everyday to provide for the animals who come through our doors. This month’s volunteer of the month is Lisa Gits. 

Lisa Gits has been a RAL volunteer since January 2013, and during her first year here at RAL she clocked over 350 hours of service! Lisa is on Monday and Friday AM dog crew, counsels adopters on Thursdays, and attends just about every offsite adoption event she can swing. Lisa is also the proud Mom of Charlie and Wallace; two RAL Alumni that were long time residents here at the shelter. While they are her all-time favorite dogs, her current favorite is Johnny Cash.

 Lisa is such a great volunteer and supporter. We love her

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The Sound of Hope

It is 1:45 on a very chilly afternoon. The temperature is below freezing and will remain that way all day. It snowed last night and the roads still have snow, slush and chemicals. Kids are out of school (again) and the roads are fairly quiet.

And then I hear the sound. That sound, although it has become ever more frequent, always catches my attention and prompts me to get up from my desk and run outside.

It is the sound of the RAL van pulling in from a run. It is the sound of animals being rescued, of lives being saved. It is the most glorious sound.

On this particular day the large crates that normally transport dogs are filled with smaller carriers, all containing cats–12 cats!

I have been lucky enough to witness this act many times. Sometimes it is a van full of animals, sometimes just one. Every time it is emotional. Opening those van doors and seeing tiny eyes looking back at you, filled with fear and confusion, is moving. I often wonder what these souls are thinking. Do they have any idea that this van is a life-saving vehicle, that it is the get-a-way car? Do they realize they are safe?

As the welcoming committee of staff and volunteers swiftly unloads the van, I feel pretty confident these animals are going to figure it out quickly. It won’t take long to understand the loud van and small shelter have provided a second chance at life. The gravel crunching under the tires was the sound of hope. Inside the shelter they will find help, and hopefully sooner than later, they will all find a forever home.