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What Needs Fixing?

Animal Advisory Committee seeks solutions after August public meeting.

The Animal Advisory Committee wants to find out what happened at the August meeting when animal activist and rescue groups turned up to challenge the shelter's use of temperament testing.

"It's knowing what we should fix that is not totally clear," said Robert Montgomery, director of the Department of Animal Care and Control. "I think I know what they want us to do, but I'm not 100 percent sure."

The committee's next meeting, which is scheduled Oct. 16, will give members a chance to "talk out and identify the criticisms we've heard," Montgomery said. "We need to evaluate what we're doing. We need to listen to what they're telling us, research it and come to our own conclusions."

Residents from the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area attended the Aug. 21 committee meeting. One of the residents urged the animal shelter to work with rescue groups and use breed expert evaluations, while another questioned whether the Loudoun County Animal Shelter's euthanasia rates increased from the use of temperament testing. The animal shelter implemented temperament testing in May to select out dogs less suitable for adoption by evaluating their temperament, behavior and reaction to certain situations.

THE COMMITTEE discussed temperament testing during the July meeting. Committee members asked questions about the methodology and about dogs labeled as borderline between passing and failing the test.

"I think there's some better solutions to temperament testing, said Maryland resident Adrianne Lefkowitz, vice-president of the American Dog Owners Association, based in Castleton, N.Y. Lefkowitz, who attended both the August and September meetings, would not comment further.

"The public is far more concerned with other things than temperament testing," Lefkowitz said. "[Montgomery] has to identify and work with reliable rescue groups that have an effective and active placement system. I don't think he works with any rescue groups."

At the August meeting, Lefkowitz asked about the shelter's policy for pit bull terriers, which the shelter has not adopted out of the shelter since the 1990s. She asked why the shelter was euthanizing the pit bulls as a breed.

"A lot of the pit bulls we get in Loudoun County have been bred and used for illegal purposes," said Ann Gallus, chairperson of the Animal Advisory Committee. "For us to take those animals and put them in homes would be criminal."

Gallus asked why residents from other counties attended a Loudoun County meeting and how the miscommunication occurred. "There was a lot of misunderstanding about temperament testing and the procedure we went through," she said.

THE ANIMAL SHELTER uses a procedure that combines different methodologies for temperament testing. The procedure is based on the Susan Sternberg model, which is designed specifically for animal shelters to test a variety of dog breeds.

"It is a tool. The more you know about an animal, the better job you can do placing it and matching it with a new family," Gallus said.

Residents who attended the August committee meeting questioned whether temperament testing is a valid method for the shelter's adoption program, Montgomery said.

"They are questioning whether we're doing the right thing, that's the bottom line," he said. "I don't have any questions about the fact if temperament testing is valid. The question is if we identify problems with an animal, what do we do about those problems. ... Our mission is to get bad dogs off the street. That's what all this discussion was about. What does it take for a dog to be a threat and nuisance to people?"

Montgomery said before he retires in October, he wants to change the "negative energy" from the last two meetings into positive energy. "There are changes that should be made. We could do better," he said.

"I think that for Mr. Montgomery and the staff to be getting all the flack and all the negative comments is really counterproductive, which affects the morale of staff," Gallus said. "I would hope comments would be more constructive than they have been. I would like to see everyone work together."