RICHMOND, Va. — What’s in a name? Maybe a future.
At least that’s what city animal officials were hoping when they christened Boompsy the pit bull-terrier mix; Flounder the cat; Evil-Lyne the Feral Puss; and countless others at Richmond Animal Care & Control.
“We have to name almost 4,400 animals a year, and we want to make them as individual as possible,” said Chuck Marchant, acting director of the city department.
Many shelters give their animals simple human names. The Richmond shelter takes a slightly different tack; workers there will OK almost any name — except the mundane.
It’s an open-admission facility, which means it takes in any and all animals, including many with no names.
And sometimes, that can make the job tough. These aren’t just the high-odds, photogenic and desirable animals; these are the literal underdogs — the tough sells.
The shelter works hard for a high live-release rate, but not every story there has a happy ending, Marchant said.
“You have to do something to have more wins every day than you have losses,” he said.
Litters tend to get movie-type names, all in a theme. The Little Rascals are a perennial favorite, Marchant said.
The names come from a variety of sources: classic actors and actresses are popular, as are music-related names. (See Jackie Chan, the long-haired cat, and Suzanne Somers, the Labrador retriever mix.)
“It humanizes them, but also it pays tribute to pop culture that we love,” he said.
Others get named for animal control officers’ favorite cereals, or simply for phrases that stick with someone.
Crispix is a husky mix. Wiki Waka is a “brindle pit girl” who’s gotten “a little bit spazzier” during her time at the shelter, for example, Marchant said. She’s been there since early September.
Puns are a bonus, and cats that are feral have that fact worked into their names, such as Will Feral. (In that case, however, upon further examination, the cat turned out not to be feral.)
Field supervisor Richard Stewart was a fan of the “Hunger Games” trilogy, which inspired a lot of names. Other times, he turns to the Internet Movie Database. And then there was the series based on board games.
“It actually, I believe, brings a lot of people,” Stewart said. “It kind of catches somebody’s eye.”
They might be looking on Petfinder, an online animal search service, and see the name.
“And then they kind of fall in love with the animal, and it’ll make them come in, instead of it just being Bob or Spot,” he said.
No Known Origin - The Sequel was a shorthaired cat who simply showed up in the intake room one day. No one was sure where she came from — maybe the cleaning staff accepted her from someone and forgot to leave a note. Whatever her origin, she did find a home.
“If that’s what draws them in to get them out into warm and loving homes, we’re happy that it works,” Marchant said.
It was a name that brought Forest, a black Lab-looking dog, into Brittany Schaal’s life and West End home.
Forest doesn’t believe in right turns.
That’s not to say that he disapproves of them; he just doesn’t seem to believe they exist. No matter what he’s doing, or where he’s going, he gets there by turning left.
“Every turn is a left turn — like NASCAR,” Schaal said.
A trip around the living room is a leisurely counterclockwise circle. A sharp right is actually a smartly executed reverse jug handle.
Schaal adores Forest, and his quirks, which vets think stem from some sort of a neurological condition.
When Forest was at Richmond Animal Care & Control, he was named Tilt-a-Whirl, after the well-known carnival ride. And that caught Schaal’s eye.
She’s a frequent adopter from the shelter (though some of those are just foster animals that became permanent).
Schaal has five pets: two dogs, Chloe and Forest; two cats, Maggie and Johnny; and one Dutch rabbit, Penelope.
Both dogs and both cats came from the city’s animal care and control shelter. So when Schaal saw a dog with the name Tilt-a-Whirl on his pen, she started wondering.
“There has to be a reason,” she remembers thinking. “Why is he called that?”
And so she learned about what she calls his quirks.
He drags his back feet some, but prances up front. When he gets tired, he has trouble standing up.
“He’s like a toddler learning to walk, or a deer on ice,” she said.
And he has trouble with stairs. If he misses one at the top, “you hear him coming,” she said.
And he can’t wait very long to relieve himself, so Schaal has affixed a cowbell to the door. He rings it when he has to go. The only hitch is that Schaal’s cat Johnny, who’s a bit on the hefty side, has figured out that ringing the bell makes people appear. And people, of course, are the source of cat food. Now, Schaal has to listen carefully. Is it the Lab’s sedate ring or a frenzied shaking?
But even with all the dog’s little differences, Schaal adored him, and he became a part of her family.
But he did need renaming. Tilt-a-Whirl drew her interest, sure, but it wasn’t handy when she was shouting for him to come in from playing with the neighborhood kids.
Looking for something shorter, no more than one or two syllables, she landed on Forest, after Forrest Gump.
“He is just quirky, and I love it,” she said.