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Chatting with the Animal Shelter: Find a New Best Friend, Volunteer, Become a Foster to a Homeless Pet Archived Discussion Room

Fairfax County, Virginia

Chatting with the Animal Shelter: Find a New Best Friend, Volunteer, Become a Foster to a Homeless Pet

Do you love animals? Wondering what you can do to help dogs, cats, rabbits, turtles, birds and “more” in your community? Then on Friday, May 31 at 10:30 a.m., join Tawny Hammond, director, and Kristen Auerbach, community outreach program manager, with the Fairfax County Animal Shelter, to discuss new summer programs and initiatives, volunteer and foster opportunities and how you can find a lifelong best friend at the county’s Animal Shelter. Also get answers to all your questions about cats in our community. Questions are being accepted now.

Tawny Hammond : Good morning, we are here today to answer your questions about Fairfax County Animal Services. There are many exciting programs and initiatives taking place at the Animal Shelter. We are especially excited about the future completion of the new Animal Shelter, expanded volunteer and foster programs and incentives for older adults. 

Dave : What wildlife falls under the jurisdiction of Animal Control? If there are Foxes in the neighborhood that appear ill, is this something for Animal control? How about Snakes, Skunks, Raccoons etc? What agency is responsible for dealing with these critters if they are found in an occupied building?

Kristen Auerbach :
Animal Control officers will respond to calls about sick or injured wildlife of any kind. If an animal that is a rabies vector is found inside the living quarters of a home, Animal Control Officers will respond.  If a citizen brings in a wild animal, there is a wildlife drop-off fee of $25.  For skunks, the fee is $50.  If a baby bird is brought to the Shelter, we will accept it and transfer it to the Wildlife Rescue League.

Anonymous User : Are there tours available of the new facility?

Tawny Hammond : Yes, tours are available on request.  We suggest scheduling tours at least one month in advance.  Group tours are available to school, community or other groups up to twenty people.

Anonymous User : Can rabbits be spayed through the county?

Kristen Auerbach : Privately owned rabbits cannot be spayed through the County, but we can point you to several low-cost options for spaying or neutering your rabbit.

dd : How can you become accepted as a "foster parent"? What are the minimum and maximum time periods for which an animal is in a foster home?

Kristen Auerbach : If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, you can go online and fill out a foster application.  You can submit this to the Shelter and it will be processed in about two weeks.  You will be contacted by our foster care coordinator to discuss your availability and interests.  Some fosters take on long-term cases whereas other foster parents do short-term, emergency or weekend fostering.  There are many options for fosters - you can foster everything from puppies and kittens to heartworm positive dogs undergoing treatment.  All foster parents go through orientation and training. 

Anonymous User : Does the county work with animal rescue groups when they get overcrowded? How many animals can the facility hold? How is the decision made to euthanize a pet?

Tawny Hammond : We work with over 100 rescue partners to place animals as well as working collaboratively with neighboring shelters. Once the construction is complete, the Shelter will be able to hold 70 dogs, 80 cats and 50 or more small animals. Animals are evaluated on health and temperament.  If an animal is critically ill or injured and does not stand a good chance at recovery, or if an animal is vicious or a threat to public safety.

Anonymous User : I am interested in volunteering but to be brutally honest I just want to do the fun stuff like play with kittens and puppies, take dogs out for walks. I don't want to pick up poop or be involved with any deaths. Can I just do some things and not do icky things?

Tawny Hammond : Absolutely!  Volunteers don’t generally help with cleaning the kennels and they are never involved in any euthanasia.  We have many volunteers that walk the dogs and play with the cats in the socialization rooms.

Anonymous User : What is the euthanisia rate for dogs and cats at the Fairfax facility? Do you work with trap, neuter and release programs? What do you do with ear tipped cats that are brought in? Can someone borrow traps from the county?

Tawny Hammond : The placement rate for dogs and cats hovers around or above 90 percent.  We are working to improve this rate through innovative outreach programs, a thriving and growing foster program and by working with about 100 rescue partner organizations. The Shelter has a Trap-Neuter-Return program.  Since 2008, the FCAS has spayed or neutered about 3000 cats. When an ear-tipped cat is brought to the shelter, we alert our community cat partners to find out which colony the cat belongs to. The Shelter runs a program called ‘Community Cats’.   People who take the class can participate, free of cost, in the TNR program.  Traps can be loaned, free of charge, to participating trappers. 

Anonymous User : I've heard a lot of shelters are not accepting adult cats right now because it's kitten season. Is the Fairfax Animal Shelter accepting adult cats?

Kristen Auerbach : We are accepting owner surrendered cats of all ages.  Because Fairfax County does not have licensing laws, cats are legally allowed to be free-roaming.  From May through October, the Shelter does not accept healthy stray cats.  Nationally, only 3% of stray cats are ever reclaimed and the Shelter would run out of room almost immediately if we took healthy stray cats during kitten season.

Anonymous User : What if you want to adopt a kitten that is 8 weeks old and you feel the kitten shouldn't be fixed until they are older, maybe 3-4 months old. How would that work? My vet thinks kittens shouldn't have surgery until they are 4 months old.

Tawny Hammond : The Shelter recommends pediatric spay and neuter, which is as safe as waiting until the animal is older.  Also, Virginia state law requires us to spay or neuter before releasing to the adopter.  There are many medical benefits to spaying and neutering before the animal sexually matures. 

Anonymous User : My neighbor's cats constantly come into our yard and use our flower garden as a litter box and try to get into our trash. Plus I'd rather they not go after the birds in our yard. Last year they destroyed a nest. I've heard about the no trespass notice for animals, but how does it work? Is it really effective? Polite conversations with the neighbor haven't worked. I'm not sure what else we can do.

Tawny Hammond : There are no licensing laws for cats in Fairfax County and cats are legally allowed to be free-roaming in Fairfax County.  There are effective deterrents including noise and non-toxic chemical repellants.  As far as a no trespass notice for animals, you can contact an attorney who can help you understand your options.

Anonymous User : What are the new summer programs and initiatives you brought us?

Kristen Auerbach : We have launched a comprehensive Pets for Seniors program that provides adoption incentives and special volunteer opportunities for older adults in Fairfax County.  We are working with the Fairfax County Extension Office on a new rabbit enrichment program for teenagers.  This gives young people the opportunity to volunteer at the Shelter.  We are starting a dog enrichment program that includes off-site dog walking, kennel enrichment, weekend fostering for shelter dogs and behavior modification programs to increase adoptability of dogs and cats.  We will be attending many events, including Springfield Days, Celebrate Fairfax and more!  We are eagerly awaiting the opening of our two, large community rooms, which will allow us to hold year-round camps, classes, meetings and programs.  We are improving and expanding our trap-neuter-return program.  Those are just a few!

Anonymous User : Can the new director speak about what she wants to change, new programs, etc? What should we expect to see in the coming year? How is the new building coming along, what is left to finish? What is the new director's background? How does the new building control infectious diseases? Thanks.

Tawny Hammond : I am committed to continuing the progress and successes of my predecessor, Karen Diviney. Working closely with shelter staff we are expanding the shelter community outreach programs and humane education. The new shelter slated for completion this fall will have two lobbies for both lost and found and an adoption center. There will also be two community rooms and the plan is to keep it full with workshops, classes, community meetings and other activities geared toward education and community involvement. The new building will have five separate ventilation systems that will aid in controlling the spread of infectious disease. Additional kennels will allow for a more efficient sanitization system. I have worked for the county for 24 years managing parks, facilities and programs. My last assignment with the Park Authority was managing Frying Pan Farm Park, an interpretive working farm with over 200 animals. I have a background with companion animal programming, community engagement and education and wildlife management.

anonymous : If a person wants to adopt a pet and has an existing dog in the home but does not have a relationship with a vet how do would they go about getting approved? I personally do my own vaccines and take my dog to the county rabies clinics.

Kristen Auerbach : You should consult one of our adoption counselors about your particular situation.  We do need proof of rabies, which you should be able to provide if you have been going to a rabies clinic.  I don't know the details of your situation (how you are obtaining vaccines, etc.) so I cannot give a definite answer.

Anonymous User : Why can't a vet be spayed or neutered at a vet of our choice? Why are small dog male neuters so expensive? It would seem better to reflect a different price for male and female spays/neuters rather than a one price for all. Thank you.

Kristen Auerbach : We are required by law to ensure that all cats and dogs that leave the shelter are spayed or neutered.  To be able to make sure that all pets are spayed or neutered, we require that they undergo surgery at our contracted veterinarian.  This also ensures that every pet receives a high quality spay/neuter.  Most vets do not charge more for small, male dogs to be neutered vs. larger male dogs, but every vet has a different pricing structure.  At our shelter, dogs are $170 and cats are $100 to be spayed or neutered.  We now do many of our spays and neuters ahead of time, particularly on adult dogs and cats.  The adopter only pays the adoption fee of $30 or $40 for these animals.

Anonymous User : What do you do if you find a wild animal (rabbit, baby bird, hurt turtle), do you call animal control? Do you call the same number for a dog hit by a car and a deer or a racoon hit by a car? What about bats, snakes or other critters that have moved into your home? Who do you call if your dog was attacked by an off leash dog while out on a walk? Who do you call if you think your neighbor has too many pets and/or they don't clean the poop up in their yard and it smells bad (talking townhouses with a shared fence)? Who do you call if you see children hurting animals, like a tame cat or trying to set a turtle on fire? Thanks!

Tawny Hammond : The police non emergency number is 703-691-2131.  The number you should call for injured wildlife is the Wildlife Rescue League hotline at 703-440-0800.  If you have concerns about other wildlife in your home or your animal is attacked you should call 703-691-2131. If it is an emergency situation and you are in harms way you would call 911. If you have concerns about hoarding or the welfare of an animal you should call 703-691-2131. You should call the the police if you see an animal being injured or harmed. Dispatch will send the appropriate public safety personnel.

Anonymous User : Do you need fosters for puppies/dogs and if so, what are the requirements?

Kristen Auerbach : At this time, we need fosters for adult dogs who need a break from the Shelter environment.  Even a couple of days to a week in a regular home can provide much-needed mental health time, training and exercise for a Shelter dog.  We sometimes need fosters for puppies, until they get old enough to be adopted.  This time of year, we need fosters for neo-natal kittens.  I answered the question about requirements but this web page should be helpful.

Anonymous User : I have noticed around here that volunteers have to be so much older now days. Why can my 11 & 6 year old who both have a love for animals not volunteer. The older one walks our dog everyday for years now. My youngest feeds and waters the pets everyday. They can also brush pets, socialize with them, & exercise the animals . I understand all children come from different maturity levels and backgrounds. But, I think you are missing a large market of volunteers by not allowing under 18 to help. We could help in previous states we lived in, but not here.

Kristen Auerbach : The Animal Shelter falls under the purview of the Police Department.  Because of this, and because of the liability issues associated with handling animals, all volunteers must be at least 18 years old and must undergo a background check.  We are excited to open the two, large community rooms this fall.  Once construction is complete, we plan to host a variety of classes, camps and programs for children and teens.  We know that animals and kids are good for each other! 

You might want to consider contacting the Fairfax County 4-H Extension office to learn more about the rabbit enrichment program at the Shelter. 

Anonymous User : May children help with their parents volunteering at the same time? Thank you for the 4H information. :)

Kristen Auerbach : Yes.  The 4-H program is designed so that parents and children come together. 

anonymous : is there a limit to the number of animals that can live in one residence?

Kristen Auerbach : This depends on a couple of factors:  For dogs, the answer depends on the size of your lot and the square footage of your home.  For other animals, it depends on the owner's ability to care for them. 

For more information:

Tawny Hammond : We would like to thank everyone for their thoughtful questions and participation today. It was a pleasure spending time with you. We are very excited about the future at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. The programs, plans and strategic initiatives in place and being planned would not be possible without the support of the community, Shelter volunteers, dedicated staff and incredible rescue organizations.