Arlington Animal Laws
The following highlights the Arlington County laws/ordinances relating to pets. To review a complete list of all Arlington County ordinances please visit the Arlington County Code: Animals and Fowl.
The Virginia Code prohibits animal cruelty. The following are prohibited under this act:
- Abuse, torture, abandonment
- Deprivation of food, water, shelter or emergency veterinary care
- Engage in or instigate animal cruelty
Please review the complete ordinance on animal cruelty for more information.
Baby Animals: Unweaned Animals
The Virginia Code prohibits the sale or adoption of any dog or cat under the age of seven weeks.
In Arlington it is unlawful for any animal or bird to create a frequent or continued noise disturbance across a real property boundary or within a nearby dwelling unit. This law does not fall under the animal ordinances, but under the nuisance laws of Arlington County and is legally a matter for the police. What you can do We recommend that you discuss the problem with your neighbor before calling the police or the League; often the owner is not aware that his dog is disturbing you. If you can’t solve the problem directly with your neighbor, we will try to help. What we can’t do Because the noise ordinance doesn’t fall under animal control, the Animal Control Officers do not have the legal authority to issue citations for barking dogs. What we can do We do investigate barking complaints if there is a concern about the dog being in physical distress. If the dog is barking out of boredom and is not in physical distress, Animal Control may leave a brochure with information on barking dogs for the owner. If the barking continues, you may file a complaint with the following offices:
- Police Dispatch (non-emergency) – for barking problems between 5:00 pm and 8:00 am: 703-558-2222.
- County Office of Code Enforcement- for barking between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm: 703-228-3232
Birds: Migratory Bird Act
Migratory birds are fully protected under by federal law. It is unlawful to injure, kill, or even tamper with a migratory bird under the Migratory Bird Act. For more information see the following: Migratory Bird Act Information List of Migratory Birds
Collars & Tags
The Arlington County code prohibits anyone who is not the owner or legal possessor of a dog to remove the dog’s tags or collar. More information about interefring with dogs may be found in section 2-11 of the Arlington County animal code.
For a complete explanation of Arlington County’s code on dangerous dogs, please see the full Arlington County code, section 2-10.
Dog Housing Minimum Requirements
The Arlington animal shelter and Animal Control often receive calls from concerned citizens about dogs that are left outside. We welcome these calls and will do our best to educate owners on the dangers pets may face when left outside. Animal Control Officers are able to enforce the County’s minimum requirements for animal housing. The minimum requirements, as set by County code, state the following:
- All animals must be supplied with sufficient, good and wholesome food and water as often as the feeding habits of such animals require.
- All animals shall be provided a proper enclosure as its quarters which shall have clean, dry bedding, floors elevated at least four (4) inches from the ground and all sides enclosed including the front. All animals, animal quarters and primary enclosures shall be kept in a clean and sanitary condition and adequate ventilation shall be maintained.
- Proper shelter and protection from the weather shall be provided at all times. Animals must not be overcrowded nor exposed to excessive heat or cold. Proper temperature for the well-being of animals shall be maintained at all times.
- Every reasonable precaution shall be used to ensure that animals are not teased, abused, mistreated, annoyed, tormented or in any manner made to suffer by any person or by any means.
- No condition shall be maintained or permitted to exist that is, or could be, injurious to the animals.
- Animals must be maintained in quarters so constructed as to prevent their escape. The owner assumes full responsibility for recapturing any animal that escapes from his premises. All reasonable precautions shall be taken to protect the public from the animals and the animals from the public.
- Animal bedding shall be sufficient in size and quantity and shall be kept clean.
- Sick or diseased animals shall be isolated from healthy animals at all times, so segregated that the illness or disease shall not be transmitted to another animal, and shall not be sold.
All dogs four months or older living in Arlington County must be licensed by the County government. The dog must wear the license at all times. The Arlington County code does not require a license for cats. What you need
- To get a license, you must provide proof that your dog has a current rabies vaccination. Virginia state law requires that all dogs (and cats) be vaccinated at four months. The shelter offers low-cost rabies vaccinations for $10 at clinics held eight times a year. Please see the rabies clinic schedule (above, right) for dates and times.
- You must also submit a license application. Licenses are valid for one year or three years depending on when the rabies vaccination expires. The County will send you a renewal notice at the proper time.
Where to apply
- Licenses are only issued by the Arlington County Treasurer’s Office, not the League. You can print a pet license application here or apply in person at the Treasurer’s Office.
- You can get an application from the League and mail it, along with the rabies certificate and payment, to the Treasurer’s Office. They will mail the license tag to you.
- You can submit the application at the League, where it will be held until a county representative picks it up. Applications left with us are picked up irregularly, so expect the process to take longer if you choose this method.
Finding a Companion Animal
The Virginia Code requires that a person who finds a companion animal makes every reasonable attempt to find the animal’s owner and call the animal shelter that serves the locality in which the animal was found.
If a dog is found running at large, an Animal Control Officer may apprehend and impound the dog at the County facility (Animal Welfare League of Arlington). If ownership can be determined, he or she will be notified. The dog may be returned to the owner once an impoundment fee is paid and proof of current license and rabies vaccination is available or the owner is able to pay for a current license and rabies vaccination. The County also requires that owners pay an additional fine if a dog is picked up multiple times within a year. Please see section 2-9 of the Arlington County Animal Code for the additional fee schedule. For further information about redeeming your animal at the shelter, please see the League’s section on Reclaiming Your Lost Pet.
When off their owner’s property, all dogs in Arlington must be leashed and under control of the owner or another responsible person. The only exception to this law is if the dog is in a county-sanctioned, off-lead dog exercise area.
Why Even Your “Good” Dog Should Be Leashed
- It keeps your dog safe. Many other animals are out there: other dogs, cats, and wildlife. These animals could injure your dog. An encounter with a raccoon or a fox will mean a mandatory quarantine of your dog because of the threat of rabies. No dog is 100% reliable when encountering a squirrel or other wildlife dashing across a street: she could chase an animal into the street and be hit by a car.
- It keeps other dogs safe. A leashed dog may react aggressively if your unleashed dog approaches him; Or, your dog might see a small dog as prey and attack it. Dog attacks on other dogs are sadly quite common in Arlington.
- It is considerate to other people. Many people want to enjoy walks on Arlington’s sidewalks, parks, and school grounds without your dog bothering or frightening them. Some people, especially children, are frightened of dogs, even friendly ones. An average of 200 dog bites to humans happen each year in Arlington.
- It protects the environment and human health. If your dog is running off-leash, defecates, and you don’t see it to pick it up, then it is left for people and other dogs to step in and it eventually runs off into our streams.
- It’s the law. When off their owners’ property, all dogs in Arlington must be leashed and under control of the owner or another responsible person. Use of electronic training collars does not qualify as being leashed. The only exception to the leash law is if a dog is in a County dog park. Violations are punishable by Arlington County code 2-6 stating that dogs must be leashed, even when owners are present or code 2-5 for dogs running at large. Repeat offenses in either category can lead to elevated fines and charges.
Looking for a place where your dog can play off-leash? Visit a County dog park. Dogs are allowed to play off-leash inside County dog parks. There are eight dog parks located across the County.
Number of Dogs in a Household
The Arlington County Code allows no more than three dogs per household, unless approved by the zoning administrator and a kennel license has been obtained.
Rabies Control & Quarantine
Any animal that has bitten a person shall be confined under competent observation for 10 days. If within this 10 days the animal shows signs of rabies infection, the animal must be humanely euthanized in order to test for rabies. Animal Control usually will allow an animal to be quarantined at home under its owner’s supervision.
All cats and dogs over the age of four months are required to have current rabies vaccination. For more information on the rabies vaccination and our low-cost clinics please visit our rabies vaccination information page.
Arlington County prohibits trapping animals without a permit from Animal Control. For more information on trapping, see the League’s section on Trapping Wildlife.
Turtles & Reptiles
The Arlington County code prohibits the sale of turtles. The Arlington County code prohibits non-poisonous reptiles at large and prohibits keeping any poisonous reptiles.
Known as the pooper-scooper law, this ordinance requires Arlington dog owners to remove and dispose of feces that their dogs have deposited on public areas or another person’s property.