Stray Dogs to Be Put into Care, New Homes More Quickly

Loudoun County leaders have started work to revise the rules around how long stray animals are kept in confinement—which could mean dogs found in poor health could get help sooner.

Virginia law requires local animal services departments to hold stray, unidentified animals for five days. Loudoun’s local ordinances tack on an extra five days for unidentified dogs—meaning a stray dog found without any kind of identification must wait almost two weeks for serious medical help, said Animal Services Director Nina Stively.

“You kind of get a sense after the first couple of days that nobody’s coming for them, so we looked at the data,” Stively said. In Loudoun, around 80 percent of lost animals are returned home, but she said over the past four years, less than one percent of stray, anonymous animals were claimed after the first five days. But it is only after that 10-day holding period that Animal Services can start getting those dogs ready for adoption.

“Essentially we’re keeping a couple hundred dogs at the shelter for five days longer, when they could be going to rescue, they could be getting adopted,” Stively said. “It didn’t make a lot of sense for them. Nobody likes being at the animal shelter. No matter how much we try to make it a comfortable and relaxing environment, it’s very scary, and we don’t want to force them to stay with us any longer than they have to.”

And, she said, by law, the animal shelter can only provide comprehensive medical care—whether it be spaying and neutering the animals, or treating serious medical problems—after the holding period ends. For example, she said, if a dog comes in with a broken leg, the shelter staff can splint it, but cannot do surgery except in emergency cases.

In another example, she said, an elderly Cocker Spaniel had to wait to get a painful infection in her teeth treated properly—even though a new family was standing by to adopt.

“By law we cannot go ahead and permanently alter this dog,” Stively said. “We had to wait the full ten days, even though her mouth was really painful and infected.”

At the end of the 10th business day, she said, the family came and adopted up the dog and took her straight to the vet.

“We want to do what is compassionate and humane and, frankly, supported by the data,” Stively said.

Before adopting the new ordinance, the county Board of Supervisors will have to hold a public hearing, which has not yet been scheduled. County officials intend to see the new ordinance go into effect Oct. 1. Animals with any kind of identification are kept for ten days.

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