Bowing to public uproar and deeply skeptical council members, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has scrapped proposals for a far-reaching set of animal regulations that would have decidedly cramped the style of cats, dogs and chickens in the nation’s capital.
Bowser (D) included the rules in legislation attached to her proposal for next year’s budget. But the mayor’s office had not reckoned with the public reaction to measures that included a ban on backyard chickens, a requirement that all cats be licensed and a provision that seemed to outlaw leaving dog feces in a private yard for more than 24 hours.
After a Health Committee meeting last week at which council members jeered the regulations — which they said had nothing to do with the budget — and chicken and cat owners found common cause in defending their pets’ liberties, the mayor relented.
At a news conference on budget issues Thursday, administration officials found themselves defending the proposed critter rules even as they acknowledged the overwhelming opposition to them.
“This is not a war on pets,” City Administrator Rashad M. Young said.
Young said health officials’ desire to update the regulations happened to coincide with budget season, which is why the legislation was included in the spending plan.
“What we were trying to accomplish is to make sure health and safety is protected in the community and have some guidelines about how we would deal with the chickens, in particular, and the safety issues and the health issues that they present,” Young said.
Chickens have been linked to salmonella infections. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced eight salmonella outbreaks nationwide to backyard fowl. The outbreaks resulted in more than 200 hospitalizations and at least one death.
Bowser said additional regulation of chickens and other animals may still be introduced as stand-alone legislation for the council to consider.
A Brookland resident who has four chickens said that the mayor’s decision to relent was heartening but that he still has concerns about his birds’ long-term legal rights. Even before the proposed regulations, city officials had periodically tried to enforce what they assert is an existing chicken ban, leading to court battles with chicken owners.
“It’s good news for now,” said Oliver Friendly, the Brookland chicken owner. “My 3-year-old is happy. He gets to play with his chickens. We had a talk about how we don’t have to deal with that issue for a while.”