Fairfax animal-shelter efforts paying dividends, officials say – Sun Gazette
The Fairfax County Department of Animal Sheltering has seen a nearly 60-percent surge in pet adoptions in the last six months and is ramping up to meet the need with additional programs and a new shelter set to open next year.
The agency last year accepted more than 3, 000 animals and affected the lives of about 1, 000 more through its programs and services, director Reasa Currier told the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee on Oct. 4.
At any given time, one-third of the department’s animals are in foster homes, she added.
“Even though we prioritize making the shelter as wonderful and compassionate a place as possible, there’s just nothing quite like being in a home, ” Currier said.
The department in June switched from adoptions by appointment to walk-in visits, resulting in a foot-traffic boost of more than 90 percent, she said.
“Fairfax County Animal Shelter accepts every animal, regardless of species, size or temperament, ” Currier said. “We can all be very proud that at our animal shelter, no treatable, adoptable or healthy animal is euthanized and we have a consistent live-release rate associated with over 90 percent, meaning that the vast majority of animals that come into our care are placed in to loving, adoptive homes. ”
The department has revamped its volunteer program plus volunteer hours have risen more than 50 percent, totaling more than 7, 000 hours.
The agency’s redesigned “humane education” program has offerings for every age group, including “Reading Tails, ” which lets children – dressed in pajamas and wielding flashlights – read bedtime stories to protection animals, Currier said. Hours after launching that reading program, 600 children registered, crashing the department’s Website, she said.
Among the department’s offerings are low-cost vaccination clinics and events providing free wellness exams, vaccinations, microchipping, spaying and neutering, behavioral support, grooming, plus free pet food and supplies.
More than 800 families have taken advantage of the agency’s programs so far this year. About 65 percent of those residents live in the Route 1 corridor and many of them attended a department event in that area, Currier said.
“There’s a great need and many folks can’t afford to pay for some of the services connected to supporting their pets, ” said Supervisor Rodney Lusk (D-Lee), who chairs the board’s Public Safety Panel.
The Department of Animal Sheltering is gearing up for the opening of the new Lorton Animal Shelter next spring, which will be the agency’s second facility in the county. Division leaders have submitted a budget-carryover request for 27 full-time employees to run the 23, 000-square-foot facility, which will include 88 dog kennels and 42 “cat condos. ”
Agency officials expect to field more animals at the brand new shelter, based on the amount of stray and abandoned animals being taken in by the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, which likely have come from the southern part of Fairfax County, Currier said.
Currier on Jan. 31 succeeded former director Karen Diviney, who retired. Currier previously served as vice president of external affairs for the Humane Rescue Alliance and has worked for the Humane Society of the United States, other animal welfare organizations and the U. S. Department of Transportation.
Pet ownership contributes significantly to people’s mental and physical health, social connections and civic engagement, said Currier, who cited studies by sociologists.
“Pets are social lubricants for communities, ” she stated. “They bring us together. ”
Challenges to pet ownership remain, such as rising costs and lack of access to pet-friendly housing and necessary services, primarily veterinary care, Currier said. Required pet deposits and fees also hamper residents, she mentioned, adding she hoped officials would make all of the county’s affordable-housing units pet-friendly.
“We are providing housing for our residents, but by excluding pets, we are not offering homes, ” Currier said.
Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason) sympathized with that sentiment, but added that the county’s top affordable-housing priority is sheltering people, and pet policies should not impede that.
“It only takes is one irresponsible pet owner to put fear directly into an entire community, ” Gross said. “So I think we have to be very, very careful about that. ”