Local Commentary

A Penny For Your Thoughts: The News of Greater Falls Church

The year 2007 began in a frightening way for several young people in the Lincolnia area of Mason District. They were attacked by a 6-month-old female pit bull who was running off-leash, was not licensed, and had not received a rabies vaccination. Fortunately for the children, their injuries were not life-threatening. For the dog, however, it was another story. Attempts to subdue the dog by non-lethal means were unsuccessful and, ultimately, the pit bull was shot and killed by a police officer.

Although this particular dog was a pit bull, a breed banned in some other jurisdictions, unprovoked attacks are not restricted to the pit bull breed. Historically, various breeds (German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Doberman Pinschers, e.g.) have become the focus of public animosity. Banning, however, simply results in driving the activity underground. In reality, any dog is the product of both nature and nurture.

According to the Fairfax County Animal Services Division, pit bulls are not the number one dog responsible for bites to humans. The Animal Shelter’s policy gives all dogs of good temperament a chance for adoption. For pit bulls, or pit bull mixes, the pass/fail criterion on a temperament test is much more stringent than for other dogs, because of the potential safety risk. The Animal Shelter has a very strict pit bull adoption policy, and the majority of pit bulls brought to the shelter in 2005 (strays, given up by their owners, or picked up for running at large) were euthanized under shelter policy.

The root of the problem, according to many experts in the field, is irresponsible breeding and irresponsible owners. Until the root of the problem is addressed, pit bulls and aggressive dogs will continue to plague our communities. The Fairfax County Animal Shelter conducts spay/neuter programs, funded by the familiar “animal friendly” license plate fees, but more dog owners need to participate in this program. It is estimated that only 20 percent of dogs in Fairfax County are licensed, and that’s a dog owner responsibility. Annual dog license fees are very reasonable: $5 for a dog that has been spayed or neutered; $10 for a dog that is intact. Proof of a current rabies vaccination must be provided when applying for a dog license. Fairfax County has a leash law, often ignored, but the only public place a dog can be off-leash is in a county off-leash dog area, also known as a dog park. A dog must be on leash until it enters the dog park enclosure.

For information about dog regulations and owner responsibilities in Fairfax County, or to learn more about adopting a pet with good temperament from the Animal Shelter, log on to www.fairfaxcounty.gov and click on Animals at the top of the Subject Areas column.