Norfolk SPCA introduces award named after Virginia Beach judge who sent kitten killer to jail

For years Judge Thomas Ammons III served as an animal welfare advocate as both a Virginia Beach judge and SPCA board member. (Photo by Tom Barbee)

NORFOLK — The Norfolk SPCA will introduce a new award next month to recognize individuals who have demonstrated a dedication to the protection and welfare of animals.

The Thomas M. Ammons, III Award for Animal Welfare ceremony will be held at the Chrysler Museum on Nov. 8 to introduce its inaugural class of honorees who’ve mirrored the qualities of the man the award was named after.

Ammons career as a Virginia Beach General District Court judge received national attention in 1989 when he sentenced a man to serve time in jail for killing a kitten.

He also served as a board member with the Virginia Beach SPCA for several years, where he continued to contribute to animal outreach efforts, including rescue efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

According to Norfolk SPCA Executive Director Rob Blizard, Ammons’ track record of advocating for animals and volunteerism has laid a foundation for the award to recognize five people who have followed in similar footsteps.

“The Norfolk SPCA is delighted to bestow the Ammons Award to such deserving friends of animals,” Blizard said in a press release. “We know the community appreciates the amazing efforts this group of five undertakes to improve our community for dogs, cats, and other animals. It’s tremendously exciting to see them get the award in its inaugural year.”

This year’s Ammons Award will be presented to five Norfolk women who’ve contributed to local organizations with their own work in animal rescue and protection.

President of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies, Debra Griggs, is among the honorees with over 30 years of helping pets in Norfolk, starting in 1983 when she adopted a dog from the Norfolk SPCA.

Griggs is one of the founders of No Kill Hampton Roads, which lobbies the state legislature on animal welfare issues. She is also a founder of the Animal Resources of Tidewater, a local group that helps find homes for animals in shelters.

Animal Resources of Tidewater has grown since it was started in 1998, developing different programs and spending $100,000 annually to support animals in the region.

Joining Griggs are Anna Bowerman, Kathy Ferebee, Linda Nichols, and Beverlee Tiger — all professional women living in Norfolk who care about feral felines in the community. Bowerman and Ferebee are senior vice presidents with TowneBank, Nichols a software engineer, and Tiger a retired attorney and partner at a local law firm.

Together, the group has decades of involvement in local animal welfare organizations as volunteers. Ferebee is a past president of the Norfolk SPCA board of directors and Tiger is a current member. Bowerman was a board member of the Tidewater Humane Society and Nichols has been active with the Norfolk SPCA and other animal protection groups.

Their collective desire to help unowned cats living outdoors on Norfolk streets led them to their work on an extensive trap-neuter-return, or TNR, project that assisted cats sharing an industrial space in Ghent. The four felt that TNR efforts they had observed met with varying degrees of effectiveness and support. The group wanted to set a high standard for TNR colony management and ensure that the cats received the very best of care.

The three-and-a-half-year effort involved detailed scheduling and financial participation. The group cared for the cats daily and maintained their health before ultimately boarding and either homing or placing them in a sanctuary.

Their hope is that their standard of care would inspire others to help feral cats with similar dedication and might encourage those against TNR to support the practice.

“Acknowledging the proactive work and enormous compassion of these women are especially meaningful in the name of Judge Ammons,” Blizard said. “As the years pass, this award will be there to recognize very special individuals who through their work and efforts demonstrate compassion and service to animals in need.”

Following this year’s ceremony, the Norfolk SPCA will continue host annual events in every fall honoring regional, state and national recipients who dedicated their life to the same mission and values of compassion for animals.

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