This is the second in a two-part series on a day in the life of one of Fairfax County's Animal Control officers. Part I ran Sunday, Feb. 17—see Part I: Patch Goes on the Road with Fairfax County Animal Control.
The townhome on Braddock Road looked ordinary next to its neighbors. Three months ago, before the county intervened, the doors and windows of the home were open to the elements and an army of feral cats.
County code compliance officers declared the structure unsafe, and dozens of cats were taken by Animal Control. The house still has the pungent odor of cat urine, despite a new carpet and paint, and there were still rooms piled to the ceiling with books, newspapers, stuffed animals, a piano and boxes full of knickknacks. Wild cats still patrolled the outside of the home, yet are prohibited by court order from being allowed in.
"I really appreciate all your help," said the male homeowner to Fairfax County Animal Control Officer Enna Lugo and a code compliance officer. "Without your support we wouldn't have the house back together. Come back in a couple months and this place will look like new."
Nearly all of the County's Animal Control officers have stories to tell about hoarders.
"I would not have thought that I would see humans do some of these things that I've seen - see what humans are capable of," said Lugo. "And you always hear the same thing when you walk in with a court order. You hear people say, 'A friend of mine is coming to help me get rid of a lot of this stuff.' And they always apologize for the mess."
Lugo owns a Shih Tzu that was rescued from a hoarding situation - along with 31 of his brothers and sisters - in 2005. "There was feces on the floor, feces on the bed, feces on the sinks," she said. "But that's nothing compared to when we took 500 cats out of this woman's million-dollar home in Mount Vernon and her daughter's home in 2005. Two hundred cats were dead, and she had them entombed in plastic bags and rubber containers - from fresh to liquified. The cats lived in the walls, in the chimney, under the kitchen cabinets..."
The woman, then-82-year-old Ruth Knueven, was charged with five misdemeanors, including animal cruelty. Her house was declared unfit for living, and she was forced to live outside of her home until necessary repairs were made.
"Hoarding is a disease, and I feel sorry for these people," said Lugo.
"A bat can bite you while you sleep and you wouldn't even know it," said Lugo, as she answered an early-morning call at a Springfield townhome.
At around 3 a.m. that morning, a bat flew in through the front door of the home in the 8000 block of Edinborough Drive. The call came in and Lugo knocked on the door at around 9 a.m. The female homeowner had stayed up all night, and had closed all the doors and vents to the home.
"My husband is outside sleeping in the car," she told Lugo.
The bat was upstairs, sleeping above a doorframe in a hallway. Lugo walked up the stairs with a plastic box, unhesitatingly put it over the bat and slid it inside. What had been a small, folded-up dark brown roll, was now outstretched and shrieking.
"Ooh. He's mad," said Lugo.
"You're going to let it go?" asked the homeowner, who's head came into sight at the bottom of the stairs. "It will come back!"
Lugo held up the box and looked at the bat. "No it won't," she said, and then started to sweet-talk the webbed mammal. "He's a cutie-pie, isn't he? Cutie!"
Lugo walked the bat outside and said goodbye to the woman, who then woke her husband from the passenger seat of their Mercedes. She let the bat go in a nearby bush.
Biscuit - the Wild Shih Tzu
"The good day is the day when you find the dog and you get to take it back to it's home," said Lugo. "And it's all worth it when you see the looks on the faces of the family."
But Biscuit's owner is deceased. The Amberleigh neighborhood of Alexandria has been looking for Biscuit, a Shih Tzu of undetermined age, for the past two years. He's stayed alive by eating food left out for wild cats, and he's become wild himself. But rumor has it that he's getting ill, and that he's losing his eyesight.
"That dog has been out for two years. You're never going to catch it. It's a scrapper," said a neighbor to Lugo.
It was nearing the end of the day, and Lugo was talking with the owners of a large property where the dog has been seen, when a neighbor called over the fence: "Hey! Y'all looking for Biscuit?"
Lugo called over: "Yes. Have you seen him?"
The neighbor pointed over the fence. "He's right there," she said, and sure enough, there was the dirtiest, wildest looking Shih Tzu you ever saw - brown and grey, his hair overgrown and tangled into a dirt-filled carpet of a coat.
Lugo, who hadn't time to set a trap earlier or had any of her equipment ready, ran across the yard to cut off Biscuit's line of retreat. The Patch reporter tried to slowly creep up to him as well, and then - in an instant, Biscuit was off! He ran under the chain-link fence and down a hill into a maze of townhome back yards and more fences. We hopped the fence, raced to the bottom of the hill, but Biscuit was gone.
Patch's time with Animal Control also included tramping through the woods to check on a family of foxes, which ran away as we approached, another bat call (this one wasn't found - they can crawl anywhere, apparently) and reporting a hit-and-run of a parked vehicle.
"I love this job because I get to be the one to go and help people and animals," said Lugo. "About 85-90 percent of people will tell me, 'Thank you, officer.' I try to be positive and give people the benefit of the doubt, and it turns out that a lot of people just want to be heard."