Arlington, VA

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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(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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