Learning about Police Animal Protection Unit

Learning about Police Animal Protection Unit

Officers deal with everything from dogs to bats to snakes.

   Police Sgt. D.L. Cook during his presentation to the Sully CAC.
 By Bonnie Hobbs  

The Fairfax County Police Department’s Animal Protection Unit has some 30 officers, and Sgt. D.L. Cook, a field supervisor with that unit, recently spoke about its responsibilities. He was addressing a meeting of the Sully District Police Station’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).

“For almost every animal investigation we do – whether it’s about dogs at large, dogs biting or animal-welfare cases, etc. – we’ll ask for two documents,” he said. “We’ll want to see the animal’s county animal license and proof of rabies vaccination. We do 500-600 home quarantines of pets a year, due to their coming into contact with a wild, rabid animal.”

Cook also noted the number of calls the police receive about a large variety of animals on the loose. They don’t just concern dogs and cats, but livestock such as hogs, as well as more exotic animals like emus and ostriches. 

A particularly notable incident happened in February 1999 when a pair of dogs got into an ostrich enclosure on a ranch outside Clifton and scared away 32 ostriches. And since these giant birds can run as fast as 40 mph, catching them all wasn’t easy.

“Roughly 60 percent of our calls are about wildlife,” said Cook. “Bats come into homes on a regular basis. If you turn on your porch light while you’re gone, it’ll attract bugs – which bats eat. So when you return home and open the front door, bats will fly inside your house. And people exposed to bats might have to get [shots] for rabies.”

Noting that coyotes may be found in Reston and along the trails at Lake Accotink, Cook warned that they can be rabid, too. “So be attentive to your environment,” he told the meeting attendees. 

“Very rarely will they approach you,” he continued. “But if you see them – or foxes or raccoons – charging inanimate objects, like trees and tires, call us immediately, because this behavior means they’re probably rabid. And if your pet is exposed to that animal, we can test it to see if it needs a new rabies vaccination.”

As for snakes, said Cook, they’ll often get inside homes, and the black racers are the ones who are normally the culprits. “We also have copperheads in Fairfax County,” he said. “If they’re outside, leave them alone and they’ll go on their merry way. But if they’re in your house, call us.”

He even talked about bears. “Every year in April, May and June, the young yearling male bears head through Fairfax County through the Sully District and Clifton,” said Cook. “Then they make a loop and head west.” 

Regarding deer, he said the police Animal Protection officers will investigate hunting complaints. And he stressed that the deer in Sully Woodlands are now healthy because there are less of them due to the county’s Deer Management Program.

Cook then told the residents to call Animal Protection at 703-691-2131 any time they have an animal-related question – especially if they observe a dog biting someone or an aggressive animal running loose. “You should also call us if you see animals that have been left inside hot cars,” he said. “And let us know if you see someone mistreating an animal. In every one of the school shootings, the shooters have previously been cruel to animals.”

Basically, said Cook, he and the other members of the Animal Protection Unit do the jobs they do because they love animals. And Capt. Dan Spital, commander of the Sully District Station, agreed.

“Fairfax County has, by far, the very best Animal Protection police in the nation,” said Spital. “People look to Fairfax County for guidance.”