Could this Happen in your Community? A Threat to the Foster Care System

Update Sept. 18, 2008: Arlington and Fairfax Counties have withdrawn the citations issued to fosters. Whew! A Forever Home thanks everyone for their calls and emails that helped save the day for the animals!

Original report: Foster dogA Forever Home, a Virginia non-profit, rescues hundreds of animals every year; AFH provides veterinary care, socialization and training and works to place these animals in, well, a forever home. AFH relies on volunteers to foster these animals, to provide a temporary home until they can be adopted.

With foster care available, AFH can save hundreds more animals every year.

Foster care has been a boon to the animal welfare movement. Public as well as private shelters and rescues rely on foster care to get animals out of kennels and into homes where they can receive the training and socialization that can make them adoptable. Foster care also enables shelters and rescues to save many thousands of lives, animals that would otherwise be euthanized.   

Now, however, Fairfax and Arlington Counties in Virginia, where AFH is based, are issuing citations to these volunteer foster parents, claiming they live in areas not zoned for commercial use and cannot foster rescued animals for a non-profit.

Ken Cline, a member of the Board of Directors for AFH, explains, "The citations do not claim that there are too many dogs, or that the volunteers don’t have a right to keep dogs…There is no violation regarding …a lack of care…. The claim is that, since the dogs are associated with a rescue group, they are considered to be for commercial purposes. Commercial uses are prohibited in residential districts. If the dogs were not rescue dogs, there would be no problem. This is our issue – foster homes – ours and yours – could conceivably be shut down for good if we are considered a ‘commercial’ operation."

Cline elaborated, "The fallacy in this logic is that the fosters are volunteering their homes and their time to house these dogs. There is no compensation provided by the rescue to the foster …. The fosters are performing a volunteer activity for their own personal use and enjoyment."

Cline continued with this warning, "If the Counties are successful in classifying these volunteer activities as commercial in nature, then they will be establishing a precedent that can be used against any foster provider in the County, and potentially in the state. Since most, if not all, rescue groups rely on foster homes to house their animals, that could effectively put rescue in Virginia out of business.

"By extension, if they are successful in classifying this type of volunteer activity as commercial – where does the boundary lie? The Girl Scouts rely on volunteers to staff their Girl Scout Troops and to sell their cookies. Is that really any different? It is a volunteer service provided to a non-profit organization – exactly what Arlington and Fairfax are trying to classify as commercial.

"We cannot allow these citations to stand. It is imperative that we win the appeals [in] these cases."

Needless to say, if one community prevails with the argument fostering is a commercial or prohibited use in a residential zone, certainly other cities or counties may make the same argument and shut down the availability of foster care. 


Contact the officials below. Call or write. Some talking points:

1. You support rescue – tell them why

2. Foster homes are NOT commercial. Neither the foster nor the rescue profits.

3. If rescue is stopped, tens of thousands more animals will die every year.

4. If rescue is stopped, it will cost the County/State thousands and thousands of dollars (because rescue saves them money by taking animals they would otherwise kill – which costs taxpayers $$)

5. If the people you are contacting are elected officials – you will not vote for them again.

6. If rescue is stopped, you will limit your spending in those counties as much as possible.

7. The rural shelters that we help will suffer even more because they have so much less than we do now. If we couldn’t help them, a 100% kill rate in their shelters is possible.

8. If you are not a rescuer (just an animal lover), this impacts you too – write to these people about how you would feel about rescue going away and tens of thousands of additional animals dying every year.


Arlington County:

Arlington County Board of Supervisors:

J. Walter Tejada/Chairman

Barbara Favola, Member/ViceChair

Jay Fisette, Member

Mary Hynes, Member

Christopher Zimmerman/Member

Arlington Zoning Administrator Melinda Artman

Fairfax County:

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

Gerald E. Connolly/Chair,

Sharon Bulova/ViceChair,

John W. Foust/Dranesville Dist.

Michael R. Frey/Sully Dist.

Penelope A. Gross/Mason Dist.

(Mr.) Pat Herrity/Springfield Dist.

Catherine M. Hudgins/Hunter Mill Dist.

Gerald W. Hyland/Mt. Vernon Dist.

Jeff C. McKay/Lee District

Linda Q. Smyth/Providence Dist.

Fairfax Zoning Administrator Eileen M. McLane

General Assembly:

Senate – Fairfax County

George L. Barker

Ken Cuccinelli

Mark R. Herring

Janet Howell

Chap Petersen

Toddy Puller

Richard L. Saslaw

House of Delegates – Fairfax County

David B. Albo

Kristen J. Amundson

David L. Bulova

C. Charles Caputo

Adam P. Ebbin

Timothy D. Hugo

Robert D. Hull

David W. Marsden

Brian J. Moran

Kenneth R. Plum

Thomas D. Rust

James M. Scott

Stephen C. Shannon

Mark D. Sickles

Margaret G. Vanderhye

Vivian E. Watts

Senate – Arlington County

Patricia S. Ticer (also covers part of Fairfax County)

Mary Margaret Whipple (also covers part of Fairfax County)

House of Delegates – Arlington County

Robert H. Brink

Albert C.Eisenberg

David L. Englin

One thought on “Could this Happen in your Community? A Threat to the Foster Care System”

  1. It should be noted that zoning violations were due to the high number of foster animals being kept at homes, and not because of residential zoning. In the case of a townhome in Centreville associated with AFH, it was found that up to 12 dogs were being housed on site. Anyone who is concerned about animal AND human health should be able to recognize that this is too many dogs to keep in a townhouse.

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