Shirlington Dog Park Mural

Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Artman   
IJ Fights to Unleash Free Speech


IJ Client Kim Houghton

The mural in question.
Watch the case video "IJ Fights to Unleash Free Speech" 

No one should have to choose between their right to speak and their right to earn an honest living.  And the First Amendment does not let government officials play art critic.

Kim Houghton is the owner of Wag More Dogs, a canine boarding and grooming facility in Arlington, Va.  Long a fan of the dog park that is located right behind her business, Kim commissioned an outdoor mural of cartoon dogs, bones and paw prints in order to give something back to the community.  But a few months later, Arlington officials blocked Kim’s building permit and told her that she could not open unless she painted over the mural or covered it with a blue tarp.  Her crime was painting a piece of art that—in the eyes of Arlington officials—was “too related” to her business.  In the eyes of the county regulator, a mural that depicted dragons would be perfectly fine.  But because it shows dogs and bones, it’s illegal.  Under the threat of losing her livelihood, Kim complied and covered the mural.

But rather than simply roll over, Kim waged a fight to vindicate not only her own right to free expression, but also the rights of other small businesses who face seemingly all-powerful government regulators that arbitrarily and abusively wield their authority.  That is why Kim has teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a federal First Amendment challenge to Arlington’s zoning ordinance in court.

Kim’s lawsuit was filed on December 2, 2010 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.  Unfortunately, the district court dismissed Kim’s case, holding that, as a matter of law, cities and counties need not produce evidence that their speech restrictions actually make their roads safer or their communities more attractive.   Although Kim appealed the district court’s ruling, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2012 upheld the district court’s ruling, thereby leaving in place the unconstitutional conditions that Arlington imposes on would-be speakers.  Although Kim’s fight is over, the Institute for Justice continues to fight across the country for a very simple and important legal principle:  Under the First Amendment, the right to speak is just that—a right—and not a privilege to be doled out by government officials.




Essential Background


Backgrounder: IJ Fights to Unleash Free Speech: Challenging Arlington, Virginia’s Unconstitutional Sign Ordinance

Client Photo
Case Launch Photos
Latest Release: Arlington Dog Mural to be Painted Over; Why are Small Business Owners Frustrated with Government? Here is One Reason. (September 26, 2012)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

none available
Launch Release: IJ Fights to Unleash Free Speech (December 2, 2010)  


Case Timeline

Lawsuit Filed:

December 2, 2010

Court Filed:


U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

Current Court:





Case dismissed

Next Key Date:



Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Fourth U.S. Circuit Rules Governments Can Play Art Critic; Decision Cements Deep Split on Free Speech in America (May 22, 2012)

none available

Release: Court Ignores Constitution in Sign Skirmish Lawsuit, Small Business Owner Will Appeal (February 11, 2011)



Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Release: Hearing to Unleash Free Speech: IJ Lawyers Appear in Federal Court (January 24, 2011) Video: Wag More Dogs: Continuing the Fight; WJLA-ABC (February 15, 2011)
Article: Arlington Virginia's Sign Ordinance is for the Dogs, Liberty & Law (February 2011)
Video: WUSA9: Dog Mural Owner Bites Back; WUSA-CBS (January 13, 2011)
Video: IJ Fights to Unleash Free Speech; (December 1, 2010)

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Institute for Justice
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Arlington, VA 22203
Tel 703.682.9320, Fax 703.682.9321
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