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Animal Shelter Hits New High in Adoptions

Loudoun County Animal Care and Control broke records this year with adoptions up 15 percent and euthanasia down 13 percent.

While the average stay for each animal varies according to age, breed and size, this fiscal year — July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004 — the center found homes for 1,008 pets, up from 877 the previous year.

Tim Crum, director of Loudoun County Animal Care and Control, attributes these increases to brand marketing. Advertising the available animals has become a multi-media endeavor, continually exposing the cause to the public. When Crum came on board 18 months ago, the staff started a weekly television program on Adelphia channel three and a radio show.

"We wanted people to associate the shelter with the ultimate resource for adoptions," said Crum.

The shelter is also utilizing the Web, posting pictures of the adoptable animals. The Loudoun County Animal Care and Control site is the second most hit county Web site, said Crum.

Improvement in other performance factors has caused the occurrences of euthanasia to decrease from 1,677 to 1,457, according to the shelter personnel. With dogs being transferred through the breed-rescue program and adoptions on the rise, more animals are leaving the building. Illness and injury are the most common reasons for needing euthanasia, followed by feral cats.

"The biggest challenge is trying to balance saving as many lives as protecting public safety," said Crum. "Not every animal is place-able."

AFTER A CHANGE in state law in March allowed the center to work with local breed-rescue groups, 10 dogs have been transferred to the 10 registered breed-rescue foster homes, which generally have a more extensive adoption network for the specific breed. Crum said, 25 percent of the dogs the shelter receives are purebred.

When an animal first arrives at the shelter, on 14 acres in Waterford, there is a mandatory holding period before the animal is available for adoption. For example, if a dog arrives as a stray, the holding period is 10 days, allowing time for the owner to make a claim. During this time the dog undergoes a series of behavioral assessments. The dog is exposed to different situations to create a list of characteristics that is then displayed on each cage, increasing chances of compatibility with an adopter. If the dog arrives by surrender of its owner the holding period is 48 hours, ensuring that the decision is permanent.

Another record-breaker was the number of dog licenses issued — 11,697 up from 9,433 the previous fiscal year. According to the center, dog licensing helps to keep rabies under control since dogs must be vaccinated first. The chances of reuniting a lost dog with its owner also increase with licensing. This year, 536 stray dogs were returned to their owners.

"This is where I have to give props to the staff," said Crum.

Staff members have been working hard scanning local papers, flyers and Web sites, searching for any signs of lost dogs, said Crum.

THE ANIMAL CONTROL SIDE of the center is a 24-hour operation. Animal control officers provide emergency services around the clock with an on-call officer. During business hours — Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — the eight officers enforce state laws, as well as Loudoun County and town ordinances, that pertain to domestic animals. A response to wild animals only occurs in emergency situations.

The volunteer staff is key to the operation. With a new volunteer coordinator, Berkeley Coleman, hired in January, the volunteer staff has more than doubled in size. All volunteer positions require participants to be at least 16 years of age, most 18, and range from cat cuddlers to a Web photographer.

The animal center provides shelter for stray, unwanted or abused animals, maintains a lost and found pet directory, investigates reports of animal cruelty or abuse and enforces local and state animal laws.

Before an adoption can be completed, a long list of requirements must be met to guarantee a compatible match and a safe home for the animal. All applicants for adoption must be at least 18 years of age and reside in the Loudoun County area. Along with proof of residency and a source of income, applicants must submit two personal references and arrange that all adults in the household participate in the adoption process. The list does not stop here and the entire process may take up to 72 hours. The shelter stresses that animals never leave on the same day an application is submitted.

Staff member Katie Faulk said the most common stumbling block in application approval is something along the lines of the lack of a landlord’s consent. Otherwise, the process is normally obstacle-free. The staff and volunteers make themselves accessible throughout the adoption process, from the first visit to farewell, answering all questions and offering advice. After a supervisor approves the application, the pet is cleared for its new home.