Tysons, VA

Two weeks into Northern Virginia’s reopening under Phase 2, veterinary offices are still seeing a steady stream of the new pets in need of routine care.

“We’ve definitely noticed a lot of people adopting pets,” said Sarah Angermeier, a veterinary assistant and receptionist at the Oakton-Vienna Veterinary Hospital. “It’s a blessing. We have so many puppies right now.”

Angermeier mentioned that appointments are filling up to a week-and-a-half in advance. 

“We book up so fast now,” she said, adding that the dogs are more rambunctious after being stuck at home for weeks. 

The Vienna Animal Hospital has also noticed similar trends. They reported that the number of appointments and the number of people adopting pets have “skyrocketed.” 

In the spring during the strictest point of the coronavirus stay-at-home order, pets were the big winners as people rushed to get stay-at-home companions. Places like Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation in Falls Church have seen a large increase in cat and dog adoptions — compared to April 2019, adoptions went up about 60% in late April of this year, according to Lost Dog.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, one of the leading organizations providing guidance to veterinarian practices, precautionary strategies — like the ones in Northern Virginia — are making visits safer.

“Veterinary practices have made tremendous changes to ensure patients continue to receive essential veterinary care and new safety measures are implemented to protect team members and clients,” said the AVMA in an April 2020 survey of U. S. veterinarians.

The Vienna Animal Hospital, for example, has taken added precautionary measures such as increased sanitation; requiring masks and gloves; and making a switch to curbside appointments to decrease contact. Currently, owners are not allowed in the building.

Similarly, the Oakton-Vienna Veterinary Hospital has been using teleconferencing to hold appointments. Owners drive their pets to the practice and wait in their cars, talking on the phone with doctors while the pets are cared for inside.

However, as of a week ago at Oakton-Vienna, one owner at a time is allowed inside the building with their pet. In addition, the practice has crews deep-cleaning the hospital.

According to the AVMA survey, other adjustments include contactless payment processing, taking patient history by phone or virtually and drive-thru pick up and drop off. About 30% of veterinary practices are using telemedicine and close to 20% of practices were only seeing emergency-related cases at the time of the survey.

The Oakton-Vienna Veterinary Hospital began using teleconferencing on March 2. “It was definitely an adapting period,” said Angermeier. 

Cristal Wheeler, the office manager of the Animal Dental Clinic in Vienna, says that their office is also following a variety of new protocols. 

“We’ve extended our cleanup after every patient to include where clients are sitting and touching,” said Wheeler. She mentioned handles and doors are high contact surfaces that are receiving extra sanitation. 

As practices continue to pivot with the changing coronavirus pandemic, offices like Oakton-Vienna are staying focused on the mission — serving customers and taking care of pets.

“We’ve gotten thank-you notes for staying open during COVID. We’ve had a lot of really really grateful people.”

Photos via Oakton-Vienna Veterinary Hospital/Facebook

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Once a week, Jayesh Edwards, a high school student in McLean, lathers up his pet hedgehog with unscented soap for babies. He uses a toothbrush to clean her quills, bathing her in lukewarm water in a sink.

“Her stomach is like fur, and you brush it all over. She really likes it,” Edwards told Tysons Reporter. “It’s like she’s getting massaged.”

Outside of bath time, Serena Quilliams — a twist on the famous tennis player’s name — can be found munching on her favorite treat of carrots or sleeping in Edwards’ sweatshirt pocket.

“Hedgehogs are normally [the size of] a soda can,” Edwards said. “She’s like 1.5 soda cans. She’s pretty big.”

She is now one of several pet hedgehogs in Fairfax County after the Board of Supervisors approved legalizing them — along with chinchillas and hermit crabs — as pets in January 2019. The City of Falls Church followed shortly after, allowing pet hedgehogs as of last June.

Hedgehog legalization in both the county and the city followed prickly debates focused on their high levels of maintenance as nocturnal animals — like requiring a room temperature above 70 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent hibernation, according to the Hedgehog Welfare Society.

Members of the county’s Animal Services Advisory Commission and Humane Society, along with Falls Church’s animal warden and police chief, argued against pet hedgehogs, calling them expensive pets that are challenging to care for and expressing concern that legalization could fuel the exotic pet trade.

“We’re going to open up our city to invasive species again,” Rebecca Keenan, the animal warden for the city, told city officials last June.

There’s also the health concern: hedgehogs can spread salmonella, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pet hedgehog advocates were quick to point out that cats, dogs, frogs, hamsters and many other animals can also carry the bacteria.

The salmonella concerns weren’t a surprise to Edwards, because he’s had a monitor lizard for nearly a decade and a turtle for the last three years. “My mom is allergic to dogs,” he said. “Hedgehogs don’t shed.”

Edwards said he was “really upset” when he found out in sixth grade that the county didn’t allow the exotic animals as pets. Undeterred, he decided to push for legalization by writing to and meeting with Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust.

“I did so much research. I was kind of prepared for anything,” Edwards said.

In January 2019, Edwards, who was then a Longfellow Middle School student, shared his extensive research by testifying before the Board of Supervisors.

He shared how hedgehogs — like his monitor lizard — require heat lamps and a specific temperature range. They can spread salmonella but the risk isn’t higher than many other pets, he said.

“Another thing is that they fight, but if you had done any research on owning a hedgehog, you would know that you don’t keep them in pairs, because they fight,” Edwards said, adding: “And if you don’t want baby hedgehogs, you would definitely not keep a male and a female hedgehog together.” The board erupted in chuckles.

Later that day, the board approved the legalization.

“As soon they allowed hedgehogs in Fairfax, we sort of jumped on it,” Mindy Thomas, a Fairfax County resident, told Tysons Reporter.

Earlier this spring, her 12-year-old son Rhett finally got his hedgehog, which he named Band-Aid. “He’s a lazy, fat boy,” he said.

Like Edwards, Thomas said he did his research and was prepared for Band-Aid’s night-time activity — “I’m a really sound sleeper [so] he doesn’t bother me too much” — but still had some surprises.

“The thing about hedgehogs is, a lot of videos say that the quills — you get used to them, which you do,” Thomas said. “They are pokey.”

And then there’s Band-Aid’s love of scrambled eggs without salt, in addition to his regular diet of cat food, which his cat Lucy tries to steal, along with mealworms as treats. The food’s exit looks “like little jelly beans,” he added.

The Thomases and Band-Aid inspired another Fairfax County family to become “hedgie” parents, with 17-year-old Steven Eckloff’s detailed 20-page PowerPoint winning his parents over to the idea.

Eckloff got his hedgehog Ollie on March 28 — two days before Gov. Ralph Northam announced the stay-at-home order due the pandemic.

To maximize his time with Ollie, Eckloff has adjusted his hours — waking up around 11 a.m. to stay awake later and then going to bed around 2-3 a.m. “I hear the little pattering of his feet when he’s running on the wheel at night,” he said, adding that Ollie likes to play with toilet paper rolls.

Since a ban was placed in the 1990s on the importation of wild-caught African pygmy hedgehogs — the most common type of hedgehog pet — to the U.S., prospective owners have to find their pets at breeders or shelters.

Many of the websites for hedgehog breeders in Northern Virginia that Tysons Reporter viewed included resources and guides for how to keep the pets safe.

Riddle’s Hedgehogs, a small to mid-scale breeder in Frederick County, asks for people’s addresses when they fill out their online applications and Christie Riddle told Tysons Reporter that she has caught people trying to skirt the law.

“Unfortunately, a couple of times I have had potential adoptees fill in an invalid address and go through the entire adoption process, arrive to pick up the hedgehog, only then to find out that a driver’s license is required to pick up the hedgehog,” Riddle said.

Riddle tells people she cannot sell to them if pet hedgehogs are not legal in their area, noting that appropriate veterinary care is often hard to find in those areas.

Additionally, Riddle screens applicants for certain warning signs.

“As a breeder, I look for red flags such as if it is intended for a young child,” Riddle said. “Hedgehogs are difficult for young children to handle. I look for stable homes that can care for a hedgehog long-term.”

“It is not a starter pet,” Caitlyn Maltese told Tysons Reporter, adding that she’s seen a lot of pet hedgehogs gaining traction on TikTok. “The most important thing for me is that people don’t get them unless they know what they are walking into.”

Maltese shared the less glamorous side of hedgehog ownership: a dirty wheel that she cleans daily, spending at least 30 minutes socializing them every day so they don’t get grumpy and a possible hefty price tag for care.

Maltese, who is part of a Facebook support group for hedgehog owners, said she’s “seen some horrific stuff” including rotting feet and stories of abandonment.

“It is not a starter pet,” Maltese said, adding that she researched extensively before deciding to become an owner.

She was living in Maryland when she got Albus, but then moved to the Mount Vernon District of Fairfax County right after the legalization, landing a shorter commute to her job in Alexandria.

Albus is “a complete sweetheart” and “very well socialized,” Maltese said. Unfortunately, he’s had a variety of health issues from teeth falling out that required Maltese to grind up his food to heart disease that meant she had to syringe feed him medication.

When she recently took him to the Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services in Fairfax, COVID-19 precautions prompted a new drive-thru service where staff brought Albus into and out of the facility while Maltese waited in the car.

Maltese, who has hedgehog insurance, said that the medical bills have reached hundreds of dollars. Through the highs and lows, she insists Albus is completely worth it.

“He’s like my first child,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of other pets, but he’s the one that has required so much… They are such wonderful creatures to have.”

Maltese added that she loves that he’s nocturnal because he’ll cuddle with her while she works during the day. “He’ll squeak when he’s dreaming.”

Maltese found a community of fellow hedgie parents on Facebook and also through her Instagram account for him. She’s also met people at Hedgie-Con, an annual convention for hedgehog owners in the U.S. and Canada.

“They were amazed by how friendly he was,” Maltese said about her Hedgie-Con 2019 experience. “It’s super nerdy.”

Albus walked away with 1st place in adult standard males and reserve grand champion of adult males. “He’s an award-winning hedgehog,” his proud mom noted.

One of the central arguments against hedgehog ownership was a concern about people struggling to care for their pets, leading to abandonment and surrenders.

Since Fairfax County legalized them, the county’s Animal Protection Police haven’t received any reports of abandonment. The one request to surrender ended up with getting the hedgehog re-homed so it never went to the shelter, according to information provided through Police Spokesperson Erica Webb.

Webb said that the Animal Protection Police did not have information to share regarding whether pet hedgehogs are affecting the exotic pet trade.

Neighboring counties have had similar experiences. “We have not had any hedgehogs come in, nor have we had any calls about them this year,” Talia Czapski with Loudoun County Animal Services told Tysons Reporter.

Chelsea Jones with Animal Welfare League of Arlington said they’ve only taken in one hedgehog during the last five years. “They are not surrendered to us very often at all,” Jones said.

Riddle said that Fairfax County’s legalization has boosted her business as a breeder.

“Demand has been greater in the past year, partly due to more interest from Fairfax County and also partly due to growing interest in general in having hedgehogs as pets,” Riddle wrote in an email. Riddle said the average cost of her hedgehogs, which can vary based on colors and sex, is $250.

Riddle said that the increase caused her to cut off her waiting list, which had 12 people as of late April. “Over the past year, 12.5% of my hedgehog adoptions have been from Fairfax County,” she said.

It’s unclear if hedgehog breeders are seeing the same uptick in adoptions like for cats and dogs due to people wanting furry companionship during the coronavirus pandemic. While the owners Tysons Reporter talked to said they like having hedgehog pets, the hedgehogs seem to have mixed feelings about their owners being home constantly.

“He’s definitely getting annoyed that I’m always around,” Thomas, who is doing online learning at home, said. Now, instead of cuddle time in the evening, he’s taking Band-Aid out of his cage several times a day and for longer periods of time.

Now that Edwards, the McLean student, has Serena Quilliams, she doesn’t socialize with the other pets. “The lizard would definitely attack her and probably get impaled,” Edwards said. “It wouldn’t go well.”

Overall, Edwards thinks pet hedgehogs are ideal pandemic buddies. “I hang out with her a lot,” he said. “She’ll play when you want to play.”

His assessment: “They are good pets.”

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A local animal rescue group has turned to online resources and bringing in animals from outside Northern Virginia to keep up with the rising adoption demand.

The Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation in Falls Church almost closed when the pandemic hit the Northern Virginia area but decided to stay open under the guidance of its co-founder Pam McAlwee, according to Kim Williams, one of the foundation’s volunteers.

Over the last few weeks, the organization saw a large increase in cat and dog adoptions, Williams said, adding that compared to April 2019, adoptions are up about 60%.

“It’s unlike anything anyone could have ever predicted,” she said.

When the pandemic first hit, Williams said she was concerned because “everything came to a screeching halt.”

The local pet supply stores, which usually would co-host adoption events with Lost Dog, halted their events, and people could no longer meet potential fosters in-person due to health concerns.

But that didn’t stop the foundation from continuing to help furry friends find homes.

Through Zoom appointments and phone consultation, three main volunteers ended up “working around the clock” to process roughly 300 pet inquires and match animals with homes in the first few weeks when people started staying home, Williams said.

“All of a sudden they became Match.com overnight,” she said.

In April alone, the organization took in roughly 370 dogs, according to Williams.

When finding homes for the animals, the volunteers consider a variety of factors, including the age of an animal, preexisting medical conditions, the size of the pet and household factors like children or the presence of a yard, Williams said.

Despite the time-consuming process of matching an animal to an owner, Williams said the team created spreadsheets and even worked to find adopters and fosters for animals that require special care and attention — like Grey, a pup who spent more than 500 days in Lost Dog’s shelter and loves to eat everything in his site — including furniture.

One upside to the pandemic is that people are spending extra time with their foster animals and discovering triggers and solutions for misbehavior that would otherwise cause incompatibility issues, Williams said.

Because many of the animals from the Northern Virginia area have either been adopted or placed in a foster home, the shelter is bringing in roughly 70 animals per week from places such as Puerto Rico, Mississippi and Southern Virginia — all areas with a large number of stray animals. Williams said that a local vet in Mississippi told her that the area was a “dumping ground” for animals.

Though adoptions and fosters have increased over the last few weeks, Williams said it isn’t cheap to rescue animals from across state lines.

Before an animal can be sent to foster homes or be adopted, the shelter has to pay somewhere between $125-$170 in fees depending on the size of animals to take them over state lines. That’s on top of all of the medical expenses to ensure they are healthy.

Thanks to thousands of dollars in donations from an anonymous donor and a partnership with a nearby animal hospital, the shelter has managed to keep up with demand, Williams said.

The Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation prides itself on its ethics, according to Williams. “We never discriminate based on age, breed or health conditions,” she said, adding that they will take in any dog or cat in need of care. 

Anyone interested in fostering an animal or adopting can check out the foundation’s website.

Photos courtesy Kim Williams Photography 

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Happy Friday! In our last installment this week of reader-submitted pet photos, we have lots of adorable pictures of cozy cats and dogs.

Recently, we shared photos of animal companions helping their humans work from home. Our photo galleries have been filled with pooches and cats wearing clothes.

Several people sent in pictures of their pets sleeping or getting comfy in bed.

At least one pooch is eagerly awaiting football season this fall.

Check out the gallery above and revisit the ones from earlier this week. Thank you to everyone who submitted photos!

One more cat photo:

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Local pets are hanging out with their owners more as they follow Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order.

To help provide some light-hearted content during the pandemic, Tysons Reporter recently asked readers to share us their photos of their furry companions.

Yesterday, we shared some of the many photos we’ve received from local residents of their pets. We’ll continue to highlight pet photos through Friday.

Several pet parents sent in pictures of their dogs and cats wearing everything from hats to bowties.

Check out the gallery above and come back tomorrow for more photos on our website.

Have a photo you want to submit? We’re still taking submissions. Tag or direct message us on social media (FacebookTwitterInstagram) or email us at [email protected].

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Happy Hump Day! People around Tysons have some adorable furry friends keeping them company while they stay inside to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Tysons Reporter received a ton of submissions after soliciting photos of pets, so we’re publishing some today, more tomorrow and the rest on Friday.

Several dog parents sent in pictures of their pups lounging around and getting fresh air outside.

We also got photo submissions of some feline friends — including one that has decided to be the Easter Bunny.

Check out the gallery above and come back tomorrow for more photos on our website. Have a photo you want to submit? We’re still taking submissions (note: horizontal photos are preferred).

Tag or direct message us on social media (FacebookTwitterInstagram) or email us at [email protected].

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Editor’s note: Tysons Reporter will temporarily have “Morning Notes” every weekday instead of twice a week to accommodate more news.

Grim Outlook for Restaurants — “The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington estimates that 25%-30% of its roughly 1,200 members won’t be able to weather the storm and will have to shut down once all is said and done.” [Washington Business Journal]

Falls Church Businesses Making Masks — “Terry Lederer, who co-owns Lederer’s Sound Service with husband Chuck, has co-organized a volunteer group that has already sewn over 250 masks in the past eight days. That effort is matched by Amy Bitici of the bridal shop Zoya’s Atelier, who has kept four of her employees on the payroll sewing masks in an operation that began this past Monday.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Vienna Town Council OKs New Ordinance — “The ordinance mandates that any electronic meetings shall be open to the public via electronic participation. In addition, public comments on matters requiring a public hearing may be made in writing or electronically. The ordinance also provides for postponement of non-emergency or non-essential public hearings and action items.” [Town of Vienna]

COVID-19 Court Changes — “While the Fairfax County Courthouse remains open to the public, the Circuit Court, General District Court and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court have changed their bond and arraignment schedule until further notice.” [Fairfax County]

Pet Care During Pandemic — “Eight D.C., Maryland and Virginia animal welfare organizations — including Fairfax County’s Animal Shelter — are uniting to urge the community to have a plan in place for your beloved companion animals in the wake of COVID-19.” [Fairfax County]

Local Eatery Talks COVID-19 Changes — “For as long as he has to, Clarity chef-owner Jon Krinn is dumping the luxury approach at his essential small plates restaurant in Northern Virginia. A kitchen that used to turn out $88 tasting menus full… is now focused on supporting local purveyors.” [Eater DC]

Photo courtesy Ed Schudel

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Happy Halloween! Local pups around Tysons are wearing some adorable costumes to get into the spooky spirit.

After soliciting photos of pets in Halloween costumes earlier this week, Tysons Reporter received a ton of submissions, so we’re publishing some today (Oct. 31) and also on Friday.

Several dog parents sent in pictures of their pups rooting for the Nationals — who just won the World Series — and readying to fight crime in Gotham City.

Check out the gallery above and come back tomorrow for more photos on our website and Instagram.

Have a photo you want to submit? We’re still taking submissions. Tag or direct message us on social media (FacebookTwitterInstagram) or email [email protected].

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This Saturday, there will be a puppy party at Tysons Corner Center.

Attendees will get to play with puppies from two different litters. Wolf Trap Animal Rescue (WTAR) will host the event in coordination with BrandBox on Saturday, Aug. 10, from noon-3 p.m.

“Come by and meet some of the adorable faces that have been rescued, hear their story, and you’ll be sure to get quite a few licks in exchange,” a WTAR press release said.

The event will take place in BrandBox’s community lounge on the first level of Tysons Corner Center. Admission is $5 and will act as a donation to WTAR.

WTAR helps to find reliable and safe homes for shelter animals in the Northern Virginia region.

The puppies at this event will be available for adoption at WTAR’s “Clear the Shelters” event on Saturday, Aug. 17.

“This nationwide event has assisted in finding homes for more than 250,000 pets since 2015,” the press release said.

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Pet care service Woofie’s announced plans for franchise expansion in the Vienna, McLean and Great Falls areas. 

Though they don’t have set locations or opening dates yet, Vice President of Marketing Renee Ventrice said that once the company finds owners to run the franchises, locations are usually open for business within six months. 

When the new locations finally open, Ventrice said that it will bring new jobs to the area as well. The company chose the three areas for expansion because they recognized an increased need for reliable pet care services. With a working median-income population, the locations fit their target market.

As a previous startup, the venture began in Ashburn under owners Amy Reed and Leslie Barron. Woofie’s slowly transformed their business into the multi-market company it is today. The company offers customers grooming, pet-sitting and walking services catering to many species of animals with varying dispositions. 

Woofie’s also offers mobile dog wash stations.

“Our focus on mobile services ensures a relatively low barrier to entry when compared to other pet care franchise systems,” said Ventrice.

At their established location in Ashburn, they currently employ around 60-80 dog-walkers, 11 groomers, four to five full-time administrative employees, and other part-time seasonal employees. 

For people looking into franchise opportunities, Ventrice said the company is seeking driven individuals who are passionate about pets and have a strong work ethic. Franchisees with Woofie’s have the flexibility to work with the company on important decisions. They are also guaranteed a protected territory so they don’t have to worry about competition with other locations.

Anyone interested in opening a franchise with the company can visit their website for more information or email [email protected]

Photos via Woofie’s

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