Leesburg loves dogs – so much so that 43 downtown businesses joined with the Town of Leesburg’s Economic Development Department to create a “Dog Friendly” business directory (https://chooseleesburg.com/locals-visitors/leesburg-loves-dogs/) identifying themselves as places you can not only shop or eat but also bring your pooch to enjoy a cold bowl of water and a treat.
We couldn’t resist the opportunity to spotlight some of these enlightened business owners in our Kids and Pets issue, so we reached out to Allison Wood, the Town’s Small Business Development and Tourism Specialist who quickly arranged a gathering of not only several of the business owners behind the campaign – Delirium Café, Fire Works Wood Fired Pizza; Foliage, a house plant shop in Partnership with Birch Tree Bookstore; MadisonBelle, Misguided Angels, Morningside House Senior Living, October One Vineyard, Sunflower Shack, The Resourceful Woman Thrift Store and Zest – but also a litter of seven puppies from Loudoun County Animal Services who were briefly available for a snuggle before romping off to their forever homes.
So, that’s the story behind our cover, but the “tail” is longer than that. It goes to the heart of Loudoun’s residents and their unbridled support for compassionate treatment of animals and animal adoption. This is nowhere more apparent than the two-year-old home for Loudoun County Animal Services on Adoption Drive in Leesburg, which we wholeheartedly encourage you to visit.
Talia Czapski, LCAS Community Relations Manager, took us on a tour of the facility which houses the Department of Animal Services in addition to all the adoptable cats, dogs, bunnies, gerbils, guinea pigs and any other animals that are legal to own as pets. Proudly, she announces that it is the first publicly funded shelter to meet the American Veterinary guidelines for sheltering – the gold standard for animal shelters – and it is quickly apparent why.
At the cat kennels, one volunteer is engaged in “daily enrichment,” which today consists of Kong toys stuffed with treats they can bat around for fun and to obtain a reward. “We're trying to stimulate their senses – give them something to do or an activity. Yesterday it was paper bags filled with treats.”
Besides activities, the facility clearly was designed with the animal’s welfare and comfort in mind. Each kennel separates food and play space from the litter box. Every space is well vented and the windows are oriented so they never receive direct sunlight, while still affording a view of the outside. Barn cats even have access to an indoor-outdoor environment so they stay acclimated to the outdoors. “It all keeps them healthier and happier and healthier animals are adopted faster,” she said.
Small animals are separated from cats to support their mental as well as physical well-being (never having to be stared down by would-be predators), and bunnies have their own room where volunteers come to play with them or train them to touch a target for a treat. Girl Scouts supplement small animals’ diets with fresh greens grown on an outdoor patio, but the bunnies eat so much produce that they’re more than likely to be eating dandelion greens from Wegman’s.
Dogs too have rooms that separate more timid animals from loud, barking dogs, complete with sound panels that mute noise. Each has openings for people to greet the dogs that are on a dog’s eye level. Puppies too can be separated from the general population until they’re old enough for their vaccinations. To help with that as well as spaying, neutering, and diagnostic or injured animal care, X-rays, even dental treatment is a full-time veterinarian Dr. Suzanne Nelson, and two full-time veterinarian technicians. That’s a benefit not enjoyed by many other counties, so LCAS takes on cases from surrounding counties when necessary.
The expert medical care is covered in part by contributions from Friends of Loudoun County Animal Services https://www.flcas.org/. The group’s “Helping Hands” program funds any extra medical attention that falls outside of the LCAS budget, and “White Whiskers” covers any additional care needed to help move senior animals into a home where they can enjoy their “golden years.”
What appears to be a luxury of space is of course the result of a community that fully embraces both volunteer foster care and adoption. Says Talia, “Something I love about this program is that it's basically completely volunteer run and community supported.” The shelter currently has around 400 volunteers who do everything from laundry and cleaning kennels to fostering, providing enrichment activities, and even reading to pets, which they clearly enjoy. Of the latter, Talia remarks, “It's so cute. And it's also awesome because those animals get used to strangers coming into their kennels and interacting with them quietly, which makes them more confident, which makes them get adopted faster – it’s like this beautiful little cycle of happiness.”
Keeping track of all the volunteers and foster families is the job of a full-time coordinator, who also runs a Facebook group. Using emails, texts and Facebook, any special needs can be communicated quickly. Volunteers who have been through training can sign up for their own shifts. Talia adds, “In the morning it's always housekeeping. In the afternoon, it’s walks and enrichment. Everyone is trained in different levels on different tasks so they can come on in and do our never-ending pile of laundry!”
She offers, “Some people might think, ‘Oh, you volunteer at the animal shelter, you must cuddle puppies all day long!’ But it's really so much more than that. Volunteers are the ones disinfecting kennels, so we're not spreading germs; they're the ones doing laundry so we have clean linens for animals. They're the ones doing the enrichment and helping us sort donations, drive transports, put up crates and collapse crates, and all that other work that goes into taking care of an animal. Naturally, they get to work with the animals, but it's not just the snuggles that provide a healthy, holistic environment like this one.”
On Fridays through the summer months, animal lovers of all ages make frozen treats and are allowed to visit the animals in their kennels. More intensive, training oriented camps and internships are available, but these fill up fast, months before it might occur to most volunteers to look for such opportunities. So, the best way to get involved is to just sign up here https://www.loudoun.gov/646/Volunteer for either volunteering or fostering and to watch for notifications of need. Foster orientations are held throughout the year. The shelter’s highest needs are for fosters for adult dogs (40lbs+), kittens with and without moms, fearful adult cats, pregnant small animals and pregnant cats.
Year round, one of the organization’s biggest needs is for food for the pet pantry. The Loudoun Pet Pantry is a partnership between The Humane Society of Loudoun County, Loudoun County Animal Services and Loudoun Hunger Relief. Its mission is to help keep pets in loving homes by providing food supplies for families in need. Talia says, “For cats and dogs we need adult food – just regular adult food, no puppy/kitten or prescription diets. Both canned food and dry food are needed with canned dog food and dry cat food being our highest priority.” You can learn more about the pet pantry here: https://www.loudoun.gov/3020/Pet-Pantry
Despite a “no-questions asked” policy on relinquishing pets to the shelter, everyone there is committed to do what they can to help pet owners keep their animals. “What animals really want and need is that security of a home and that family that they know, right? That's what they love. That's what they're used to. And that's something that we're really passionate about maintaining. Anything we can do to keep the animals from coming here we're going to try to do because they're going to be happier in a home versus in a shelter where they don't know their caregivers.”
As Talia puts it, “We’re working to create a pet friendly community. That improves not only the lives of the animals that are being adopted, but all of our lives. It's fun if we have nice places to walk our dogs or places to take our cats and businesses who offer them treats. We’re creating not only a community of businesses that support animals, but also inclusive housing where you can live with your animals. All of those things are really important to us – anything we can do to help support a community that loves animals as much as Loudon.”
“We’re working to create a pet friendly community... anything we can do to help support a community that loves animals as much as Loudon.”