Thomas J. Koenig became Loudoun County's director of animal care and control July 28. He had been serving in the position on an interim, part-time basis since March 1. Koenig, previously a senior human resources analyst for the county, replaced Tim Crum. Koenig, 45, was born in the District and raised in Nebraska. The following is an edited conversation between Koenig and staff writer Karin Brulliard.
QLet's start with the obvious question. What's your favorite animal?
AWell, my favorite animal is a dog. I always have had a dog all my life. I have a bichon frise that I actually adopted from the shelter. Prior to that I had a border collie, which I also adopted from the shelter.
Your previous job was in human resources. How did you end up at the animal shelter?
That would be the good question. I've been the senior analyst [in human resources], and I [oversaw] the public safety department. I have a public safety background, so it was just a natural fit. I worked with the federal prison system. The only way to really help advise is to learn what they do and how they do their work and what are their expectations on the job. I had spent a lot of time out here and had talked to probably every worker at the shelter.
I don't believe I was recruited for the job. What happened was they were without a department director, and I spent more time out here working with the senior staff. I think the suggestion came from the staff -- if you're going to fill in with an acting director, why don't you bring Tom out here? I feel pretty comfortable in this environment, so I think that's how it started.
Your working environment seems like it would be chock-full of good stories. Got any from the first few months on the job?
We had a call on a deer stuck in a sinkhole out on Route 15 [at a construction site]. They had to dig a path out for the deer to leave, and the sinkhole couldn't have been more than three or four feet around. But it was like a cavern underneath there, and the deer actually had a refuge. We worked with the builders and the developers to have them coax the deer out. Eventually we left, figuring the deer would come out on its own. It did.
What will be the tough parts of the job?
Well, the typical challenges for the sheltering business. I think the first thing is getting as many adoptable animals adopted as we can. And that's a huge challenge for any shelter. With the animal control piece, it's making sure that the enforcement does the job that it's supposed to do and is working with the community without spending all your time resolving citizen complaints. There's a tough balance. It's managing the passion that people have for animals, and everyone has an opinion on what they think is best for animals and what they think is the best environment. I kind of look at my role as balancing that out with the fact that we are a government organization and we have a business to run.
The big topic in Loudoun is growth. Does that play a role?
It actually has a profound impact on both the shelter side and the animal control side. With the sprawl, we have had to . . . talk about the increasing contact with wildlife. As we grow and take over habitats, we will continue to see a rise in human contact with everything from small critters to bears. Our wildlife calls, especially over the last three or four months, have really increased. And there are instances when a raccoon would attack a cat or a dog, and we have to get out there and help the citizens contain it, because they're scared. From a shelter perspective, this shelter takes in anything anybody brings in. With increased population, you're bringing more animals in, and therefore you're having more [animals] running at large, and you're having more stray pickups.
Do you plan to open a shelter in eastern Loudoun?
We have been discussing it. And there are plans to put a facility in the CIP [Capital Improvements Plan] for the county in 2009. We're going to be meeting soon to talk about alternatives. I get asked by community members from Sterling, "When are you coming east?" There is a definite need to have a facility on the eastern end. Our largest activity is down on the east side. They definitely have a lot of strays and a lot of [animals] running at large and lot of community interaction with pets. It would be our largest population base from the adoption sense.
What's your professional background?
Right out of high school I went into the Air Force. My dream job was to be a journalist and be a photographer. In the Air Force, I worked in photography, basically aerial photography and whatnot. When I left the military I worked for a company in Tampa, and from there I got a job with the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C. I stayed in that area until 1985 or 1986 and started moving into leadership. I became a staff officer as time went on, and I started really liking the job. I'm more of a people-oriented person, so I was really drawn to this. I actually just fell into human resources. I went to the federal prison system and was an assistant human resources manager in Marion [Ill.] and then human resources manager in a federal prison in South Carolina. I left and went back to the photography business; a friend and I put in a studio in South Carolina. It did well; he still has the business. I went back to the federal prison system in Washington, D.C., where I worked in headquarters. Then I came to Loudoun. I was living in Leesburg and commuting into D.C., and I just figured there was a better way.
Lots of people are worried about animals along the Gulf Coast. Is Loudoun doing something to help them in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?
The Virginia medical animal team, represented by Dr. [Karen] Iovino from the Blue Ridge Veterinary clinic, they ran into some difficulty in getting supplies. We've sent a team of four to Biloxi [Miss.] and delivered a horse trailer full of medical supplies, both equipment to support the animal population that they're dealing with, like animal pharmaceuticals, and the human population -- fans and water. So the team left [Thursday]. We're excited for them, and we're worried for them. They're somewhere around Knoxville, Tennessee. We figure we're going to be drawn into providing assistance to one of those organizations. They're already asking us when we're making our next run down there. We've anticipated that there'll be another cache of supplies that needs to be delivered. Right now it's just deliver and take the supplies and come on back. But I've been through this with Hurricane Andrew and know that once they have people, you can end up staying a while.