The Fairfax County Animal Shelter has a new chief, and will soon have a new home. Tawny Hammond, a longtime county employee and former manager of Frying Pan Park, officially started as the new director of the shelter last month, and the facility at 4500 West Ox Road will be expanding next door in December.
"This is a dream come true. I'm honored to be doing this," Hammond said. "How we treat animals is an indication of how we are as a society… We live and work for a day that no adoptable, healthy and rehabilitatable animal is ever euthanized."
Retiring director Dr. Karen Diviney is enthusiastic about Hammond. "I'm delighted. There was relief of knowing it's Tawny," Diviney said. "There will be challenges for her, like the budget, but there are rewards — like watching that dog and cat or rabbit go home with someone. I come out from behind the counter every Saturday, which is our busiest day, and it gives me a high to see these animals go to a new home, and that high carried me through some of the low times."
The final touches are being made to the expanded wing of the $17 million shelter, and the finished product will double the footprint, from 15,000 square feet (as the current 30-year-old facility sits) to just over 29,000 square feet. The new building will have space for 130 dog kennels (up from 72), 40 cat kennels (up from 26) and rooms for reptiles and birds.
"Right now we just have a hallway for small animals," said Diviney, who pledged to remain volunteering with the shelter.
The Fairfax County Animal Services Division comes under the purview of the Fairfax County Police Department. The shelter, with a mission to care for surrendered or stray animals, takes in an estimated 5,500 animals annually. Last year, there was a 58 percent adoption/redemption rate, resulting in 1,261 adoptions and 1,289 redemptions, according to county statistics.
Animals at the shelter include: boa constrictors, gerbils and hamsters, horses, goats, potbellied pigs, tortoises, rabbits and dogs and cats.
"Shelter management and operations have evolved quickly, and are more sophisticated. For instance, we can do a much better job containing infectious diseases with the four separate ventilation systems in the new facility instead of one," said Hammond.
The shelter relies heavily on donations from the community. Last year, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a $91,600 budget for the shelter — a slight decrease from the previous year. The shelter currently employs 15 full-and-part time employees, and is looking to hire three animal caretakers and a community outreach program coordinator. The expansion also marks a new beginning for the shelter's volunteer efforts, which were put on hold because of construction.
"The County Executive, as an exercise, has asked all departments to look at 5 percent in budget cuts, but our budget is finite. There's no fluff in it," said Hammond. "But that's why we have more than 20 volunteer organizations raising money and donating time to the shelter... I hope to get a couple hundred volunteers between now and March 15."
Hammond's 23-year career with the Fairfax County Park Authority includes a 12-year stint as the manager at Lake Accotink Park, the South Run REC Center for two years, and, most recently for four years as the manager at Frying Pan Farm Park. She was the president of the Springfield Civic Association for a decade, and had planned on leaving it all behind— the Park Authority and all those connections — to get her master's in theology at Wellesley College, and then the shelter position opened up.
The shelter is currently conducting its annual "Home for the Holidays" campaign to help homeless animals find permanent and stable homes. The shelter will offer a free spay or neuter for the first 100 cats, kittens, dogs or puppies adopted from there through Dec. 31.
The Fairfax County Animal Shelter is open Tuesday–Friday from Noon – 7 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.