Loudoun supervisors end ban on adopting pit bulls from the county animal shelter

No one knows what happened to the dog before he was shut away in a closet at an empty apartment. No one knows who put him there or how long he waited in the dark, without food or water. He was found by a real estate agent who happened to open the closet doors and see the baffled, abandoned creature huddled inside.

When the dog, later named Roosevelt, was taken to the Loudoun County Animal Shelter, staff members said, they knew right away that he was special.

“He was just magnificent. He was the picture of perfect when it comes to dogs,” shelter administrator Amy Martin said. “Just a wonderful, wonderful animal.”

But Roosevelt also happened to be a pit bull, which meant that a Loudoun policy prohibited his adoption from the county animal shelter and required that he be placed in another jurisdiction.

This month, that policy was overturned by the county Board of Supervisors, immediately allowing pit bulls and pit bull mixes to be adopted from the shelter for the first time in nearly 50 years.

The change means that dogs such as Roosevelt — who had to be moved to a rescue organization in Frederick before he could be adopted by Mark Stacks, a Loudoun animal control officer who had fallen in love with the pup — won’t have to endure prolonged shelter stays or transfers to other jurisdictions before being placed in new homes, Martin said.

“Our staff was just elated,” Martin said. “We were so happy to finally be able to serve our community the way our community has been requesting and to be able to serve the pit bulls.”

The county’s animal advisory committee had approached the Board of Supervisors in 2007 to request that the policy be scrapped, but board members remained concerned about the breed, which has been often stigmatized as innately dangerous.

The current board, however, was open to revisiting the long-standing ban on pit bull adoptions.

“The board was already pretty well educated that pit bulls are not inherently bad dogs,” Martin said. “What we did was, we educated them on the process we use for behavioral assessments for all dogs.”

Every dog that enters the shelter undergoes a comprehensive Companion Animal Readiness Program to determine its medical and behavioral needs, Martin said. “We think our process is sound and robust enough to handle all breeds, including pit bulls,” he said

County officials agreed. Before the board’s vote, Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said he would prefer to have Loudoun families adopt pit bulls directly from the county shelter, where they will have been carefully assessed.

“I understand the original reasons behind this policy. . . . That said, I feel that today you have the behavioral controls in place,” he said. “My son owns a pit bull; it’s the sweetest dog in the world. If the owners are good, the pit bulls are good.”

The public’s perception of the breed has improved in recent years, in part because of a wave of media attention focused on the rehabilitation of pit bulls rescued from a brutal dogfighting operation run by National Football League star player Michael Vick. Of the nearly 50 animals recovered from Vick’s property, only one was euthanized because of behavioral problems. The others were placed in foster homes, adopted by families or taken in by an animal sanctuary in southern Utah. One even went on to become a certified therapy dog.

Roosevelt followed in those paw steps, Martin said, and is now one of the shelter’s “humane educators,” often participating in the department’s presentations at schools and summer camps.

With its change in policy, Loudoun joins neighboring Arlington, Prince William and Fairfax counties, where pit bull adoptions have been permitted for years. In Fairfax, all adoption restrictions specific to pit bulls were eliminated last year, Martin said.

“Everything has been trending that way, and that was definitely an argument we made, that all of our neighboring jurisdictions don’t prohibit the adoption of pit bulls, including to Loudoun County families,” she said. Pit bulls “already live here. They’re already a part of this community,” she said.

The community’s feelings about the breed is evident, Martin said, noting that the department’s Facebook page received hundreds of “likes” and approving comments when officials posted news about the change in policy.

“Every comment has been positive and very supportive,” she said. “The sentiment is that it was long overdue, and we definitely agree.”

Caitlin Gibson is a local news and features writer for The Washington Post.
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