There has been a surge of cases involving animal rescuers turned hoarders, and Virginia is no exception. Recent cases have revealed hundreds of animals on a single person’s property, or dozens and dozens of animals living in a single townhouse. People who criticize this type of animal hoarder need only point to often atrocious conditions that the animals live in and suffer through. Nonetheless, these hoarders often have loyal supporters, who think they are saints whose “hearts are in the right places.”
But this begs the question of how many animals the law allows a person to have. Once you take on a certain number of animals, you are limited by the type of housing you have, as well as the amount of time and money that you have to dedicate to your companion animals. As the saying goes in The Little Prince, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
First and foremost, Virginia law requires you to provide adequate food, water, shelter, space, exercise, care and veterinary care for each companion animal. [For more on this, see my previous post, So What Are My Responsibilities as a Pet Owner?]
Foster homes for rescues are governed by Virginia Code Section 3.2-6550, which sets a fifty-animal limits for foster homes. [Shockingly, the penalty for violating this law is only a $250 civil fine!] If you are a foster, be aware that you do not automatically have the right to keep up to fifty animals in your home. You still need to comply with zoning laws and other laws in your local jurisdiction, which will likely have a much more stringent limit on the number of animals you can keep.
Take a look at these examples. Arlington County and the City of Alexandria allow residents to have three dogs, but require a kennel license for any additional dogs. If you would like more information, consult Section 2-12 of the Arlington County Code and Section 5-7-57 of the City of Alexandria Code. Fairfax County residents can have two dogs on any sized lot, and additional dogs based on minimum lot sizes. But Article 20 of Fairfax County’s Zoning Ordinance will start to consider your property as a kennel if “dogs are kept in numbers greater than ten (10) per 40,000 square feet,” or if the lot constitutes a “place or establishment in which dogs are kept, trained, boarded or handled for a fee.” Prince William County requires kennel licenses for households with more than four dogs.