A sick bald eagle. A lost fawn. A rogue alligator in Reston. Who are you going to call? Fairfax County’s Animal Protection Police.
Made up of more than 25 specially-trained law enforcement officers within the Fairfax County Police Department, the APP’s responsibility is to enforce ordinances and to help protect humans and animals alike.
While they do assist in domestic animal situations, in recent years, they’ve received more and more calls for sick and distressed wildlife, Sgt. Daniel Cook says.
A 20-year veteran of the force, he believes this has to do with the ever-growing human population in the county.
“The population here, the housing market, the number of homes being constructed, it’s all steadily increasing,” Cook says. “So, there’s more and more people here. There’s going to be more and more interaction with wildlife.”
Cook says that calls have increased a little more than he anticipated in the last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is related, he thinks, to folks being outside more, enjoying and observing nature.
“There are more people out in the parks. There’s more people around, looking,” Cook said.
Spring is always a busy time of year for the Animal Protection Police, since it is breeding season for many creatures.
“We get a lot of baby calls. A lot of baby raccoons, baby foxes, squirrels, birds, rabbits. You name it, we get ’em,” Cook said.
He says, for the most part, when they get calls about baby animals, there’s nothing wrong. For example, fawns are often left in one particular spot for hours by their parents.
“The first thing that goes through a lot of people’s minds is that [the animal] has been abandoned,” he says. “In reality, it has not.”
Cook says that humans should observe at a distance and refrain from touching the animals.
“We really don’t want people…handling the wildlife themselves,” he said.
If there’s something really wrong, as in cases where the animal is injured or sick, the APP will come out.
In those cases, many animals end up with licensed rehabilitators or veterinarians, who will help them heal and, hopefully, get released back into the wild.
From time to time, the APP does get some rather atypical calls.
In December 2019, they got a call about a bald eagle that turned out to be sick from lead poisoning, likely from eating fish with high levels of lead in them.
The eagle was rehabilitated and released back into the wild.
There was also Lord Fairfax, a 65-pound snapping turtle found in the county’s Alexandria area, and a rogue alligator, both one-time illegal pets that folks didn’t want any more.
“I think it was a year, maybe two years ago, we had an alligator up in Reston that somebody released into one of the lakes,” Cook said. “I think a citizen actually caught that, if I’m remembering correctly.”
Alligators and other exotic animals are illegal without proper licenses both in Fairfax County and Virginia.
Cook has pretty simple advice for anyone who spots any animal that they think might be in distress: “Number one, leave the wildlife alone. Keep an eye on it…and give us a call.”
The Animal Protection Police can be reached at FCPD’s non-emergency phone number, 703-691-2131.