Fairfax County, VA

Fairfax County, which is located in northern Virginia within commuting distance of Washington, DC, has 1,082,000 human residents. The public animal shelter in Fairfax County achieved a 90%+ live release rate in 2013, and Fairfax County is now the largest jurisdiction listed as a 90%+ community by this blog.

The Fairfax County Animal Services Division (FCASD) is the municipal agency providing animal control and sheltering for the county. The Fairfax County Animal Shelter (FCAS) is part of FCASD. FCAS describes itself as an “open access” shelter for owner surrenders. In December of 2012 construction was completed on a shelter expansion that doubled FCAS’s square footage.

FCAS got a new director in November 2012, Tawny Hammond. One of Hammond’s initiatives for the shelter in 2013 was to increase the number of pit bull adoptions. They succeeded in nearly doubling the number of pit bull adoptions. (Although the article in the link mentions restrictions on pit bull adoptions, Fairfax County does not have breed-specific legislation determining dangerousness). FCAS has also begun to include pit bulls in their transports into the shelter.

FCAS has a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program that has been operating since 2008 and has provided TNR to over 3000 cats. The shelter does not count feral cats in its impounds or dispositions. Cats are considered free roaming in Fairfax County and animal control officers therefore do not impound healthy stray cats.

There are several other organizations in the region that should be noted. The City of Fairfax, an independent city of 23,000 people, has its own animal shelter which operates independently of FCAS. Owner surrenders and a small number of  strays are taken in by the Humane Society of Fairfax County (HSFC). The Friends of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter raise funds for FCAS, volunteer at the shelter, and help with marketing.

FCAS sent me their statistics for 2013. Their intake was 3747 animals (not counting animals presented for owner-requested euthanasia). This is an exceptionally low intake of 3.5 animals per 1000 people. There are several reasons for the county to have a low intake. One of the most obvious explanations is the county’s policy not to impound stray cats. Another reason is that HSFC takes in some owner surrenders and a few strays. FCAS has a robust pet retention program, which no doubt keeps many potential owner surrenders in their homes. Another possible explanation is the county’s very high median household income (third highest in the United States in 2012). Studies have shown that wealthier families are more likely to spay and neuter their pets. Whatever the full range of explanations might be, FCAS has achieved a very low intake.

FCAS’s live release rate for 2013 was 92% (based on statistics sent to me by a shelter official). This includes 1120 animals returned to their owners, 1777 adoptions, and 376 transfers out. If owner-requested euthanasias are included in total euthanasias, the live release rate drops to 82% (see discussion below). The 31 animals who died in shelter care, if added to euthanasias, do not change the live release rate. HSFC has not made their statistics available yet for 2013, but in 2012 they reported a 99% live release rate to the state of Virginia with an intake of 551 animals. The City of Fairfax houses their shelter animals with a local veterinarian and does not report to the state.

I noted above that FCAS’s live release rate for 2013 drops to 82% if owner-requested euthanasias are included in total euthanasias. This drop of 10 points is really an artifact of the shelter’s extremely low intake per 1000 people. The typical yearly intake for a shelter serving 1,082,000 people would be in the range of 16,000 to 32,000 animals. If FCAS took in that number of animals, then the 454 owner-requested euthanasias they had in 2013 would represent only about 2% of intake, a much more typical number. One thing we must keep in mind as shelters succeed in decreasing their intake is that it will cause changes in the statistics we generally see. I communicated at length with a shelter official about FCAS’s policy as to owner-requested euthanasia, and the policy is to restrict the practice to animals who would be euthanized for severe aggression or untreatable illness if they were impounded. The shelter official told me that in 2014 they are going to require that the shelter veterinarian examine every animal where euthanasia is requested by the owner and verify that euthanasia is required. Ultimately, FCAS officials would like to move this service out of the shelter and to a clinic setting where it could be provided for low-income people along with other essential veterinary services.