Fixing Something That Isn’t Broken

Fixing Something That Isn’t Broken

Opinion/Letter to Editor

I am writing to express concern over the proposal to consolidate the animal services under the Department of Animal Sheltering (DAS). Key stakeholders have been left out of the process, and critical information on how this proposal will work in practice has not been provided. This proposal has not been adequately explained. What we have at the moment works well. Why we are fixing something which isn’t broken — and which was, in fact, thoroughly reviewed in 2016 — has not been adequately justified. The injuries recently caused to law enforcement officers in DC when removing 10 neglected dogs from their firearm wielding owner speaks to the need for police training and equipment, yet this proposal seeks to save money by replacing the Animal Protection Police Officers (APPOs) with civilian officers and reducing their training. This increases liability risk to the County, and one civil case could wipe these savings out. 

The changes being proposed will significantly affect structure, operations and the ability to provide services to the public, their pets and to wildlife. It completely fails to address the necessary work the APPOs do for wildlife and natural resources in this county. It also takes away the livelihood and careers of the APPOs whose work and training are dedicated to animal welfare and control. Without APPOs, we risk losing our current ability to adequately control rabies, wildlife-human conflicts, or disease spread, all of which occur at the intersection between pets, people, livestock and wildlife. In addition to their work with the Department of Wildlife Resources, the Department of Health, and the Park Authority, the APPOs also work directly with wildlife rehabilitators to save as many wildlife as possible, including wildlife injured by traffic. Yet sometimes it is more cruel to keep them alive. This is when we need the APPO the most, on the spot, providing humane euthanasia. Transporting an injured animal to the Shelter, per the proposal, only prolongs their agony. This difficult mission of the APPO conflicts with the Shelter’s current mission and “No Kill” policy. How will this inherent conflict be managed? 

We need both the animal welfare and animal protection missions, separately. How will we know that one mission is not being sacrificed to achieve the other? How will we know how many animals are not removed from conditions of abuse or neglect because the shelter is full, or of the injured wildlife left to suffer because of ‘no kill’’ goals? What we do know is that the data provided when presenting the proposal on Jan. 30 (Safety Committee) was incorrect, cherrypicked and mis-contextualized. It provides an incomplete accounting of the work of the APPOs, particularly with regard to wildlife. This can easily be demonstrated by looking at the publicly available, validated data on the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website. 

Do we really want to implement a proposal like this?

Clare Thorp, Ph.D.

Class IIA DWR Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator

Fairfax Station, VA