Formal education and training for animal control personnel in Virginia is a relatively new idea that first took root in Fairfax County in 1975. A training course for animal control officers was held at Dulles Airport starting September 24, 1975, and continuing once weekly for five sessions through October 22. The October 15 session was convened at the Alexandria Animal Shelter for demonstrations on capturing animals. Other topics discussed were: the anatomy, physiology and characteristics of animals, rabies, kenneling methods, diseases, injuries and first aid, and euthanasia. Sessions were each approximately six hours long.
This course, and three similar subsequent courses, were organized under the direction of Richard Amity, Director of Animal Control for Fairfax County, and developed by Linda Leffel, program leader with the Extension Division of Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech) in Reston. Humane officers were also invited to attend these courses. Successful completion of the course earned the participant a certificate and continuing education units (CEU).
The second course, held in the spring of 1976, had some format and similar subject matter as the first, except that there were six sessions instead of five. The third and fourth ACO training courses were also held at Dulles Airport in the fall of 1976 and spring of 1977. Linda Leffel moved to Blacksburg later in 1977 and the emphasis in Animal Control Officer (ACO) training switched from local to statewide programs.
The first statewide continuing education program for animal control workers was held in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech's Donaldson Brown Center in November 1979. Convened at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 10, under the guidance of Dr. Gordon Maclnnis, a veterinary Extension specialist in the new Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, the workshop featured a Saturday evening banquet and adjourned at noon on Sunday. The registration fee of $35.00 included instruction, materials, coffee breaks, dinner, and a certificate of participation. Topics on the program included human relations, animal laws, animal behavior, record keeping, first aid, animal welfare, capture, and restraint.
The second ACO Workshop, held October 4-5, 1980, at the Donaldson Brown Center on the Virginia Tech campus, started at 9:00 a.m. Saturday and adjourned at 3:00 p.m. Sunday. Featured speakers were Richard Amity, director of the Fairfax County Animal Control Department; Walt Lane, president of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies; and state senator Madison Marye. The honorable S. Mason Carbaugh, Commissioner of Agriculture for Virginia, was the Saturday evening banquet speaker.
At the October 1980 Workshop a decision was made to organize the Virginia Animal Control Association (VACA) as a vehicle to foster the training of animal control personnel and enhance their effectiveness as a recognizable group throughout Virginia. Donald Rose had been instrumental in promoting the training of animal control officers prior to the 1979 ACO Workshop. He attended the Texas Animal Control Association meeting at Texas A&M in 1977 and picked up information on their organization that would later prove useful in Virginia. Following the Texas meeting, Don had the opportunity to speak with Mason Carbaugh, Virginia's Commissioner of Agriculture, and to discuss the lack of training prevalent among AC officers. He mentioned that these officers could help prevent livestock damage inflicted by dogs on Virginia's farms. Soon thereafter, Commissioner Carbaugh called Virginia Tech urging the development of ACO training programs.
Dr. Gordon Maclnnis, an experienced Extension veterinarian in the veterinary college, was assigned to pursue this proposal. He enlisted the assistance of Dr. Leroy Bowen, a state veterinarian at the VDA's Lynchburg laboratory, and they went to discuss the matter with Don Rose, supervisor of Animal Control, in Chesterfield County. As a result of this meeting, Dr. Maclnnis mailed out a questionnaire in the spring of 1977 to Extension agents in the counties and cities across Virginia to get back to their feedback on the perceived local need and support for ACO training.
While the survey results were mixed, Dr. Maclnnis detected enough interest to begin planning for statewide training programs. Linda Leffel was then at Virginia Tech in continuing education and together they put together the 1979 program and started the necessary publicity for this first ACO Workshop in Virginia.
An interesting sideline to ACO training occurred in 1977 when a court case involving animal control was being tried in Maryland. The defendant in the case questioned the competency of the arresting animal control officer. Fortunately, the officer had attended a series of ACO training sessions at Dulles Airport and he presented the judge with his CE certificate as evidence of competency. The judge ruled the officer to be competent.
Annual workshops were held at Virginia Tech each year through 1992 and were organized by Dr. Kent Roberts in cooperation with the board of directors of the Virginia Animal Control Association and the assistance of the Continuing Education Division of Virginia Tech at the Donaldson Brown Center. The quality and scope of these workshops improved each year, as animal control officer training was more widely recognized and accepted as a necessary part of effective animal control. Dr. Roberts took over liaison with VACA in 1983 when Dr. Maclnnis retired from the veterinary college at Virginia Tech.
Several special interest workshops were held in Virginia for animal control officers during the late 1980's and early 1990's. Three special programs were developed and conducted at Virginia Tech through the cooperative efforts of VACA, the veterinary college and the CE Division. A capture techniques course was held was held October 10-11, 1989; a feline workshop October 1-2 1991; and an equine workshop July 20-21, 1992; all at Virginia Tech, with a hands-on laboratory as a featured part of each program. Other VACA sponsored special workshops on euthanasia, wildlife problems, etc., were held in various locations across Virginia during this expansion of ACO educational efforts.
As VACA presented the 20th ACO Workshop in 1998, animal control in Virginia expanded and matured to a necessary and well-accepted feature of local government services. This maturation and acceptance has been achieved with the hard work of dedicated people committed to the need for responsive, effective and enlightened animal control; and, in no small part, to the annual Workshops where the education and training of Virginia's animal control officers is "Job One".
In 2008, VACA held its 30th annual conference in Fredericksburg. The first ever VACA golf tournament was held at the Meadows Farm golf course. This charity event helped lay the foundation for the ACO Memorial Fund in Virginia.
In 2010, VACA held an historic annual conference in the City of Staunton located in the scenic Shenandoah Valley. All the past presidents of VACA since its inception were in attendance. These incredible animal control professionals were honored at the awards banquet. Also in attendance and honored was Dr. Kent Roberts. The keynote speaker at the awards banquet was Matt Lohr, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). Funds were raised for VACA and the Memorial Fund through the VACA golf tournament and silent auction.