Arlington mural dispute ends with repainting

Painters begin repainting the mural outside Wag More Dogs in Shirlington. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)

Hank Silverberg,

SHIRLINGTON, Va – A two year battle over a mural outside a doggie day care ended Tuesday when it was painted over.

The mural, 60-feet-long and 16-feet-high, adorns an exterior wall at “Wag More Dogs” on S. Oxford Street in Arlington, just off Four Mile Run in Virginia.

It faces a popular dog park and cannot be seen in a nearby neighborhood. Business owner Kim Houghton paid $4,000 to have it painted when she opened her store in 2010.

Arlington County demanded it be removed, saying it served as a sign for the business and exceeded size regulations.

Houghton says the mural was not a sign, merely an artistic expression. She points out that it has no words and does not advertise her business.

After being told she must cover up the mural in order to open her business, Houghton sued. The case was taken up by the Institute for Justice, where Robert Frommer is her attorney.

“Allowing the government to play art critic like that violates the first amendment, and that’s why we took Kim’s case,” he says.

But after losing the original suit, and an appeal, Houghton gave up.

“It’s an expression of my love of dogs and love of this park, and I’m sad to see it go,” says Houghton. “We fought the good fight in trying to make sure free speech stays and people can express their feelings and thoughts.”

Arlington County says any mural with images relating to Houghton’s business — such as dogs and bones — is a sign for the business and violates local zoning laws.

The new mural, which will take about two weeks to paint, will include an urban landscape but will not feature any dogs. Houghton is funding the project, which will cost about $2,500, making the total amount she’s spent on the exterior wall $6,500, she says.

Frommer says that’s ironic since some of the surrounding buildings are covered with graffiti.

“Arlington County says that can stay up as art?” Frommer asked.

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