There was a time when the Loudoun County, Virginia, shelter was no place for a little dog, even one described as “lovey, “wiggly,” and “gentle.”

In 2009, Animal Rescue of Tidewater sued the pound over its breed discriminatory policy of automatic killing. Counsel for plaintiffs summarized the consequences of being a dog who looked a certain way at the hands of Loudoun County pound staff:

Your Honor, on June 19, 2007, a 12-week-old brown and white puppy … entered the Loudoun County shelter and was given number 43063… the puppy was killed by the shelter, never having been given a chance to live, never having been given a name. Why? Contrary to state law and contrary to local law, puppy number 43063 was never put up for adoption and was killed for one reason and one reason only: Puppy number 43063 was identified by the shelter as a pit bull mix. On the puppy’s pre-euthanasia report, the official reason for euthanasia is typed in as ‘breed.’ Let me repeat that. The recorded reason for why puppy number 43063 was killed under current shelter policies was ‘breed.’ That reason at some point was crossed out in ink and ‘behavioral observations’ was written in its place. Behavioral observations. The shelter’s canine behavior assessment for puppy number 43063 notes that the puppy, ‘Approaches the front of the kennel seeking evaluator’s attention. Happily greets evaluator. Is sociable. Initiates gentle, physical contact. Wanted to be in evaluator’s lap. Moves closer for further attention. In evaluator’s lap playing. Wiggly. Leans against you. Bouncing around. Very lovey.’

He would have been 11 years old today. Tragically, those 11 years were stolen from him — killed despite being wiggly, wanting to sit in your lap, bouncing around, lovey.

It was policy.

Tragically, too, Animal Rescue of Tidewater lost the case and the policy would remain for years. But because advocates refused to give up, overcoming the setback and others, they ultimately prevailed. In 2014, “that policy was [finally] overturned by the county Board of Supervisors, immediately allowing pit bulls and pit bull mixes to be adopted from the shelter for the first time in nearly 50 years.

This week comes the news that Loudoun County has reached an important milestone on its road to No Kill — it is the newest member of the 90% Club. For the first time in its history, it crossed the threshold, placing 90% of dogs, 90% of cats, and 94% of other animals.

Debra Griggs, who founded Animal Rescue of Tidewater, said she was “inspired” by the achievement. Inspired, too, that their “tenacity for these dogs… resulted in change in that shelter and that county.” And inspired also to remain tenacious for all animals “in any shelter” to achieve similar results.

As I typed “Loudoun County” into the website, it brought tears to my eyes — a vindication for that little puppy and for all the other dogs like him who were needlessly killed based on cruel, discriminatory, and counterproductive biases. It was also an emotional moment for me because it was one more success, and yet more proof, that the shelter reform efforts promoted by the No Kill Advocacy Center work. Such reform may be a marathon, not a sprint, but when tired, disproven excuses for killing are challenged in the public arena and the public’s love for animals is harnessed, advocates like Animal Rescue of Tidewater and the animals they champion ultimately win and lifesaving ensues.

Of course, nothing can bring that little puppy and others like him back and their killings should always be remembered for the heartbreaking betrayals they were. But we can lessen the futility of their deaths if we reform our “shelters” in such a way as to prevent such betrayals from happening again. That is what Animal Rescue of Tidewater and others did in Loudoun County. And it is why we must never forget our history, even as we celebrate our renewed commitment and new successes to the well-being of animals in our care.

Congratulations to every animal lover, in and outside the shelter, working to make a lifesaving difference in Loudoun County. Of course, 90% is not No Kill and there is still more to do and more lives to save because there are still animals falling through the cracks in the safety net, but as Loudoun County crossed that mighty 90% threshold, I felt true joy knowing other “wiggly” dogs entering that shelter will no longer face the same, terrible fate as puppy 43063, a gentle, loving dog who was killed before being given a name.

Rest in peace, Lovey.

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