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A Lyon Village homeowner’s attempt to deter dogs from peeing on his prized bushes has prompted a major controversy on the local Nextdoor social network.

A post about the plastic “spikes” placed between the bushes and the sidewalk prompted outrage, hundreds of comments and even — reportedly — calls to police, despite the fact that it turned out to be a commonly-used product.

Eric Wang says he first became aware of the Nextdoor post when he noticed an ARLnow photographer taking photos of the blunt, somewhat bendy spikes, “as well as a number of people passing by and checking out the mats through the day.”

“I figured something was up, so I looked on Nextdoor and it was at the top of my feed,” he said in an interview over email. “I had stopped using Nextdoor for several months because of toxic content like this.”

The initial post alleged that the spikes — actually a product sometimes called a “scat mat” that’s advertised as an “gentle [way] to scare or irritate animals without harming them” — were “sharp” and could “do some damage to [dog] paws.”

Quickly, dozens of people piled on in condemning the homeowner, who Wang later identified as himself.

Among the comments that followed: “What a nut,” “what a sicko,” “clearly DGAF about anyone besides himself,” “just horrible,” “pure evil,” “pretty sick behavior,” “sociopathic behavior,” “what an ass.”

Wang’s modern home near the intersection of Key Boulevard and N. Adams Street, in the affluent neighborhood north of Clarendon and Courthouse, is distinctive. It has also caught the attention of local residents due to the prickly-worded signs Wang previously posted about dogs peeing on his bushes.

“Dear dog owners: your dog’s piss is killing these shrubs!” said the sign, a photo of which was posted in the Nextdoor thread. “Each of these shrubs costs $300. If you’ve been allowing your dog to piss on these shrubs, please kindly remit compensation for the damage you have caused.”

“After my first set of signs was not well-received, I relented and created a second set of signs (which nobody on Nextdoor bothered to post, which shows an intent to shade the facts here),” Wang told us, recounting how he finally decided to buy the mats.

“The second set of signs was meant to be humorous, and included a graphic of a smiling urinating dog with a red circle and slash through it and the words, ‘Please, no pissing on the shrubs.’ Neither set of signs was particularly effective, and they also weren’t very weatherproof,” Wang wrote. “So I went online and did some research and purchased the scat mats based on the product reviews I read — many of which were posted by pet owners.”

On Nextdoor, numerous people — who post using their verified full name and neighborhood — fretted that children, seniors and those with disabilities could fall and injure themselves on the spikes. They called for the mats to be reported to the authorities, for Wang to be sued, and for other forms of retribution.

  • “I called ACPD”
  • “Needs to be reported and the owners put on notice”
  • “The Animal Welfare League needs to pay this homeowner a visit”
  • “[An animal control officer] said he’ll check it out and make contact with the homeowner to inform them that there are concerns within the community.”
  • “If somebody sent pictures to this guy’s insurance company that might have faster results”
  • “I reported it to Arlington County. If more people do so, we would have a better chance if them doing something about it!”
  • “Has ‘sue me’ written all over it. Hope it happens!”
  • “We could all pee in bottles for a week and pour the contents on their bushes”

At least two people posted that they called police and were told nothing could be done. An Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman said she could find no record of calls regarding the spikes.

“The reaction is completely unhinged,” said Wang, an Ivy League-educated lawyer. (The person who started the thread is also an attorney, according to his LinkedIn profile.)

“The over-the-top… online pile-on represents the modern-day dangers of the Internet mobocracy,” continued Wang. “The knee-jerk reactions show a complete intolerance for facts and hatred for rational thinking. While this is a relatively minor example compared with phenomena like January 6, COVID denial, and anti-vaxxers, it is part of the same social pathology.”

Shortly after Wang started posting comments defending himself — “I’m sorry, but my property is not a public bathroom for the neighborhood dogs,” he said in one — many were removed and Wang was suspended from Nextdoor for not being “respectful to your neighbors,” according to screenshots reviewed by ARLnow.

Other comments that defended him were also removed, though accusations that those residents were somehow in cahoots with Wang, or were Wang using a false identity, remained. (Wang denied that he knows one particularly vehement defender, who posted dozens of comments before disappearing.)

The number of comments on the post were about 300 earlier today, down from 350 yesterday.

The criticism of Wang extended to commentary about his custom-built home.

“That house is an eyesore,” wrote one person.

“House as ugly as sin,” wrote another

“That house is heinous… our eyes are offended,” said a third.

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Owl and turtle get unstuck from each other (via Animal Welfare League of Arlington)

A turtle and owl found themselves a little too close for comfort last Tuesday when the owl somehow got a talon stuck in the turtle’s shell.

“This was a first for our Animal Control team,” said the Animal Welfare League of Arlington in a tweet.

The league was alerted to the situation when a caller told the team a nearby owl was having trouble flying.

“Chief Toussaint and Officer Robinson gave each animal a check up and then gently separated the two,” according to a video chronicling the procedure.

The owl had a minor injury and the turtle was uninjured, the video said.

Both animals are safe and with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, who will take care of them until they are ready to be back in the wild again.

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An angry fox with a taste for human flesh is at large near a park popular with children.

Arlington officials say the fox bit two people — unprovoked — near Lacey Woods Park (1200 N. George Mason Drive) earlier this week and may be rabid. They’re warning residents to steer clear of any fox that “appears sick, lethargic, disoriented, or aggressive.”

Anyone who sees a fox fitting that description is asked to “call Animal Control immediately at 703-931-9241.”

The fox is not the only critter menacing the denizens of Arlington’s northern neighborhoods. There have been multiple reports of sick and potentially rabid raccoons over the past few months.

More on the latest incident, from an Arlington County press release, below.

A fox exhibiting signs of rabies has been reported near Lacey Woods Park.

Monday, May 10, between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Arlington County Animal Control and the Arlington County Police Department received complaints about a fox aggressively approaching people and dogs around the 1100 block of N. George Mason Drive, the 900 block of N. Frederick Street, and on the Custis Trail between N. George Mason Drive and N. Harrison Street. The incidents are believed to involve the same fox.

The fox had potential contact with two domestic pets and bit two humans unprovoked causing injury. The fox was exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with rabies. The suspect aggressive fox has not been located or captured.

Rabies is a disease that people and animals can catch from the bite or scratch of infected animals. It is fatal if medical care is not given promptly.

Arlington County Animal Control and the Arlington County Department of Human Services are urging anyone who may have been bitten or scratched by any wild animal, including a fox, to reach out immediately. If you, your children, or your pets had any potential contact with this animal, please call Arlington County Animal Control promptly at 703-931-9241.

All residents are encouraged to:

  • Ensure pets are up to date on their rabies and distemper vaccines
  • Keep dogs on a leash at all times and keep cats inside
  • Do not approach or feed any wild animals
  • Feed pets inside
  • Remove wildlife attractants, such as unsecured garbage cans, open containers of food and compost, from yards.

Arlington County Animal Control is also urging residents to remain vigilant, and if they see a fox that appears sick, lethargic, disoriented, or aggressive to stay away from the animal and call Animal Control immediately at 703-931-9241. Do not attempt to haze or make loud sounds at the animal. Back away slowly while facing the animal at all times.

The County asks that pets and children are not outside unsupervised at this time.

If you come across a deceased rabies vector animal, including cats, dogs, foxes, raccoons, or groundhogs, in your yard or a public space, contact Animal Control promptly and do not handle the animal.

Flickr pool photo by GM and MB

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One year ago today, the coronavirus changed life over the course of one momentous day. Now, Arlington dogs may face a lockdown of their own due to a new viral outbreak.

Arlington County warned this afternoon that raccoons across North Arlington are testing positive for a virus called Canine Distempter. The disease can be transmitted to dogs and other pets — and is often fatal or debilitating.

Officials learned of the outbreak due to incidents involving sick raccoons that had rabies-like symptoms over the past few months. Of the three raccoons captured by animal control, only one ended up testing positive for rabies, according to a press release. But officials continued capturing and testing raccoons due to the concerning behavior.

More from the press release:

With ongoing issues and reports Arlington County Animal Control and the Arlington County Department of Human Services arranged for broader testing of six raccoons that were removed showing neurological signs and symptoms in early March 2021. All of the raccoons tested were clinically positive for Canine Distemper.

Distemper is a viral disease that is always present in wildlife populations at varying levels. Raccoons are especially susceptible to canine distemper, as well as foxes, coyotes, skunks, and unvaccinated dogs. This virus does not affect humans. The disease is transmitted when animals have direct contact with infected animals or indirect contact with body fluids/feces from an infected animal.

We are urging residents in North Arlington to be vigilant. This outbreak is no longer contained to a specific neighborhood.

The County is asking pet owners to ensure their pets are vaccinated against both rabies and distemper. Pets should be kept inside, or on a leash when outside, officials say.

More official advice from the County is below.

Residents are asked to:

  • Ensure pets are up to date on their rabies and distemper vaccines
  • Keep dogs on a leash at all times and keep cats inside
  • Do not approach or feed any wild animals
  • Feed pets inside
  • Remove wildlife attractants from yards, such as unsecured garbage cans, open containers of food and compost

If you see a raccoon that appears sick, lethargic, disoriented, or aggressive should stay away from the animal and call Animal Control immediately at 703-931-9241. If you come across a deceased raccoon in your yard or a public space, contact Animal Control immediately.

Photo by Jonnelle Yankovich on Unsplash

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As if the pandemic wasn’t bad enough, there’s now an apparent rabies outbreak in Arlington County.

Two days after the county warned of a possible rabies exposure in the East Falls Church neighborhood, animal control has captured two additional raccoons “showing neurological signs consistent with rabies.”

The raccoons were both captured in residential north Arlington neighborhoods: one on the 4300 block of 37th Road N., in the Old Glebe neighborhood near Glebe Road Park and the Gulf Branch Nature Center, and another on the 5100 block of 37th Road N., in the Rock Spring neighborhood near Williamsburg Middle School.

“On February 4, 2021, Arlington County Animal Control responded to two separate incidents for raccoons,” the county said in a press release. “Both of the raccoons in these incidents were captured and removed by animal control; both raccoons were showing neurological signs consistent with rabies. One of these raccoons may have had contact with two pets.”

“This outbreak is no longer contained to a specific neighborhood,” the press release warned, also citing the East Falls Church incident from Jan. 30, in which a rabid raccoon came into contact with a pet.

“We are urging residents in North Arlington to be vigilant,” said Kurt Larrick, a county spokesman. “We ask that residents ensure their pets are up to date on their rabies vaccines, keep their dogs on a leash, keep cats inside, remain vigilant and alert, and do not approach or interact with any wild animals.”

Rabies, as described in the press release, “is a disease that people and animals can catch from the bite or scratch of infected animals. It is fatal if medical care is not given promptly.”

“If you, your child, or your pet may have come into contact with any wild animals including bats or raccoons, please call Arlington County Animal Control at 703-931-9241 immediately,” the press release says. “If calling after hours, please stay on the line to speak with the answering service who will alert an Officer. If you see a raccoon that appears sick, lethargic, disoriented, or aggressive, do NOT approach the animal and please call Animal Control immediately.”

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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After an eventful week of roaming North Arlington, Hannah the Australian Cattle Dog mix was recently returned to her foster human.

It took dozens of neighbors, Homeward Trails Animal Rescue and the Animal Welfare League of Arlington to bring her home. The two organizations canvassed neighborhoods, put up fliers and relied on sightings from community members to set humane traps.

Homeward Trails Animal Rescue Deputy Director Rebecca Goodhart credits Hannah’s safe return to vigilant neighbors and the hard work of animal control officers. The Aussie mix occupied the forefront of many neighbors’ minds, with Arlingtonians talking about Hannah everywhere Goodhart looked for her.

“The community was tremendous reporting sightings and asking how they could help, and spreading the word to friends,” Goodhart said. “It was awesome.”

A nervous dog, Hannah was likely stressed and scared after transitioning to living in a house in Arlington, Goodhart said.

Hannah had squeezed past her foster owner and bolted on Oct. 6, just a few days after she was placed in her new foster home, she said. Over the next week, she followed her water source — small streams — through neighborhoods and parks.

Many Arlingtonians kept tabs on the saga through Nextdoor, the private neighborhood networking platform. Users reported seeing her in Rivercrest, Bellevue Forest, Woodmont and Gulf Branch, posting updates and photos whenever they saw Hannah.

“Kids just saw her… 11:25 a.m.,” said one Cherrydale resident.

“Just seen passing through our yard at 12:30 heading in the direction of Windy Run,” said a subsequent Nextdoor post.

Goodhart said she spent 13 hours on Friday, Oct. 9, tracking Hannah from sighting to sighting — but the Aussie Cattle Dog mix stayed five minutes ahead of her all day.

Homeward Trails asks neighbors not to try and catch or feed lost dogs. Giving chase scares them and feeding them makes them less likely to go after the food in the traps. People with gates are asked to leave them open so that if dogs wander in, they can be closed inside.

Finally, on Wednesday, Oct. 14, Hannah took the food bait and was captured in another dog foster family’s yard. On Nextdoor, dozens rejoiced at the news that she was rescued.

Goodhart said Homeward Trails is grateful to animal control officers who were “completely tireless in helping us” and to the community, who helped bring Hannah back.

“We seriously could not have asked for a better place for this dog to be lost,” she said. “You never want a dog that’s lost, but the community was incredible.”

Homeward Trails places about 1,000 foster dogs in homes a year. The local organization works with under-resourced shelters in the area, particularly West Virginia.

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Local animal control officials are still trying to figure out who abandoned a dog in the Arlington Mill neighborhood.

On Monday the Animal Welfare League of Arlington posted photos of an emaciated dog that was left in a crate and placed “in a hidden location” near a parking lot. The organization also posted surveillance photos of a pickup truck from which the dog was unloaded, in the hopes of getting tips from the public about the incident.

More from a Facebook post:

Do you recognize this dog or vehicle? Please let us know!

On September 24, 2020 at around 8pm, the vehicle in the photos below drove to the 5000 block of 7th Rd S in Arlington, VA, removed a crate from the rear the car, and placed it in a hidden location on private property. The next morning, on September 25, a member of the public found the dog and called our Animal Control team. The dog was underweight, suffering from parasites, had no protection from the elements and no access to food or water.

If you have any information regarding this dog or vehicle, please contact Animal Control immediately at 703-931-9241.

Abandonment of an animal is a Class 1 Misdemeanor in the State of Virginia. Please know that we are here as a resource for pet owners in need, with our pet food pantry and other community resources. We are also always available to receive animals should owners be unable to continue to care for them, free of charge and without judgement.

As of last night, an AWLA spokeswoman said animal control officers were still awaiting tips.

“At this time we have not received any info on the dog or vehicle, although we have received lots of welcome support from the public,” said Chelsea Jones. “We hope to get a lead, but either way, we hope to put him up for adoption soon.”

Jones added that the dog has not officially been given a name yet, “but I think we are leaning towards naming him Charleston.”

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The holiday season can be quite stressful — but even more so when you’re a bird of prey who accidentally flies into an Arlington Public Schools operations building and can’t get out.

That happened this past Monday, at the county and APS yard on S. Taylor Street in Shirlington, but luckily Arlington County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas was on the case.

APS staff member Lauren Hassel said staffers heading out of the building that day heard banging coming from a covered, outdoor stairwell window, where the bird was seen seen frantically trying to fly out.

“Our building is about 200 yards from the Animal Welfare League but they were closed,” Hassel recounted. “A call to nearby Long Branch Nature Center led to a referral to our next door neighbors at the Dept of Parks and Recreation. Minutes later… Abugattas appeared with heavy gloves and a blanket. He spotted the bird through the window, put on his gloves, walked up the stairs and calmly retrieved the stressed out raptor.”

The county naturalist told a gathered crowd that the bird was a Cooper’s Hawk, and that it appeared to be unharmed. After a few photos, Abugattas unwrapped the bird and it flew off.

“Alonso is the ultimate wingman,” said Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services on Twitter.

According to National Geographic, the population of Cooper’s Hawks is increasing on the East Coast, especially in suburban areas.

Photo provided by Lauren Hassel 

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Animal control officers in Arlington don’t just deal with urban wildlife issues — like, say, trash pandas stuck in bathtubs.

With expanses of parkland in the county’s confines, sometimes animal control duties become more rugged. An incident involving a fox on Saturday, for instance, prompted an Animal Welfare League of Arlington officer to hike for 15 minutes on the Potomac Heritage Trail.

The officer responded to the hilly and rocky terrain between the GW Parkway and the Potomac River for a report of a fox stuck in a bush. There, they found the little fox tangled in the bush, with a fish hook stuck in it leg.

Once unstuck, the fox was brought to Wildlife Vet Care for surgery, and is now expected to be released back into the wild soon.

A few days ago, our Animal Control team got a call about a fox trapped in a bush. When Officer Ballena arrived to check…

Posted by Animal Welfare League of Arlington on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

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After searching around a shed and checking under all the cars in the apartment parking lot, Arlington Animal Control Chief Jennifer Toussaint had returned to her van to think. Then a woman walked up to the window, mouthing a question and pointing behind us: “Kittens?”

Sure enough, after Toussaint followed her to the far side of the lot in Arlington’s Forest Glen neighborhood, she spotted one, tiny white paw disappearing up into the engine block of a dark green sedan. A tipster who called earlier that morning about kittens was right.

The head of the county’s animal control office used cans of tuna and YouTube videos of kittens crying to lure two little tabbies and one inky black feline out from under the car. While she did, the car’s owner came out of the building and sat on her walker next to us.

Angela Davis said her car had been damaged in a crash and hadn’t moved for weeks.

“The kittens were probably born there,” said Toussaint.

Davis nodded, saying she had spotted movement underneath it a week ago. “I said, ‘My goodness, there’s something moving!'”

But after an hour of all the tricks that Toussaint knew — like knocking her belt on the engine to scare them out and holding one of the siblings near the hiding space — one kitten stubbornly remained.

“I have to go, my cases are starting to back up,” she sighed, and noted in her case management system she’d be back.

It was one of about a dozen calls for service that Toussaint received during the several hours ARLnow spent shadowing Arlington Animal Control last week. During that time, the calls she received included a request to surrender a dog, remove a dead squirrel, investigate a dog-selling scam, and check on abandoned dogs in an apartment, among others.

Toussaint said animal control responded to about 3,500 cases last year, not including some of the smaller requests staff can solve over the phone.

The county’s animal control office is located in the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA) building at 2650 S. Arlington Mill Drive. It employs six staffers compared to the shelter’s 40.

At the end of the shift, Toussaint returned to her blue and white office where her Boston Terrier rescue Reagan sleeps in the corner and Toussaint can be found dual-wielding the phone and keyboard to handle multiple requests for service. She said this represented a medium-busy day.

“You’ve never going to have a day when you’re out of calls to run,” she joked.

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With many animals preparing to rear their young, the season of wildlife encounters is upon us, says the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

Animal Control Chief Jennifer Toussaint told ARLnow that service calls to her department typically increase this time of year. She shared some tips on making sure the encounters are safe for both humans and animals.

The Arlington County Board banned residents from owning “wild and exotic” animals as pets in 2017, but residents have documented many wild encounters over the years: including feral cat colonies, a coyote on the move, a construction-site turkeybooming bunny populations, and trash truck raccoon as well as school drain raccoon.

Overall, Toussaint said animal control officers receive about 3,500 calls for service annually, and about half those calls involve wild animals. “That tells me that that is a huge need the community has for my department,” she said.

One way she’s trying to meet that need is with public education events, like the one she held on Tuesday. It’s an opportunity to talk about animal-proofing one’s homes, and about dispelling old myths about normal animal behavior.

“I think most of the calls we get are genuine concern. They find a bird on the ground and it looks like a baby. They don’t know that most songbirds fledge from the nest and spend a few days on the ground building up the shoulder strength to fly,” she said, joking, “Cartoons lied to us as children!”

And the rule about not touching baby animals lest their scent changes and their parents abandon them? Also a myth, she says.

As for homeowners who prefer enjoying wildlife from a distance?

“A lot of it is pretty simple,” Toussaint says, “one of the main things is ensuring your home is impenetrable.”

Her tips include capping chimneys, and inspecting attics, eaves, roof siding, and trim regularly for any signs of wildlife.

Ensuring trash barrels stay closed with bungee cords, and clearing debris from yards also helps discourage animals from making homes or meals at people’s homes.

One thing she doesn’t recommend?

“We’re all kind of on top of each other here in Arlington, so I don’t promote people putting chemicals out,” said Toussaint. There are a number of safe, alternative remedies people can use for the problems they most often call about, she said.

For more questions, Toussaint recommends Arlingtonians check out the Humane Society’s species-specific website, or call animal control any time at 703-931-9241. Some animal-specific advice is below, after the jump.

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