Dogs on the run

Animal control cites pet owners in Mount Vernon

March 20, 2009|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,brent.jones@baltsun.com

Animal control officers and police patrolled the park at Mount Vernon Square this week, responding to complaints from residents who say some dog owners allow their pets to run wild and destroy flower beds.

It was the third time in 10 days that animal control officers visited the park and cited dog owners who either did not have their animals on a leash or failed to clean up after them.

Police assisted in the latest call because animal control officers do not have the power to detain, and many pet owners left the area during the first two raids, according to Bob Anderson, director of animal control for Baltimore City. Anderson, who estimated that fewer than 10 people were given citations, said that asking for police help is a way to ensure that people do not flee the park.

"One of my officers in Mount Vernon had a lady blow her off and run away," Anderson said. "You can't issue citations to people that way."

Failing to have a dog on a leash results in a $100 fine for a first offense and up to a $1,000 fine for repeat offenders. Anderson said those fines could go up substantially by the summer.

Several pet owners said the park usually has between 15 and 20 dogs playing and running daily before the sun sets. But yesterday, that number was cut in half because many pet owners felt intimidated by Wednesday's incident, according to Andrew Hopkins. Hopkins lives two blocks from the park and walks his dog, Belle, every day.

He was at the park Wednesday when police and animal control officers arrived.

"It was harassment," Hopkins said. "We pay taxes in this neighborhood, and you can't walk your dog in the park without being harassed?"

Cienjana Little regularly walks her pit bull/boxer at Mount Vernon Square and said she sees little evidence of unruly dogs. She said she was present for all three raids.

With no dog parks in the area, Little said, Mount Vernon Square is the best alternative for owners who want their animals to exercise. City law requires dogs to be on an 8-foot or less leash or in a carrier whenever they are off the owner's property. Dog parks are the only exception.

"We're a dog-friendly community," Little said. "And there is no place in Baltimore City except in Canton to run dogs. Who is going to drive to Canton from Mount Vernon to run their dogs?"

Peter Merlez, executive director of Midtown Community Benefits District, which does daily maintenance at the park, said Mount Vernon Square has become increasingly littered over the past few months. Merlez said he can see some animosity between pet owners and some neighborhood association members who frequently call 311 about loose dogs.

"It's reached a point where it's become confrontational," Merlez said.

Merlez said his group along with Friends of Mount Vernon Place have contacted the city about possible solutions, including building a dog park in Mount Vernon.

"I live in the neighborhood, and I work on the greening of the park," said Martha Dougherty, parks chair for Friends of Mount Vernon Place. "We've been planting flower beds at that address. But there just seems to be many more dogs than there has ever been. It's not a dog run, but that's what it's become."

City Councilman William Cole IV, who represents the district, agreed that Mount Vernon needs a dog park but said there is no parcel of land readily available.

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