HYATTSVILLE – Although the city of Hyattsville is continuing to look into a possible pet waste ordinance, several on the council want to be sure those who feed feral cats will not be responsible for their waste. On July 17, the Hyattsville City Council received an update on a proposed pet waste ordinance currently being […]
HYATTSVILLE – Although the city of Hyattsville is continuing to look into a possible pet waste ordinance, several on the council want to be sure those who feed feral cats will not be responsible for their waste.
On July 17, the Hyattsville City Council received an update on a proposed pet waste ordinance currently being drafted by the city’s attorney. Jim Chandler, the assistant city administrator, brought the draft before the council to discuss where the ordinance could be placed in the charter and if it should include any provision about stray and feral animal waste.
“Whether to exempt feral animals and to what extent they can be exempted, cannot be done absent additional guidance from counsel,” E.I Cornbrooks IV, the city attorney, wrote to Chandler in a memo.
The ordinance, as currently written, would establish the “regulations for proper disposal of pet waste and the enforcement and fines for violations.” The goal of the ordinance is to improve public health through not only making sure pet waste is off the streets and sidewalks, but also ensuring that pet waste does not wash into storm drains and river tributaries.
In summation, the proposal states that any resident “who possesses, maintains, houses or harbors any pet or otherwise has custody of any pet, regardless of whether the person is the actual owner of such pet,” is responsible and must clean up after the animal if it defecates anywhere outside of their own property.
“Disposal of said waste shall occur immediately and without delay,” the proposed ordinance reads.
However, “professionally trained” assistance dogs, and animals owned by law enforcement or the government, such as K9 units, are exempt from the law.
At the meeting, Councilman Thomas Wright said he would like to see language added to the ordinance that differentiates between feral and domestic cats and what ownership of a cat is defined as.
“We should make those differences and make them clear, that those residents who are among us that actually do look after these cats – are they going to be responsible?” he asked. “And if that’s the case then those people who put out squirrel food or bird food, are they also responsible for how these animals take care of their business?”
However, Councilmen Bart Lawrence and Robert Croslin both said they felt the definition was already handled in the ordinance as written.
Still, Wright said he didn’t believe that residents who take care of animals in the neighborhoods, such as feral cats, should not be held responsible for their waste. Councilwoman Paula Perry said she believes county law states if you feed an animal, you’re responsible for it.
“We need to take a good step back and take a good look at that,” she said.
Councilman Joseph Solomon said he would also like to see language about residents who “assert” ownership over stray or feral cats, noting that if a person says “these are my cats,” they should be responsible for them.
Outside of discussion about feral animals, another concern with the proposed law was how it would be enforced. Notes from a recent code compliance committee meeting expressed hesitation with how effective the law would be because the committee believed the ordinance would be hard to enforce.
Essentially any fines would hinge upon either a code compliance officer witnessing an infraction or citizens calling in to report their neighbor’s committing a violation.
“Right now this is predicated on voluntary compliance, cooperation with someone if either one of our inspectors witnesses it or there is a neighbor who witnesses an owner not cleaning up after its dog or pet,” Chandler said.
However Chandler, City Administrator Tracey Nicholson and the mayor said the city would engage in a citywide educational campaign about the new ordinance if it passed and would post signs and additional pet waste receptacles.
“Enforcement of this ordinance, specifically identifying and citing pet owners at the time of the violation, will be difficult. To help reduce violations, the staff will ensure an active educational campaign, additional signage and waste stations are in place,” Nicholson wrote.
Still, Perry said she does not see how the ordinance will work.
“If no one’s around to catch them doing it, it is just going to continue to happen,” she said. “We have to have some way to enforce it.”
The ordinance will likely be before the council again in September.