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Lost Dog Expands Its Adoption Operation in Northern Va. Area

JEAN-CLAUDE, a Belgian Malinois rescued from a Korean meat farm, does a short tryout for the Montgomery County Police Department. (Photo: News-Press)

Roughly 15 months into operation, the Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation’s residence at Seven Corners has become a transformational outpost for an organization devoted to finding permanent homes for estranged animals.

Prior to establishing its Northern Virginia kennel, LDCRF’s (colloquially referred to as Lost Dog) only home base for its 18 year existence was a ranch in Sumerduck, Virginia in Fauquier County. But the ranch is a rural, reclusive area for the animals themselves. It’s less of an ideal site where prospective owners could visit the animals as well as a somewhat remote location when it came to meeting the animals’ medical needs.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey last summer and the influx of animals relocated to the Humane Society’s humane rescue partners (such as LDCRF) in response, the shortcomings of the ranch became more pronounced. This prompted the foundation to expand its operation to a central location that could accommodate both medical and re-housing needs expediently.

“When the hurricanes came in, the call was louder and more consistent than ever and Lost Dog was ready,” LDCRF member-at-large, Colleen Learch, said. “We knew the kennel that we’re in now was going to stop servicing, so we had the opportunity to rent it. We’d have prime Northern Virginia space to take in the dogs and cats from the hurricanes, get them the help they needed and get them adopted.”

The foundation received animals from the Harvey disaster areas for the next six to eight months. That trend continued with Hurricane Florence touching down in the Carolinas in September, sending more abandoned animals LDCRF’s way. Lost Dog’s new locale also served as a good landing spot for animals from rural shelters that needed some new scenery to support their own health requirements and expose them to more potential owners.

According to vice president of LDCRF Barbara Hutcherson, Lost Dog takes in about 1,500 – 2,000 animals per year (which include litters that were birthed by pregnant mothers upon arrival) with around 2,000 adoptions per year as well. On average, any new animal will be adopted within three to four weeks upon arriving, with anywhere from 20 – 50 adoptions taking place on a given weekend. Currently, about 150 dogs and 85 cats are under the foundation’s care at the Seven Corners location.

Each new animal that does come under the care of Lost Dog is spayed or neutered and caught up on all their necessary vaccinations. It was one of the first organizations in the area to do comprehensive medical coverage upon receiving a new animal. Lost Dog is a private shelter, so it doesn’t have the same open intake policies that municipal shelters hold. However, that doesn’t mean the foundation has a high barrier of entry when it comes to permitting pets.

“We’re typically not scared off by health concerns. We actually pride ourselves on that,” Learch added. “We have a great partner in Blue Ridge Veterinary Associates out in Purcellville and have connections to a great foster system. Sometimes we can’t take an animal due to their condition, but we don’t shy away from animals with a broken leg or heartworms, for example.”

LOST DOG MEMBER-AT-LARGE Colleen Learch touches base with some of the kennel’s other pups. (Photo: News-Press)

Being a private shelter, financing the kennel has to come from either individual donors, fundraising campaigns or corporate sponsorships. While the adoption fees for an single animal help cover the cost of that same pet’s medical expenses, outside funding is needed for things such as renovations. Hutcherson sees this dynamic as a positive since Lost Dog doesn’t have to compete for attention in the public pot of local governments. It allows the foundation the freedom to make whatever changes it wants to its establishment, such as its current project of stripping and replacing the kennel’s old tile floors.

A huge bonus to the new location is its proximity to willing volunteers. People can be seen all hours of the day taking the dogs for walks around the nearby Eden Center’s rear parking lot. But the most important role both the volunteers and staffers fill is being the first humans to reconnect with the dogs and cats on a personal level to help pacify any trauma the animals previously experienced.

“It can be difficult, but they need to learn to attach to humans,” Hutcherson added, while mentioning how one volunteer will come in regularly to read poetry to a dog out loud in its kennel. “All the research shows that once the animals learn to attach to humans again, they can transfer that experience to other humans.”

LDCRF does offer a two-week grace period for interested owners of an animal since it’s imperative the owners and the pet can acclimate to a home environment. Even if a relationship between the owner and the pet sours after the two-week period, Lost Dog prefers the animal be returned to them instead of another shelter. The foundation has no time limit on how long a pet may be in its custody, so however long it takes an animal to rekindle its connection to humans again, it will remain in Lost Dog’s possession.

The Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation shelter is located at 6801 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church and operates from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. seven days per week.