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Privatize Animal Shelter?

Supervisor claims privatization would improve licensing, save taxpayer money.

Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) has floated an idea to privatize the Loudoun County Animal Shelter, located in Waterford, but details of the proposition are still vague.

Delgaudio says the citizens are ill-served by the shelter, citing the low percentage of dog licensing in Loudoun. Last year, Loudoun County Animal Care and Control issued 9,400 dog licenses Ñ about 20 percent of the entire canine population in the county.

"There's something wrong if 80 percent of the dogs owners are not in compliance with the law," Delgaudio said. He added that he considered the Department of Animal Care and Control to be the county's "most inefficient" department.

While Delgaudio would like to see animal control continue to be a function of the county, he also thinks the current number of animal control officers Ñ six Ñ is too many. And in a situation where the shelter itself would be turned over to a private entity, Department of Animal Care and Control Director Tim Crum's position would be eliminated.

Total savings, Delgaudio estimates, could be in the neighborhood of $300,000 a year.

Crum is on leave and could not be reached for comment.

ANIMAL SHELTER manager Inga Fricke points out there are some difficulties in turning over the shelter to a private organization. Nongovernment shelters are often no-kill, which sounds good; but what it means, Fricke said, is that nonadoptable animals have no place to go.

Recently, the shelter accepted a neglected Basilisk lizard that was too ill to be saved. It was euthanized.

"A no-kill shelter would not have a place for this, and then where would they go with it?" Fricke said.

"We do end up with the animals that will never get adopted," Fricke said. "If we weren't here to take that ... that would be irresponsible."

Fricke also downplays Delgaudio's emphasis on the lack of dog licenses issued. From June 2003 to June 2004, the shelter has licensed 11,500 dogs Ñ an improvement over last year's 9,400 and 2002's 8,540.

"It's less of a failure on the part of the shelter than it's just that the fact that we don't have the staff to go knock on every door," Fricke said.

Neither Fricke or anyone working at the shelter last Friday could recall when the number of staff was last increased.

Even with the limited staff, 2004 has proved to be a record year for adoptions. Last year, the shelter adopted out 866 animals; by November of this year, that number had been surpassed.

DETAILS OF DELGAUDIO'S proposition Ñ for example, what private organization would step up to take over shelter management Ñ are still unknown. Delgaudio says he has been in talks with members of the public, but the idea is still in preliminary stages.

While Loudoun does host several private, no-kill breed rescue groups, such as Virginia German Shepherd Rescue and Persian Rescue of Virginia, they are networks of fostering families Ñ not organizations prepared to handle and fund the day-to-day operations of a shelter that takes in dogs, cats, rats and even a 10-foot Burmese python.

Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge), often Delgaudio's foil when it comes to the Republican's cost-cutting ideas, is skeptical but willing to investigate.

"I don't mind looking at it," Burton said. "I don't know what his actual proposition is. He just throws stuff out and it hasn't been thought through."