City council hears potential updates to animal codes
By Luke Gentile
The College Park City Council unanimously voted to amend the city’s animal codes on Oct. 27 after a series of presentations given by the city’s Animal Welfare Committee (AWC)
Over the past two years, the AWC and College Park Animal Control officials have reviewed Chapter 102, “Dogs and Other Animals,” of the city code. They have recommended revisions to make the code more current and compatible with animal management regulations recently issued by Prince George’s County.
The new revisions to the city code include renaming Chapter 102 from “Dogs and Other Animals” to “Animal Welfare.” Proponents also pushed for repealing, amending and reinstating several sections of the code, ranging from the clarification of impoundment rules to measures to mitigate animal neglect and cruelty.
“We felt it was desirable to update the code,” said AWC Co-chair Suzie Bellamy at the city council’s Oct. 6 work session. “We have reviewed the animal control rules for several jurisdictions, and we want to make things more concise and area-wide.”
Bellamy said that even though changes have been made to the county code, many College Park residents would be more likely to recognize them if the city adopted those changes, as well.
“We feel the city residents would look at the city code before county code,” she said.
A section was added to the county code to define restraint of animals. It stated that it shall be unlawful for any animal’s owner to allow that animal to be at large in the City of College Park, meaning that an animal not on the owner’s premises must be leashed or caged. Bellamy wanted to clarify that this would not apply to animals in areas identified as off-leash in the city, such as recognized dog parks.
Responding to the changes, Mayor Patrick Wojahn said, “There is very good stuff in there, such as making it illegal to leave an animal inside a locked vehicle.”
Several revisions to the code address College Park’s many feral cat colonies. Under these revisions, a feral cat colony is defined as a group of cats existing in a wild or unsocialized state and sharing a common food source and territory.
Councilmember John Rigg (District 3) said that there are residents in his district who want to see the number of feral cat colonies go down.
“They are quite controversial in my community, given the concern for songbirds and native birds,” he said. “So fewer feral cats is good for our bird populations.”
Section six of the newly adopted city code refers to animals found at large. It states that “any animal found at large shall, if possible, be impounded by the city and taken to the city animal control center for a period of at least three workdays, or to other appropriate shelter.”
Previously, when a feral cat was captured, one of two things happened: Either it was taken to a county shelter, with the intention of then returning it to its colony or, if the cat was young enough, it could have been accepted into an adoption program.
Director of Public Services Bob Ryan said that this process successfully reduced the size of feral cat colonies in part because cats that are captured are spayed or neutered.
“Over the last five years, we have seen a significant reduction in feral cats,” he said. “[The program] has solved a lot of problems in areas of the city … [that] are overrun with colonies.”
The amended city code mandates that ear-tipped, free-roaming cats should only be impounded at the discretion of Animal Control. Unless a captured ear-tipped cat showed signs of disease or injury, it would be immediately released where it was trapped.
Animal Control Officer Rebecca Bailey said every ear-tipped cat is considered a colony cat. Ear-tipped cats are spayed or neutered and have received at least one rabies vaccination.
Some volunteers take in feral cats, and Bellamy said that county funds may help care for these cats. “We were given a grant from the county council to help people taking in cats, getting them spayed and neutered,” she said.
The public hearing addressed many revisions that the AWC and College Park Animal Control believe College Park residents would be interested in. The council hopes that the modifications to the city code — from impoundment rules to measures taken to reduce animal neglect and cruelty — will make changes made at the county level clear to city residents.
“These are strong recommendations,” AWC Co-chair Kathy Rodeffer said. “Not everything in the county code will be in the city code, but what is not covered in the city code defaults to the county code.”