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National Animal Trainer Visits Shelter

Animal control staff learn behavioral lessons.

Department of Animal Care and Control staff are still talking about Brian Kilcommons’ July 8 visit.

The nationally known animal trainer and behaviorist of New Paltz, N.Y., spent the day at the Waterford animal shelter to demonstrate training techniques, find out about staff concerns and promote his latest book, “Metro Dog,” which he co-authored with his wife Sarah Wilson, along with seven other books.

Timothy “Tim” Crum, director of Animal Care and Control, who attended the event, said Kilcommons told the group, “Loudoun County Animal Care and Control is one of the top 10 in the U.S.,” explaining that the cleanliness of the building and the staff attracted him to the Loudoun facility.

A trainer and behaviorist since the late 1970s, Kilcommons trained under Barbara Woodhouse, the British guru of her day. Kilcommons, Woodhouse’s only American protégé, is the guru of today, Crum said.

“This guy’s amazing. He’s able to look at a dog and instantly identify its behavior based on [the position of its] eyes, ears, mouth and tail,” Crum said. "What's amazing is he's able to see things most of us don't pick up on. He's dead on, that's why he's really good."

KILCOMMONS spent five hours working with about 12 staff members on temperament testing and identifying dog behaviors, along with discussing animal-related issues.

"It was a 10 for a work day," said Donna Levesque, administrative manager for the Department of Animal Care and Control, noting Kilcommon's enthusiasm for working with animals, his sense of humor and his "wealth of information." "He's incredibly knowledgeable about the subject, about dog behavior, how to place the right dogs on the floor for adoption and how to train dogs."

Staff showed Kilcommons the department’s manual for temperament testing and gave a demonstration of the shelter’s procedures, which are based on the Sue Sternberg model. The shelter identifies aggressive dogs through a temperament evaluation designed to bring out aggressive tendencies in the dogs brought to the shelter.

“He reviewed that with me and the staff. He confirmed we are doing the right thing,” Crum said. “We wanted some input on temperament testing. It’s always controversial. It’s not just exclusive to Loudoun."

"He made the staff feel what a great place this was and what a great job they're doing. It was a nice day," Levesque said. "You feel great after spending a day with him."

Kilcommons asked staff about the needs of the animal shelter, Crum said. Staff members said they want to improve the shelter’s public image, which can be negative since some dogs have to be euthanized for aggressive behaviors. The shelter needs to publicize the fact it does not like to or want to kill pets, but that the shelter serves a purpose to protect public health and safety and alleviate a societal problem of unwanted pets, Crum said.

STAFF told Kilcommons the animal shelter does not have enough resources to save every single animal brought to the shelter, an average of about 3,000 animals a year, Crum said. In fiscal year 2002, the shelter took in 3,015 animals and of those, adopted out or returned to their owners 1,375 animals. The shelter euthanized 1,500 animals, a number that includes sick and injured wildlife and animals that were dead upon arrival to the shelter.

“Bottom line, we get some animals you couldn’t put out in the public,” Crum said, adding that some of the aggressive animals brought to the shelter can be saved through training, but others cannot. “There’s an irony when people criticize us. They want us to do more. In order to do more, we need more … money, volunteers and staff.”

The Department of Animal Care and Control has 27 staff members and is at full staff with 30 employees. It has about 20 regular volunteers, along with another 50 volunteers who volunteer one to two times a year.

Kilcommons has trained more than 40,000 dogs during his career. He is founder of the Turken Foundation and co-founder and president of Great Pets Inc., serves as a part-time faculty member at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, lectures nationwide and consults on animal behavior and training. He sold about 50 books during the one-hour book signing held during his Tuesday visit. More than 75 people attended the book signing.