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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cop school: Animal Services

Fairfax County has a pilot program to test the 4-poster system for combating deer ticks that spread Lyme disease. [photo from 21st Century Deer Management.]
The work of the Fairfax County Police Department isn’t all about chasing bad guys; sometimes it’s about chasing a rabid raccoon or catching an aggressive dog. That’s because a key component of the FCPD is the Animal Services Division, which was featured at a recent session of the Citizens Police Academy.

Animal Services covers wildlife management, animal control officers, and the Animal Shelter, which is undergoing a major renovation and expansion funded with a $17 million public safety bond.

When the project is completed, in March 2013, the shelter will be increased from its current 15,000 square feet to 28,500. It will have more animal holding areas; more dog runs; better ventilation; more natural daylight; a new barn; a dog walking area; and separate rooms for birds, small mammals, and reptiles. Meanwhile, the animals are still there and are moved periodically as parts of the building are finished.

Karen Diviney, director of the shelter, says it’s her vision to have no animal euthanized because of lack of space. Because the animal shelter is “open access,” which means it is a public institution and publicly funded, it must take in any animal, “regardless of space, temperament or health,” she says.

Diviney offered some statistics on the Animal Shelter:
  • In 2011, the shelter took in 4,622 animals, including more than 2,000 strays, nearly 1,900 pets surrendered by their owner, and 435 for which the owner requested euthanasia for a sick or aggressive animal.
  • Thirty-five percent of euthanasia procedures are done at the request of the owner.
  • The shelter has a “positive release rate” of 80 percent.
  • Approximately 120 to 150 animals are taken in every day, but in summer, when people take more vacations, it can get up to 200.
  • The current population is 140, with 60 pets available for adoption.
“We don’t want to be just a pound,” Diviney says, explaining that if offers a board range of services, many provided by volunteers, including a reduced-cost rabies clinic, a foster program that provides care for about 400 puppies and kittens and sick or injured animals, the TNR (trap, neuter, and release) program aimed at controlling feral cat colonies, and the Safe Haven program that cares for the pets of people staying temporarily in domestic violence shelters. Every Monday, the shelter takes 50 to 70 cats to Harrisonburg, Va., for spay and neutering services at a low-cost vet clinic.

People usually bring in cats because they have too many, Diviney said. Often people have to get rid of their pets when they lose their jobs or their homes or have to move.

One of the most memorable events at the shelter was when they received 161 cats from the Annandale cat hoarders in two trailers in the middle of the night in November 2010, Diviney says. A $15,000 grant from Pet Smart helped the shelter provide veterinary care and food for them. Forty of the cats were feral and sick and had to be euthanized, she says. Another 35 feral cats were healthy and were placed in barn homes. By May of last year, most of the rest had been adopted.

The wildlife biologist’s office has responsibility for controlling the deer and geese populations, preventing human/wildlife conflicts, and monitoring the animals who share our environment.

Jeremy Everitts, an environmental technician, recently joined the wildlife biologists’ office to oversee a new three-year pilot study on the use of 4-poster stations to kill deer ticks, which cause Lyme disease in humans. He says a single deer can host up to 600 ticks.

The 4-poster stations have bins of corn that attract deer. As the deer bend down to get the corn, they rub against paint rollers doused with pesticides. Everitts says the 4-posters have been used in 20 states since 2009 and show great promise. There are five 4-posters in Hemlock Overlook Regional Park in Clifton and 15 in Sully Woodlands Park in Chantilly.  

Lyme disease is only one problem caused by deer overpopulation, he says. A single deer can eat 2,555 pounds in a year, and overbrowsing “causes irreversible damage to native plant life,” which has led to a decline in ground-nesting birds.

The deer population needs to be reduced because it is exceeding “the biological carrying capacity,” he says. A healthy deer population would be 15 to 20 deer per square mile, but now there are 70 to 100 and in some places as many as 400 per square mile.

The county uses three methods to control deer: This year, 650 deer have been killed by archers, 125 in managed hunts, and 119 by sharpshooters. The county continues to defend deer killing despite complaints by advocates of more humane methods to control the deer overpopulation.

Everitts urges people not to feed wildlife because human food isn’t good for them and they become overly dependent on humans.

He said residents are allowed to shoot “nuisance wildlife” with pellet guns, not firearms. He gets a lot of calls from people complaining about groundhogs digging up their lawn. He suggests putting gasoline-soaked rags down their holes to deter them.

The county’s chief method for controlling the geese population is a technique called “addling,” which involves dipping goose eggs in corn oil to prevent them from hatching.

The animal control officers pick up stray dogs, respond to wildlife conflicts and aggressive dogs, remove dead animals from highways, investigate complaints about cruelty to animals, and bring injured wildlife to volunteers who nurse them back to health.
In 2011, they responded to 1,213 calls about animal bites. So far, this year, there have been 15 rabies cases, 10 of them involving raccoons.  It hasn’t been that hot this spring, but they’ve already gotten two calls about dogs left in cars.

The animal control officers never know what they might have to deal with: In one recent incident, a dog fell 25 feet off a cliff at Great Falls and had to be rescued by boat. Another time, they had to chase a large pig that had escaped from a pen and managed to lure it back with a trail of chocolate ├ęclairs.

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