By CHRIS TULP — Local residents hope that hiring an animal control officer would lead to fewer ruff situations when it comes to loose and stray dogs in the community.
The World Health Organization estimates that there are more than 200 million stray dogs worldwide and that approximately 55,000 people die from rabies every year. Loose and stray dogs pose potential threats to humans and other dogs. If loose dogs get scared or irritated, they can act irrationally and even become a threat to themselves.
In response to a number of loose dog attacks last year on residents in Hyattsville and along the Route 1 Corridor, local residents, led by Mary Sue Twohy, established an organization called Residents United for Furry Friends (RUFF). The organization is celebrating its first anniversary.
In order to help prevent attacks by loose dogs, RUFF is working toward more awareness and better enforcement of animal control laws. According to Twohy, many residents are not aware of these laws or how to responsibly care for and protect their animals.
One of RUFF’s main goals is for the City of Hyattsville to reinstate the position of animal control officer, which, according to Community Services and Public Information Officer Jake Rollow, was discontinued in the early 1990s. Animal control officers pick up dangerous and stray animals, investigate cases of animal cruelty and enforce animal control laws.
Twohy said via email, “I believe it is up to the citizens of Hyattsville, the city officials of Hyattsville and the Hyattsville Police Department to collaboratively make that decision together whether or not an Animal Control Officer is reinstated. It is a community decision.”
In a recent Speak Up HVL! survey, Hyattsville residents were asked to select their top three priorities from a list of 20 different topics. Based on 132 total responses, having an animal control officer was voted as the number one priority by citizens, receiving 46 votes, which was 10 more than the corridor development program, the second-place priority, received.
Despite residents voicing their desire for an animal control officer, there might not be one in the near future.
“The animal control position was not included in the FY-19 budget,” said Rollow via email. “Rather, the city administrator and chief of police met with Prince George’s County Animal Services Division to get a better understanding of how [the division] supports the city. That conversation continues, with a follow-up meeting pending to discuss how the county can increase its animal control support to the city.”
In order to promote their main message of safety, RUFF is developing relationships with those in the city council, police department and the Prince George’s County Animal Control Division. Members of RUFF have been attending the Hyattsville Police and Public Safety Committee meetings to update them on animal control issues around the community because, according to Twohy, these kinds of issues often don’t get reported directly to the police.
The City of Hyattsville established a LEASH UP! campaign last year after members of RUFF attended a Hyattsville Code Enforcement Committee meeting. “We suggested that better signage informing people of the leash law and the potential for fines could help,” said Twohy. “Shortly afterwards, the LEASH UP! signs and posters began appearing.”
“LEASH UP! is a great start and definitely advances our goal of educating and encouraging residents to be responsible pet owners and good neighbors,” said Grant Godfrey, an active RUFF member.
He continued, “To be effective, the LEASH UP! message needs to be repeated, widespread and reinforced by reaching residents through a variety of sources.”
RUFF has sponsored fun and engaging community events, including the Mutt Strut in University Park and Dogs for the Arts, to get their message across to residents.
There are a few things that Hyattsville members should remember in order to best take care of and protect their dogs, according to Twohy: “All dogs need to be leashed, collared and tagged for their own safety and the community’s.” She continued, “Hyattsville City Code section 52-1 defines control of a dog as being confined (fenced) on the owner’s property or else being on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Violations start at $100 for the first offence [sic]. Dog owners need to maintain their fences and make sure the fence is adequate to contain their dog. If there are incidents such as loose dogs, dog bites etc., P[rince] G[eorges] Animal Control and Hyattsville Police should be called immediately.”
Chris Tulp is a summer intern with the Hyattsville Life & Times.