Pets are a wonderful addition to a household. Over the years, we’ve cared for quite an assortment, including horned toads, rats and dogs — the choice of three boys coming along. What frustrates me are wayward pets and people who are ignorant, irresponsible or uncaring about how their pets impact others.
There has long been a feral cat problem in town, with some years where large numbers procreate, resulting in dozens of blind or deformed kittens wandering the streets. We’ve discovered more than one litter birthed under our porch. I know some well-meaning folks feed feral cats, but because they are not spayed or neutered, the population grows with no one to care for them.
Unknown cats ripped home insulation to shreds in our crawl space, forcing us to renovate the entire section to fix the damage and make it airtight.
A few years ago, a neighborhood cat decided to make our outdoor dining furniture its personal haven and underneath our porch its litter box. When we approached the owners to resolve the issue, they stated they couldn’t possibly keep their cat from coming onto our property. The more we complained when problems occurred, the more antagonistic they became. Oddly, other neighborhood cats started to pal around with theirs, and pretty soon three uninvited cats were partying on our property.
Then a leashed dog started urinating on herbs in our garden with regularity, so we asked the owner to steer her dog elsewhere. Repeatedly. Once again, our request fell on deaf ears and instead of being amenable to problem solving, the owner became irritated and seemed to intentionally lead her dog into our garden.
Ask me if this makes me angry and frustrated and the answer is yes.
For the second time in a handful of years, I researched my rights by talking to city council members and local police. My latest efforts resulted in finding Charles Town Ordinance 1102.03, titled Nuisance Conditions Prohibited. Regarding domestic animals, it states in part: “No person shall keep or harbor any animal or fowl in the Municipality so as to create noxious, or offensive odors or unsanitary conditions which are a menace to the health, comfort or safety of the public and no owner shall permit his or her pet to go upon the private property of another under circumstances that would constitute a trespass if committed by any person, and every owner shall prevent his or her pet from defecating, urinating or causing any destruction or contamination upon the private real estate of another.”
This clearly states the responsibility of any pet owner when it comes to trespassing. If your pet trespasses, it is the same as a person trespassing.
Our society has long accepted letting cats run loose, but if you were to replace the word cat with any other species, it would seem absurd. We don’t let dogs, ferrets or iguanas loose so why should we have this policy with cats?
I also understand a dog wants to sniff and urinate frequently during a walk. I’ve cleaned up many a time after my dog does its business on someone’s lawn, always feeling a tad guilty about it and wondering how I can control where she chooses to do nature’s calling. It turns out, I can train my dog where to go to the bathroom. I can also walk my dog in the street instead of the sidewalk where nearby lawns beckon or down the alleys or places where no one lives. For the record, I don’t mind dogs urinating on my lawn, just my food. I would never let my dog go into someone’s herb or vegetable garden or even flower garden. Neighbors claiming they can’t control their pets is nonsense — and lazy.
Through my unpleasant interactions in the neighborhood, I realize I’m responsible for my pets in a larger way. I can’t just turn a blind eye and hope for the best when I let them out the door. Just as I wouldn’t let my dog out without a leash, I wouldn’t let a cat out without being able to control its radius. After my experience, anything else seems thoughtless, not to mention negligent. Animals roaming free can be hit by cars, become injured or get preyed upon by other animals.
Furthermore, if a neighbor experienced issues with my pet, I would do everything in my power to resolve it. I certainly wouldn’t keep doing the same behavior or respond with anger and defensiveness. I would apologize and figure out a solution.
Know your rights and responsibilities as a pet owner. Research the ordinances that pertain to pets in your city or county and abide by them. In addition to avoiding fines, it will help keep relations more positive with those in your neighborhood and your pets safer.
This column appeared in The Journal on Sunday, June 11, 2017.
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