Lu Wright knows when to stand her ground.
She gave in on pink-eyed ferrets, but is holding firm on piranhas; compromised on honeybees, but hasn't budged on chinchillas. She stuck to her guns on peregrine falcons, but made it easier for those who want exotic pets to argue their case.
For 11 months, Wright, assistant to the Fairfax County zoning administrator, has been trying to strike a reasonable balance between the desires of animal owners and their neighbors in drafting an amendment to the county's zoning ordinance on what animals can be kept on residential property.
At this point, her secretary at the Zoning Administration Division, Wanda Thorpe, needs only to hear two words from callers to her office -- "comprehensive revision" -- and she knows exactly what the call is about.
"Animals," says Thorpe automatically. "That's Mrs. Wright."
Wright figures she's "heard from at least one owner of every kind of animal that exists in Fairfax County."
A lawyer called with the plea that chinchillas, furry gray natives of South America, be included in the category of "commonly accepted pets."
The honeybee raisers, a very vocal group, protested the proposed limits on the number of hives. They contended honeybees have gotten a bad rap for stinging people when wasps are really the main culprits.
Then a cattle owner persuaded Wright to drop "milk heifers," from the ordinance. As the owner explained to Wright, heifers, by definition, are cows that haven't borne calves and so wouldn't be able to give milk.
Beyond that, she said, including heifers "sort of put our zoning inspectors in the position of inquiring about the sex life of cows, and we didn't think that was appropriate."
Next, Wright expects a major uproar from cat owners when they discover that the proposed regulations would limit anyone with a lot of less than 12,500 square feet to two cats -- though kittens less than six months old are excepted and cats currently in the home are grandfathered in.
Wright suspects that provision may fall before the amendment is adopted. She included regulations on cats at the request of a county planning commissioner, who argued that "we don't want to discriminate" by only regulating dogs.
She herself sees problems with enforcement. Since the state doesn't require cats to be licensed and wear tags, Wright asks: "What would we do? Walk up to a cat on the street and ask, 'Who do you belong to and what's your lot size?' "
The cat owners will get a chance to have their say along with the rest at a Planning Commission public hearing scheduled for Jan. 31, the second of three hearings before the Board of Supervisors votes on the amendment. So far, 250 people have picked up copies of the proposed amendment, so Wright predicts a big turnout.
The current provisions on animals, as zoning officials see them, are too restrictive in some ways and not tight enough or specific enough in others. For instance, the ordinance specifies the lot size required for two dogs, four dogs and six dogs, but doesn't say a word about three dogs or five dogs.
The existing ordinance, says Wright, also makes it difficult to argue for exceptions, such as the Annandale woman who wanted to keep her pygmy goat "Mandy" as a pet on less than two acres.
Realizing she's dealing with an emotionally charged issue, Wright is sparing no effort. Among others, she's contacted the Beekeepers Association of Northern Virginia, the Washington Metropolitan Racing Pigeon Association and the state apiarist, who she says is responsible for enforcing the state code on bees.
Still, Wright has a way to go before the amendment is adopted. "The horse people are just starting in," she says with a sigh.