Robin Starr accepts the Ellen Glasgow Award for Humane Service
This award means more to me than I ever could adequately convey. It is an important opportunity for me to express the gratitude that I feel so deeply. First and foremost to my wonderful husband Ed whose strength, wisdom and support for me has never faltered – everything good thing in my life is due to you. And to my daughter Tyler who is not just beautiful and brilliant but more importantly kind and generous and thoughtful. And to her fiancé Vince who matches her in all those traits and is my son in my heart. And to Tamsen Kingry who my heart also knows as my family – she is somewhere between a daughter and a sister and my dearest friend.
I have always felt an urgency to make my being here on the planet count for something. I never have wanted to feel that I failed in my life to accomplish anything of lasting value that made a difference for others. Long ago, I realized that animals truly needed me and my efforts for them could really matter and be of lasting importance. They are so vulnerable and are so often the very last on humans’ list of concerns. They have no ability to speak for themselves or to control their life or environment. And they remind us that there is still good in the world.
Bold achievements made with crucial support
So thank you for letting me know that my work and efforts on their behalf really have made a difference. One of the insights that age and maturity has brought me is that no one accomplishes anything alone and that supporting others in their valuable work is every bit as important and meaningful as doing it yourself and can be even more crucial. So I want to thank some people who have helped and supported me in ways that were crucial.
The job of heading up the Richmond SPCA is an immensely rewarding one and the best thing about it is that I have gotten to work with our wonderful staff which is composed of the most kind, smart, dedicated and fun people I have ever known. But, being the head of this organization is also really tough at times. The Richmond SPCA stands up for the best interests of animals, all animals of all species, with courage and integrity, and that means that we have to take public positions that sometimes challenge people’s comfort and complacency. People come around with time to recognizing how they can and should be more compassionate in their treatment of animals but it is our job to push them to get them there. My first experience with that was right at the beginning when we decided to become no kill and to help to lead the national no-kill movement which was in its infancy. Em Hughes had the courage to leap off a cliff with me when we made that huge change to become no kill and it resulted in some pretty intense backlash in this community for a while – as a result of that comfort and complacency thing. Our no-kill decision has proven to have been so clearly right and so important for animals and our community that it is easy to forget now, but I don’t forget, how hard it was at the time. Without Em, I could not have ridden that storm out successfully.
In the years since then, we have been committed unwaveringly to the ethical and compassionate treatment of all animals. Here are some examples: We urged the nationwide recognition that the killing of healthy and treatable companion animals is not ethical and therefore not acceptable, pushed for greater lifesaving standards in private shelters across Virginia and for the protection of feral cats in their own environments, advocated for the fair and compassionate treatment of pit bulls, lobbied for the Virginia animal fighting bill, and for Richmond to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants. We advocated for legislation to end fox penning and to address the abuses of puppy mills, and we helped expose the painful and unethical experiments being done on innocent dogs at the McGuire VA hospital. On each of these issues, the Richmond SPCA did the right and courageous thing that was in the animals’ best interests despite considerable expressions of hostility from some corners. It won’t surprise you to hear that, as the spokesperson for these positions, I was the focus of attacks from outside our organization. But, of course, these were positions taken with the authorization of our Board. In dealing with this hostility, I had unwavering support from people I knew I could count always on. Allen King, Pat Manning, Stuart Siegel, Angela Ivey, Sarah Babcock, Em Hughes, Carly Sgueo, Connie Moser, Lisa Rivadeinera, Jenna Stewart Bailie, Tabitha Treloar, Al Broaddus, Marla Fergerson, Jack Nelson, and of course Tamsen, Ed and Tyler have always let me know that they were with me, that what we were doing was right and that I could count on their support. To each one of you, you have raised me up, and I am so very grateful to you. I never had to feel I was alone or that my position in the organization was insecure even when others on the outside were being pretty harsh and unpleasant.
A closing request
And so that brings me to my request of you. Tamsen Kingry will now be taking these crucially-important public stands for animals. She is a great leader who will have the Richmond SPCA on the forefront of the animal welfare movement. She may be the target of hostility at times for our taking courageous positions. I am ALL IN to support and back her up, and I ask you all to be all in too. Pushing our community and our society to move past its comfort and complacency in order to do what is required to save and protect animals is often very hard. But nothing of value in life is ever easy to achieve. I ask that you join me with your whole-hearted and vocal support for Tamsen and for the Richmond SPCA as they continue to speak and lead with courage and commitment for the animals who need us so much.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this honor.
Robin Robertson Starr retired from Richmond SPCA on October 2, 2019 after 22 years of leading the organization as its chief executive officer. She remains actively involved as a volunteer member of the Board of Directors.