City updates animal control code, creates part-time animal control liaison
BY DAN BEHREND
After two years of consideration, discussion, and revision by council, the new ordinance went into effect on Dec. 25, 2022.
The bill’s sponsor, Councilmember Danny Schaible (Ward 2), said, “The biggest challenge of this is finding something that is the right size for Hyattsville and finding a solution that can function in a city of our size.” He concluded, “I think we landed in the right spot.”
Schaible introduced the legislation in December 2020 to address community concerns about unclear animal control regulations and haphazard enforcement, as well as to position the city to better address issues of aggressive animals and the humane treatment of pets. On Oct. 4, 2021, the council authorized the city attorney to draft the ordinance.
That draft ordinance was discussed at the Oct. 3, 2022, city council meeting. While many residents spoke in support of the ordinance, a number expressed concerns about specific provisions or the meaning of certain terms.
A further updated version of the ordinance was included as an action item at the Nov. 21, 2022, city council meeting. Based on public and council feedback at the October meeting, the revised ordinance included procedures for issuing citations for improperly tethered dogs, a provision that was inadvertently dropped during the drafting process; additional definitions to clarify terms like “public nuisance animal” and “severe weather” in alignment with state and county law; and certain exceptions for service animals and K9 police dogs. A summary of the changes, which were ultimately adopted by council, were included in a presentation before council’s vote.
The ordinance created a part-time city staff position of animal control liaison, who will provide residents with a point of contact for animal control information and help coordinate between county and city departments.
The city selected Cinthia Manzano as the new community support coordinator, who serves as the animal control liaison and provides additional community services support. Some residents may recognize Manzano from her previous role as the city’s front desk receptionist.
During discussion at the Nov. 21, 2022, council meeting, City Administrator Tracey Douglas noted that she expects Manzano will help the county’s animal services division provide better service in the city and “take some pressure off” of residents trying to get a response from the county.
Douglas said, “We expect [county] animal control to keep doing their job. We expect this will help them do it with a little more urgency.”
During the November public comment session, however, two residents expressed concern about the city’s decision to continue to rely on the county enforcement of animal control complaints, rather than increasing city enforcement. One resident said, “[Section] 52-8 states that the city is basically going to delegate all the enforcement of the animal code to the county. … Citizens have brought forth these concerns and asked for a stronger code, because the county has not been responsive. So, they’re asking the city to take responsibility for enforcing this code.”
In December 2019, the county adopted a comprehensive update to its animal control code. The update included provisions to better address issues of animal neglect, like providing animals with proper shelter and prohibiting the tethering or chaining of dogs for long periods of time. The county update also gave the county more options to take action against owners of dangerous or potentially dangerous animals.
However, even after the update of the county’s ordinance, many city residents continue to express frustration about the lack of resources for and enforcement of animal control complaints. In 2021, citizen group Residents United for Furry Friends, or RUFF, shared data showing that county animal control made over 5,000 visits, including 186 for animal bites, in the Hyattsville area between 2015 and 2020.
The county’s animal services division is funded for 16 full-time animal control officers, but three of those positions were unfilled during 2022 due to retirements, attrition and difficulty hiring. The division’s current operating budget included salary increases to help address attrition and fill open positions. In 2022, animal control received 8,637 service calls and investigated 1,884 animal cruelty and neglect cases county-wide.
City residents can contact the new animal control liaison by calling 301.985.5000 or by emailing email@example.com.
The city website notes, however, that the city’s liaison “is not responsible for responding to active animal control issues, including reports of sick or injured wildlife. If you need emergency assistance with an animal incident, please call 911. All other incidents should first be reported to the Prince George’s County Animal Services Division at 301.780.7200.”
Residents should also be aware that neither the city nor the county address issues with sick or injured wild animals (e.g., deer). Those concerns should be reported to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Services at 877.463.6497, weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Outside of business hours, residents should contact the Maryland Natural Resources Police’s 24-hour dispatch at 410.260.8888.