Arlington, VA

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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(Updated at 4 p.m.) More people than ever before are finding pet sitters online but it’s important to verify their services, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington says.

Apps like Rover or Wag have gained popularity by allowing people to book sitters or dog walkers with a few taps and even offering background checks.

“About five years ago you would only see a few dozen people,” Chief Animal Control Officer Jennifer Toussaint said of the apps. “Now you can find hundreds.”

However, as CBS News and other outlets have reported, the background checks don’t always turn up red flags with the people providing the walking and boarding services, sometimes with tragic results.

Joining the ranks of those whose pets have been killed or seriously injured in the care of a service provider found on an app: an Arlington resident who lives in the Boulevard Manor neighborhood.

The resident reached out to ARLnow about his six-month-old mini Australian Shepard, Hunter, who was hit by a car on Route 50 in March after escaping from the backyard of the dog sitter’s house.

The crash broke Hunter’s pelvis, damaged his organs, and will result in one of his legs being amputated soon, according to documents shared by his owner, who asked ARLnow not to share his name.

“My kids cried themselves to sleep for the first week after the accident because we honestly did not know for sure if Hunter would survive or whether he had major internal injuries,” said Hunter’s owner.

Chief Toussaint confirmed the sitter was cited by animal control with class four misdemeanor offenses in connection with the incident, including Running At Large, and was convicted in April on three charges. One of those charges was Repeat Offenses, because the woman had also been cited in December of 2018 for failing to control dogs, according to court records — something the Rover app’s background check did not reveal.

The sitter didn’t know the puppy had escaped right away because she had left the dog in the care of her children, messages reviewed by ARLnow indicate, an arrangement Hunter’s owner said he wouldn’t have agreed to if he had known.

“Unfortunately, my family is now suffering from this failure and we have a puppy that was severely injured in March and is now permanently crippled with tens of thousands of dollars of veterinary bills,” the owner said. He said Rover offered to reimburse at least part of the $20,000 in vet bills.

Toussaint said incidents with sitters found online — be it through Rover or social media — are not common but they do happen. Recently, an Arlington resident called animal control after finding out their cat sitter hadn’t visited the house in two days thanks to alert system on their front door, she said.

Rover spokesman Dave Rosenbaum declined to provide exact numbers, but told ARLnow that the number of incidents pet owners experience on the app is an “extremely small” part of the 500,000 total bookings made in the D.C. area so far.

“We’re committed to building a safe community and will remove both owners and sitters when appropriate, and take any allegations of this nature very seriously,” said Rosenbaum. “We encourage both owners and sitters to report any safety concerns to us through a variety of methods.”

Toussaint says animal control usually notifies the app makers when one of their sitters is cited. The company then removes the person from their service provides. The sitter connected to Hunter’s injuries is now banned from Rover, both Rosenbaum and Toussaint confirmed, but the company said they never received notice of the sitter’s first citation.

“We did not hear from Arlington animal control,” said Rosenbaum today (Wednesday). “Had we, we would’ve removed the sitter from the platform.”

One of the difficulties in regulating apps like Rover, Toussaint said, was that they don’t fall under the Virginia’s code for “boarding facilities” which have to be inspected and meet certain standards. However she said online pet sitters do still fall under state code as custodians of animals, and can be cited for failing to provide adequate care for people’s pets.

“That’s where we as officers can hold these pet sitters accountable,” she said.

Rover advertises a background check system for its workers and Rosenbaum said it encourages people to submit complaints at any times, but he did not respond to questions on whether Rover checks for new criminal records after employing a worker.

Last week, CBS reported that 12 families said their dogs died while workers from Rover were supposed to be caring for the animals. Two additional families also reported dog deaths during care from Rover’s competitor, Wag.

Rover currently has an A+ rating on the Better Business Bureau but averages a one-star rating from consumers, who have submitted 70 complaints to the website.

The Better Business Bureau is currently investigating Wag’s advertising claims, including their promise of a “rigorous screening process that includes a background check.”

In October, the bureau said it would continue monitoring reports it received that, “show that the company has a pattern of complaints concerning consumers consumers allege that items have gone missing from their homes after using the Wag app to walk their dog(s).”

In the meantime, Chief Toussaint said incidents in Arlington are rare but animal control has a few tips on how Arlington residents can do their own background checks on sitters:

  • Do your own background check of your sitter or dog walker
  • Meet in person at the location your pet will be staying at
  • Ask what their emergency plan is should they be unable to care for your animal, or if something happens to your animal
  • Have a back-up care provider

Image courtesy of Hunter’s owner

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The Animal Welfare League of Arlington is now opening adoption for dozens of rats and mice rescued from a hoarding case in the county earlier this month.

Animal control officers from AWLA seized 67 rats and mice from a home in the Rock Spring neighborhood on March 6, following a tip from a county agency involved with the situation, according to an Animal Welfare League spokeswoman Chelsea Jones.

Jones said the majority of the animals are now up for adoption from the Arlington Welfare League except for a few still being treated for upper respiratory infections — a common ailment in animals forced to live in overcrowded and unclean conditions.

Two of the rescued rats were “in very bad shape” with multiple tumors and had to be euthanized, Jones said, but not before staff baked them a dessert.

“They had a big ol’ cake they got to chew on,” Jones told ARLnow.

The animals’ owner has not been charged with any crimes, but was banned from owning any more “companion animals” as of March 13, according to the AWLA’s Chief of Animal Control.

Officers originally obtained a warrant to remove 18 of the domestic rats and mice from the woman’s house after she failed to improve the conditions, AWLA said. But when the officers entered the home on March 6 they found another 49 rodents, including two mice that had recently given birth to 20 babies.

There were so many animals that the Arlington organization had to ask Animal Welfare League of Alexandria to help re-home some of them.

The mice now available for adoption are a mix of grays and bright, unusual golds.

“We found out that they’re certain breed of mice called silky mice so they all have really shiny fur and interesting colors that you don’t see in the general mice you get from the pet store,” said Jones.

Photos courtesy of the Animal Welfare League of Arlington

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Morning Notes

Rabid Raccoon in Tara-Leeway Heights — “On Wednesday, February 13, 2019, a raccoon was reported in the area of 1500 block of N. Greenbrier Street acting lethargic. The raccoon was captured and removed from the community. It was later found to be carrying rabies.” [Twitter, AWLA]

Crash Knocks Out Traffic Signals — Traffic signals at at least three intersections in the Clarendon area were rendered inoperable over the weekend due to electrical transformer damage following a single-vehicle crash at Wilson Boulevard and 10th Street N. Power to the signals was reported to have been restored Monday night. [Arlington County, Twitter]

Second Amazon Bill Advances in State Legislature — “On the same day that Amazon’s plan to move 25,000 workers into a distressed area of New York City was imploding, the Virginia General Assembly gave the online giant another in a series of welcome-to-the-commonwealth valentines.” [InsideNova]

Hitt’s Home for SaleNow-convicted fraudster Todd Hitt has listed his north Arlington home for sale for $1.75 million. However, the home’s back deck is currently the subject of a Board of Zoning Appeals case. [Washington Business Journal, Arlington County]

Booz Allen Staying in Crystal City — “Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. will remain in Crystal City, inking a lease extension and expansion for its space at 1550 Crystal Drive, building owner JBG Smith Properties announced Thursday. The lease, which commences in September, brings Booz Allen’s space at 1550 Crystal to 84,000 square feet, about 10,000 square feet more than it currently occupies.” [Washington Business Journal]

Take Our Reader Survey — Once a year, we ask readers to take a couple of minutes to weigh in on the future of ARLnow. This year, we’re asking about ideas for new emails, features, approaches and events. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated. [SurveyMonkey]

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick

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A large snapping turtle gave a few South Arlington parkgoers a surprise today (Wednesday), and animal control officers ultimately had to step in to guide the reptile to safety.

Jennifer Toussaint, the county’s chief animal control officer, told ARLnow that her office received a call around noon that the large turtle was in the street at the intersection of Army Navy Drive and 28th Street S., just near Fraser Park.

She said an officer ultimately “safely moved the snapping turtle in the direction it was heading towards the stream adjacent to the brush line near the street,” which backs up to I-395.

Toussaint added that it’s hardly unusual for her office to receive calls about snapping turtles — animal control officers discovered someone keeping one as a pet just last month, a practice she strongly advises against — and the Arlington Ridge and Long Branch Creek neighborhoods seem to be particularly popular spots for the creatures.

“Snapping turtles mate from April [to] November and travel extensively on land when laying eggs and looking for [a] new habitat,” Toussaint wrote in an email. “Army Navy Drive [and]28th Street seems to be a very specifically popular areas for them, as we have yearly calls for service for snapping turtles in the roadway injured or needing assistance ranging back as far as 2013. Most of our snapping turtle calls in Arlington come in June [through] July.”

Justin Covert, one of the people to discover the turtle, added that his girlfriend discovered another turtle in the park earlier this month, even though he’d “never seen a turtle around these parts until now.”

Should the turtle sightings continue, Toussaint wants to warn people that the reptiles have “very flexible necks, sharp long claws, a strong jaw and can act defensive when handled.”

While animal control officers may be best-suited to move the creatures off roadways, she advises that it’s “inappropriate to pick them up by their tails,” if any turtle seems in danger.

“Their weight needs to be supported and dragging them can cause cuts that can get infected,” Toussaint wrote.

Photo courtesy of Justin Covert

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Trista Nealon and some of her neighbors thought they were doing the right thing when they forced their way into the neighborhood pool to rescue some wayward ducklings — but now, their condo association is threatening them with criminal charges for their efforts.

Nealon tells ARLnow that one of her fellow condo owners in Fairlington Glen noticed seven ducklings stuck in the neighborhood’s community pool back on May 10 and she decided to go ask the pool’s manager if she could get in and help them leave.

When Nealon was rebuffed, she and her neighbors tried contacting a member of the Wildlife Rescue League to come help — again, they had no luck. So a group went back over to the pool, unlocked its gate by reaching in through a well-positioned mail slot, and fished out the baby ducks.

Nealon says a woman accosted the group at the time and threatened to call the police, before storming off, but she otherwise didn’t think much of the encounter. Yet when last Thursday (May 31) rolled around, Nealon and a few other neighbors involved in the rescue effort received a letter from attorneys representing the Fairlington Glen Council of Co-Owners informing her that the group’s Board of Directors “is currently considering whether to press charges or take other enforcement action.”

“I am a [27-year] Glen resident owner, and it is ridiculous that I am being threatened with criminal charges for being a Good Samaritan and saving baby ducks,” Nealon wrote in an email. She shared a copy of the letter with ARLnow and also posted it to a Facebook group for Fairlington residents.

Kristen Buck, an associate with the firm Rees Broome, said in the letter that the condo board felt a lock around the pool was damaged in the process of this rescue effort, and she’s requesting the people involved to pay the board $100 each to help reimburse the cost of replacing it.

“Such a good faith payment may influence whether the Board decides to press charges or take other action,” Buck wrote.

Nealon insists that no one damaged any property over the course of this episode, and she finds Buck’s suggestion that the neighbors should have simply called the county’s animal control to be without merit, given the “imminent danger” she felt the ducklings were in at the time.

Buck declined comment on the matter, as did Thora Stanwood, president of the condo association’s Board of Directors.

But, in a newsletter distributed by the condo association, there is a reference to a “break in” at the Fairlington Glen pool.

The newsletter claims a police report was filed about the incident, and that condo association’s Board of Directors “consulted with legal counsel about the recovery of damage from the break in.” County police spokeswoman Ashley Savage says she has no record of any police report being filed from the area that day.

Nealon isn’t sure what she’ll do next, but she at least plans to attend the condo association’s next meeting to protest her treatment, and she doesn’t expect she’ll be alone.

Her post on the Fairlington Appreciation Society Facebook page about the incident already has 125 likes and dozens of supportive comments.

Photo courtesy of Trista Nealon

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Twenty-one pets, including 19 cats and two dogs, were removed from a home in Arlington with hoarding conditions.

Arlington animal control officers responded with police to the home on Thursday, Jan. 18 to execute a search warrant “in relation to potential cruelty and hoarding,” according to an Animal Welfare League of Arlington spokeswoman.

“The animal control team removed 21 animals — 19 cats and 2 dogs — and transported them to emergency veterinary facilities for care,” AWLA said Thursday. “Today in Arlington County General District Court, [Animal Control] Chief [Jennifer] Toussaint was awarded custody of 16 cats. The remaining animals — 3 cats and 2 dogs — will be returned to the owner pending a full property inspection by animal control.”

Toussaint issued the following statement about the situation to ARLnow.com.

The success of these types of operations rises and falls on the support from the county and community. So many hands have gone into the positive outcome for these animals. I would like to recognize a few of those individuals and agencies who stepped up with less than 48 hour notice to come to these animals’ aid.

First and foremost I would like to thank the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. From making space for them, to establishing isolation for the sick cats, to lending support staff on site for the warrant execution, and now ultimately taking on the care and placement of 16 cats. They come through time and time again for our team and the community’s animals in need and provide top-notch care and compassion to every animal that is in their care.

I would also like to thank the Arlington County Police Department and Arlington County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office for their assistance and professionalism in this case from pre-warrant execution to the custody hearing.

Other assisting agencies and individuals include Michelle Welch with the Office of the Attorney General, Arlington Animal Hospital, Ballston Animal Hospital, Clarendon Animal Care, Caring Hands Animal Hospital, Kimberly Corcoran LVT, Adrienne Hergen, DVM, and Marnie Russ, foster volunteer.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Man Killed in Md. Workplace Shooting — An Arlington man was among the three people killed in a workplace mass shooting near Baltimore on Wednesday. The family of the 53-year-old father of three says they forgive the accused shooter, who was later arrested in Delaware. [NBC Washington, WJLA, GoFundMe]

Marine Corps Marathon Preps Well Underway — This week workers have been setting up fencing, mile markers, signs, tents, TV camera towers, temporary no parking signs and making other preparations along the Marine Corps Marathon route in Arlington. [WJLA, Twitter]

Award for Arlington Animal Control Officer — Animal Welfare League of Arlington Chief of Animal Control Jennifer Toussaint has been named Virginia Animal Control Officer of the Year for “outstanding service in the field of animal care and control.” [Facebook]

Winter Outlook: Warmer for Arlington — The National Weather Service’s official U.S. Winter Outlook was released yesterday and predicts a warmer winter for Arlington and the D.C. area, with equal chances of more or less precipitation than usual. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Morning Notes

Arlington Pitching Brainpower to Amazon — Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins plans to emphasize Arlington’s highly-educated workforce — 70 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher — in trying to woo Amazon’s new headquarters to the county. [Washington Business Journal]

Animal Control Called for Normal Raccoon — Someone called animal control to report a raccoon “acting strangely” on the 600 block of S. Carlin Springs Drive last week. An animal control officer responded and determined that “its behavior was normal.” [Twitter]

Snowblower Application Deadline Nearing — Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation loans out snowblowers to groups of residents, on the condition that they agree to clear sidewalks for neighbors in need, in front of bus stops, etc. The application deadline for this coming winter is Oct. 13. [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by Arlington VA

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