By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 9, 2007
For months, supporters of a proposal to lift the Loudoun County Animal Shelter's ban on pit bull adoptions have cited an online survey showing that two-thirds of Loudoun respondents favor the change.
But shelter officials said Friday that they think those survey results were skewed. They said they have uncovered evidence that pit bull advocates who live outside the county participated in the survey posing as Loudoun residents.
The county's decades-old policy calls for the shelter to euthanize pit bulls if their owners do not claim them and if no other shelter or rescue group takes them in. An animal advisory committee last month recommended allowing adoption of the dogs if they are deemed safe through temperament testing, a policy shift that would put Loudoun in sync with other Northern Virginia counties. The Board of Supervisors delayed voting on the measure Tuesday, saying it wanted to see a demonstration of how the dogs would be tested.
The survey, which was conducted in March and appeared on the shelter's Web site, generated more than 1,000 responses from people who were identified as Loudoun residents based on the Zip codes they provided. The agency discounted 300 or so responses because they were provided by people who acknowledged they did not live in Loudoun.
Laura Rizer, spokeswoman for the Loudoun Department of Animal Care and Control, said a shelter employee who was looking for pit bull news on the Internet on Friday morning stumbled upon a Web site that threw the survey results into question.
She said the employee discovered a posting from March on http://www.pitbullforum.com, a forum for pit bull advocates, in which someone encouraged other advocates across the country to participate in Loudoun's survey and vote in favor of lifting its adoption ban.
The poster reportedly provided a list of 20 Loudoun Zip codes and instructed respondents to delete the cookies stored on their computer so they could take the survey multiple times.
Thomas Koenig, director of the animal control agency, said he was surprised and disappointed by the employee's discovery.
"When we first set up the survey, we wanted to really capture the opinion of Loudoun County residents. We knew we would get people from out of the county participating, but we thought we had screened them out by asking for their address information," Koenig said. "This puts into question the entire survey."
Koenig said that although the survey results were among the factors considered by the animal advisory committee and county supervisors, he did not think the survey carried much weight with the supervisors.
"It's just one piece of the puzzle," he said. "I think what is more important to them is what is going on in their own jurisdictions, what their own constituents tell them."
He said he did not know whether it was possible to determine how many of the survey responses came from people who misrepresented their place of residence, or whether he would ask staff members to look into that. He said it was also unclear whether the department would conduct another survey.
But he added, "If [the Board of Supervisors] ask us to redo the survey, we will."