Sterling resident Lea Spickler knows that German shepherds are not the easiest dogs to handle, so when the Loudoun County Animal Shelter contacted her, she wanted to help.
"We're very excited the shelter is considering working with rescue groups. That's a positive first step, and we want to be part of that," said the president of Virginia German Shepherd Rescue, a Sterling-based rescue group operating in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. "They don't fare as well at animal shelters as other dogs do. They aren't warm and fuzzy [and] are aloof to strangers."
Robert Montgomery, outgoing director of the Animal Shelter, asked concerned residents and rescue groups, trainers and kennel operators in the region to help the shelter expand the current adoption plan, which includes policies for adopting animals out to individual homes. The shelter would help dogs with behavior problems and other special needs with professional training or behavior modification, so they could become more adoptable and be transferred to Companion Animal Rescue Agencies (CARAs). Montgomery said. CARAs, as defined by the state's Comprehensive Animal Laws, find permanent homes for adoptable animals and keep the animals in residences, foster homes or border establishments. Expanding the shelter's adoption plan would allow the shelter to transfer the animals' ownership to these rescue groups.
"The shelter has a capable staff with resources to screen and identify dogs with correctable issues but has limited resources to correct these issues," Montgomery said in the request.
MONTGOMERY SENT out the requests following the criticism he heard at the Aug. 21 Animal Advisory Committee meeting and in subsequent communication. Animal activists and rescue groups from the metropolitan Washington, D.C. region criticized the relationship the shelter has with rescue groups and the shelter's temperament testing policy, which was implemented in May to test the adoptability of dogs. They questioned whether the euthanasia rates increased from the use of the testing.
The rate has stayed about the same during the past six years when Montgomery was director, he said. The number of animals the shelter receives averages about 2,700 to 3,000 a year with an euthanasia rate of about 1,000 animals, or one to three for every animal the shelter receives. Reasons for the euthanizations include injuries to wildlife, sickness in animals, cats who are unsocialized, and dogs and cats that are not adoptable due to aggression.
"It's in reaction to what I hear people say. I felt like something had to be done in order to put it to bed," Montgomery said at the Oct. 16 Animal Advisory Committee meeting, which was attended by three people in addition to the regular committee members.
Montgomery said he wanted to take a "positive step" and "head off the negativity." "There are a lot of issues to consider. There are a lot of different viewpoints to hear," he said.
MONTGOMERY SUGGESTED the Animal Advisory Committee identify which groups are willing to work with the shelter, then develop the adoption plan, a process he expects will take at least a year.
Currently, the Animal Shelter, the Alexandria Animal Welfare League and the Arlington County Animal Shelter are agencies in Northern Virginia that do not work with animal rescue groups, Spickler said. The Animal Shelter staff is identifying which shelters in the area are working with the groups.
"It's a beginning," said Ann Gallus, committee chairperson. "We have to find a group of rescue groups we can work with if we go through with this. We are going to have to be comfortable with their treatment of animals, how they handle their paperwork ... We need to get input."
Montgomery suggested the committee and staff, with community input, determine which dogs could be eligible for rescue, select the methods needed to make the decision and identify when other groups would be allowed to take over the animals' care. The changes would require the adoption and euthanasia policy to be amended, so the shelter could offer up dogs to rescue groups.
The Animal Advisory Committee agreed to form a subcommittee to get the input by involving members of the committee, one to two staff members and one to two representatives from rescue groups.
“We have not decided how we are going to pick those groups,” Gallus said, adding that she asked the county for guidance on whether to choose national or local rescue groups.
THE SUBCOMMITTEE will write the adoption plan and present it to the full committee for approval. Gallus expects the end of next year to be the earliest the committee will have a final plan to present to the Board of Supervisors. “It’s going to be a long-term project because we went to do it correctly,” she said.
“This is a starting point. … The new director will decide how to go with this,” Montgomery said, adding that he wanted to "let the folks who had been vocal know we are very interested in working through the problem and seeing if there are some solutions."
Montgomery, who is retiring after six years with the shelter, plans to introduce the new director at the next committee meeting on Nov. 20. His last day will be on Oct. 31, a month later than he originally planned.
"I have to stay until the end of the month to try to smooth things a little bit and help get a new person hired and oriented," Montgomery said.
The interviewing process began on Tuesday to fill Montgomery's position. County Administrator Kirby Bowers will appoint the new director.
The Animal Shelter originally opened in Loudoun County in 1967 and became a county facility in 1974 on a 13.2-acre site in Waterford.