Training going on at the Department of Animal Care and Control is a "best kept secret," according to Timothy "Tim" Crum, department director. But that will soon change.
The department took on a new approach beginning Feb. 2, the day Crum started as the new director. It's "about brand marketing" the Loudoun Animal Shelter, Crum said. "We want to be visible in Loudoun. We want people to know about us," he said.
The strategy involves training staff and sending animal control officers out into the community to relay information about animal issues, ranging from pet care to animal safety. For instance, this summer animal control officers are handing out posters and fliers about the effects of leaving dogs unattended in hot cars and on how to identify distressed animals, along with offering a free demonstration of the dangers at the Leesburg Wal-Mart on July 28.
"We seem to be ahead of the curve, anticipating and foreseeing problems before they occur," Crum said, adding that by being proactive, the Animal Shelter can prevent some cats and dogs from coming into the shelter and increase adoption rates, thereby decreasing euthanasia rates though the prevention efforts may not provide any statistical evidence.
The county’s population is increasing each year, which means an increase in the number of pets in the county. Within the last fiscal year, the Animal Shelter took in 10 percent more cats and dogs than in fiscal year 2002. The county’s population, which is determined according to calendar year, increased 12 percent from 182,000 residents in 2001 to 205,800 residents in 2002, according to county statistics.
"As our population grows, we are handling an increasing number of animals at the shelter. … We are using our growth and scale of our operation to provide more resources and education to the community and the entire region," said Robert Jones, also new to the department and the public and community relations coordinator since July. "We’re very proactive to get trained staff out in the community so everyone gets to benefit."
REGIONALLY, the Animal Shelter wants to provide training opportunities for other agencies and organizations, including animal control facilities and rescue groups, in addition to the staff. The entire staff — currently at 27 with three open positions — receives training with the animal control officers receiving the majority of training. The animal control officers — a total of seven with one open position — are trained on an ongoing basis in animal handling, safety, health and diseases, feeding animals and related topics.
"We have a really well-educated staff who attend training," Crum said. "Now it’s time for us to become a resource. … We want to be the resource where training occurs."
Crum plans to offer on-site training on small and large animal rescues, dog obedience and customer service. Within the past two months, the shelter attracted two "big name" trainers to provide staff with training at the Animal Shelter site in Waterford. Typically, staff receives specialized training at other sites.
Brian Kilcommons, a nationally known animal trainer and behaviorist, trained 15 staff members on July 8. On Aug. 6, Allan Schwartz, a horse rescue expert, provided training for nine staff members and another 10 people from outside organizations on proper horse rescue techniques. Schwartz’s training sessions included hands-on experiences and exposure to equipment, such as the Anderson sling that can lift large animals out of emergency situations.
The staff and other attendees had the chance to become familiar with the equipment, what it looks like and how it is used for emergency situations, knowledge that can help them avoid the panic of not knowing what to do, Crum said.
"Being proactive helps you cut off a lot of problems at the pass," Jones said.
This year, Animal Care and Control has provided assistance on two large animal rescues, including removing a horse from a pool it had fallen into and lifting out several cows that were stuck in knee-high mud.
"It’s about preparedness. It’s one of those things that doesn’t come up every day," Jones said, adding that the training allows staff to practice and update their skills.
The training provides other benefits as well. "The fact staff get to interact with people like this lifts their morale," Crum said.
The interaction adds to the network of colleagues the staff can contact for future questions and problems. "Morale boost, confidence boost and increase of networks of colleagues are the takeaways," Jones said.
"It’s a good opportunity for other organizations to work together," said Margot Meador, animal control officer for the Animal Shelter. "You can use other organizations that have the training and the knowledge, and it’s good in general the other agencies have training as well."
The Animal Shelter aims to provide the horse rescue training sessions annually.