A Fur-st of Its Kind: Loudoun Unveils New Animal Shelter

On Friday, Loudoun County will cut the ribbon on its new animal shelter and Loudoun County Animal Services headquarters, a facility that will be the first of its kind in the country.

The department has already moved its operation out of the old shelte near Waterford, which was designed as by the Humane Society as a training facility, then gifted to the county when those plans didn’t pan out. The new facility, next to Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park off Crosstrail Boulevard, is the first in the country to meet the Association of Shelter Veterinarians exacting standards for shelter design—standards the association published 11 years ago in 2010, and which guide shelters on more than a hundred issues ranging from natural light and nutrition to standards for medical care and records keeping.

The design work took four years. And for anyone who imagines animal shelters as bleak hallways of strays in cramped cages, the new Loudoun shelter will come as a pleasant surprise.

Stepping inside, the glass-fronted building reveals that all those windows are so the cats can have a view. The theme persists throughout the building—where there are animals, there are windows and solar tubes to let in the sunlight, along with enclosed outdoor spaces for them to play. Seating in wide open spaces near the front of the shelter invites visitors to come in, connect to the wi-fi and hang out with the animals, and open, sunny meeting rooms invite hosting community events.

Director of Animal Services Nina Stively said many of the design choices that may seem odd at first are geared around animals and visitors.

“The animals are really the focus of the building,” Stively said. “We love our staff, of course, but the staff at the end of the day can get up and go home. The animals can’t. This is their home until they find that forever stop. So, until then, we want them to be comfortable, we want them to have natural light and fresh air, and to not have to smell and see other animals that might stress them out.”

And by being more inviting and welcoming, Stively said, she hopes the space will also encourage more adoptions—although Loudoun already takes in animals from other jurisdictions to be adopted here.

“I want people to come in here on their lunch break, I want people to come in and hang out and use the wi-fi in the lobby,” Stively said. “Come on in and visit the cats when they have some time, come out and join our volunteer program to walk the dogs around the property or take them out to Bolen. The more engagement we can have with the community, the better for everybody.”

And in the back, for the first time, Loudoun County Animal Services has its own in-house veterinarian, Dr. Theresa Brown, a former farm vet.

Before, Stively said, Loudoun Animal Services would have to hope one of the vets in the community would have space and time to help with spay or neuter surgeries, or injury and sickness. Now, almost everything can be done in-house, without needing to sort out transportation, find a vet with room and time to help, or stress the animals unnecessarily. 

The building is built with modern intake procedures sanitation in mind, making it unlikely that animals arriving with any sort of infection will be able to spread it to others.

And the central location may even mean the department’s humane law enforcement arm is able to respond more quickly, and increased awareness can mean getting more calls from the community. The department responds to more than 400 calls a month, Stively said.

“I actually wish we received more calls, because this animal cruelty is happening, stray animals are happening. If no one’s calling us, we don’t know about them,” Stively said. “So the more calls we have, the more chance we have to make that change and save those lives.”

“I don’t expect every person who comes here to adopt a pet, but I do expect every person that comes here to have a positive experience and realize that animal shelters aren’t a bad place,” Stively said. “Animal shelters are a good place. They’re helping animals find permeant, loving homes through the community’s support.”

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