D.C. Council bill outlines humane treatment of wildlife

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

D.C. residents might want to think twice before they use a broom to try to swat that bat in their garage or set out rat traps to ensnare the opossum living under their porch.

After being at the complete mercy of man since before Colonial days, wild animals that roam city neighborhoods could soon have their own bill of rights.

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduced a bill Tuesday that would impose new standards to make sure furry creatures that live in or travel through city neighborhoods are treated humanely.

The legislation, which Cheh crafted with the help of the Humane Society of the United States, states "lethal control" of raccoons, rabbits, bats and other wild animals should be pursued "only when public safety is immediately threatened" or non-lethal methods have proven unsuccessful.

"We have raccoons that live in a tree in the immediate neighbor's yard, and they coexist with us," said Cheh, who lives in Forest Hills. "I think the first reaction should be, 'Is this really a problem?' "

Cheh's bill exempts "commensal rodents," meaning homeowners and exterminators will still be able to use traps and poison to kill rats and mice. But trappers will no longer be allowed to use glue and "body gripping" traps to catch larger animals.

"It's a form of horrible torture with no release or respite for the animals," Cheh said.

The proposal does not apply to Rock Creek Park, which is governed by federal regulations. So the city still won't be able to intervene in the ongoing debate over whether the National Park Service should allow lethal force to curb the deer population.

But those coyotes and foxes that have been spotted in Upper Northwest in recent years will be able rest a bit easier if Cheh's proposal becomes law.

As drafted, the bill applies only to wildlife specialists and professional trappers. But Cheh plans to have it amended so that it also prevents homeowners from using inhumane tactics or traps.

"If you can relocate, relocate," Cheh advised. "Euthanasia should be the last resort."

Brian Glover, owner of DMV Wildlife Services, said trappers and homeowners looking to rid their properties of raccoons or other nuisances in the District currently do not have to abide by any regulations.

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