The Alexandria City Council amended an ordinance Saturday to require that dogs be physically leashed while in public.
The law previously required dogs be kept “under physical restraint,” something many interpreted as simply placing an electric collar on a canine.
Animal Control Director Joy Wilson said her department has experienced several cases in which electric collars failed to prevent dogs from scampering into roadways or chasing other animals.
“A dog will gladly take a shock from electronic collar to play with another dog or chase a squirrel,” said Old Town resident Christine Bernstein.
Animal Control officers will now be able to easily see if a dog is not leashed in public areas and know that there is an issue.
“We are not mandating that we are outlawing electronic collars,” Mayor Bill Euille said. “We’re not saying electronic collars cannot be used. It just does not meet our definition of physical restraint.”
The fine for not having a dog leashed in public is $100.
Wilson said she hopes to phase in enforcement of the new law and educate Alexandria dog owners about the new rule before handing out tickets.
Councilman Frank Fannon suggested the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, which is contracted by the city to operate the animal shelter and provide animal control services, take a proactive approach and start a marketing campaign in area pet stores to inform dog owners of the change.
Council unanimously approved the amendment.
“This is sort of a no-brainer issue,” Vice Mayor Kerry Donley said. “We’re just adding a little clarity and making it easier for [Animal Control officers] to do [their] job.”
Del Ray resident Amy Slack said at the hearing she doesn’t believe the ordinance goes far enough. After encountering cat waste in her garden and expressing concerns of parasitic disease toxoplasmosis, Slack said she would like to see the ordinance extended to felines.
“I don’t own a pet now, but when I did I kept them in my sight and I kept them in my yard,” she said.
Council also agreed Saturday to increase penalties for pet owners who leave their animals in cars on hot days.
The new ordinance mandates that when a pet is left in a vehicle, the air conditioning must be running when the outside temperature is above 70 degrees so that ambient air temperature does not exceed 80 degrees. Anyone who violates the new ordinance will be charged with a class 3 misdemeanor, which carries a $250 to $500 fine.
Additionally, if the animal suffers heat stress as diagnosed by a licensed veterinarian, the owner faces a class 1 misdemeanor charge, punishable by jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Officers also now have additional authority to use force to enter a vehicle if they suspect an animal is suffering from heat stress to provide the pet with immediate care.