When Bill Kelly took his usual 5 a.m. walk with his dog along a wooded footpath Friday, he couldn't believe what he spotted in his flashlight beam: an animal trap right next to the trail with his neighbor's cat stuck inside, meowing.
"You immediately go, I gotta get it out of here," he said. "I was able to get the trap open and pull the cat out and rush it out."
A pet sitter who was caring for Sabrina the cat immediately took her to the vet. The cat survived, but she has stitches in both legs.
Sabrina's owner rushed back to her Pine Spring home from the beach.
"The whole neighborhood is up in arms," said Mary Kimble. "It's just a shame. This is a walking path for people who walk their animals and even for kids. There's an elementary school right there."
Bill Kelly called police. Animal Control officers found more traps in the woods and began investigating.
Even though the path is used by Pine Spring area residents and kids from the nearby schools, it's on private property, occupied by the Department of Defense Health Headquarters (DHHQ), and the facility, along Arlington Boulevard near the Beltway, had been having problems with three coyote pups living in the area. They were first spotted in late June. Virginia's District Wildlife Biologist was contacted and went to assess the situation.
Kevin Rose said the coyote pups had been fed by some employees at the DHHQ building. The pups became semi-tame.
"They were laying up against the building, including the doors, entry ways in and out of the building," explained Rose "We couldn't allow these pups that were extremely tame to grow up to be adults with no fear of humans and viewing humans as giving them food. That's how we end up with a dangerous interaction between humans and coyotes."
Wildlife officials told the building managers to first try "hazing" the pups, to get them to once again fear humans.
A Defense Department spokesman said Pentagon Force Protection officers tried scare tactics every time they saw the coyotes. They yelled, used sirens and other loud noises. The pups would run off but later return.
When that effort failed, traps were the only option.
"Trapping of coyotes is a continuous open season. They are a nuisance animal," said Rose.
Under state law, once trapped the coyotes would have to be euthanized. They can't be moved to new territory.
But the Fairfax County Animal Control officer's investigation found the traps in the woods were set illegally. They didn't bear the required identification and were placed right next to the path, endangering people and pets.
"Traps must be set in ways to avoid creating a human safety hazard and to reduce the chances of catching a domestic animal," said Rose.
The licensed trapper who'd been hired by DHHQ, 47-year-old Jacob Risser of Alexandria, is charged with unlawful hunting of a wild animal, a game violation.
Now Pine Spring residents want to know whether new traps will be placed in the woods. Defense Health Agency Spokesman Kevin Dwyer said a coyote was just trapped near a gazebo on the facility's property. He is uncertain whether traps will once again be placed in the woods.