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PORTSMOUTH -- The City of Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Humane Society are facing a penalty for mistreating animals.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has handed Portsmouth a $1,250 fine for several 'critical failures to provide adequate care' at the shelter located at 4022 Seaboard Court.

'The shelters in town should be held to a higher standard,' Daphna Nachminovitch, Senior Vice-President Cruelty Investigations Department of PETA noted.

The first violation came on March 6, 2013, after finding problems with proper cleaning and disinfecting.

On August 30, 2013 state inspectors cited the shelter again for cleanliness and not providing adequate food, water and space for animals. Workers observed dogs in crates that were too small to allow the animals to stand. Additionally, animals were at risk of escaping, getting injured and stolen.

'We don't see the State fine shelters often. These are very serious allegations,' Nachminovitch noted.

The investigation began after a former employee filed a complaint with the Office of Veterinary Services. The worker said cats were often lost or forgotten, so she put the animals under her name as adopted.

'I later found out that was illegal, and it's called cooking the books,' she wrote. The employee also reported that cats were kept in a garage at the shelter with no air conditioning and temperatures reaching higher than 80 degrees. She alleged that feral cats were spayed, neutered and then released into the woods behind the shelter.

According the state report, Humane Society staff confirmed a 'feral cat colony' behind the shelter.

Records show as many as 91 cats were reportedly adopted by employees and released in the woods near an active rail line and Interstate 264. Cat food was placed directly on the ground, where the feed spoiled and attracted flies.

Humane society director Jenn Austin explained workers spayed and neutered feral cats. The wild animals were then released back into the woods. 'The Humane society's focus is saving lives. We refuse to put down any animal that is healthy.'

Portsmouth Humane Society Board of Directors President Rebecca Barclay says the city is going to appeal the fine.

'We know things need fixing and we are moving forward. The state typically gives you time to do the remediation before they slap a fine on you, and they didn't do it this time.'

Dan Kovich of the Virginia Deptartment of Agriculture and Consumer Services explained that the state takes critical violations seriously.

'For things that are non-critical findings, time is given to make corrections. For critical findings the fines are automatic. A critical finding is something that should not have occurred in the first place.'

The Portsmouth Humane society is one of three shelters fined in the state this year. In past five years, eight public animal shelters have been required to pay penalties.

By October 31, 2013 the city must ensure that animals are appropriately confined and provided proper care.

The Portsmouth Humane Society must provide a corrective action plan to state regulators by November 20, 2013.

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