Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

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Making a Difference this Memorial Day with Service Dogs

Explore.org, an arm of the Annenberg Foundation, has found a fantastic way to honor our veterans. Explore.org will donate up to 100 service dogs (to the tune of up to $500,000) to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. You can help them reach this goal by liking the “Dog Bless You” Facebook Community. Explore.org will donate one dog for every 5,000 likes. Explore.org and the Annenberg Foundation are using the “Dog Bless You” campaign to raise awareness of our vets in need, and the amazing role that service dogs can play in their recovery. You can learn more about this worthy program in this Mother Nature Network article from last Friday. At the time of this post, “Dog Bless You” had over 186,000 likes!  You have until July 4 to help Explore.org reach its goal.

Speaking of making a difference through service dogs, the Washington Post recently did an update on Andrew Stevens and his quest to have his service dog, Alaya, accompany him to school. Andrew’s parents, Angelo and Nancy Stevens, fought the Fairfax County Public School system when it denied Andrew, who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy, the right to bring Alaya to school. The school system came to a truce, and set up a trial period earlier this year. After three successful weeks, the school system finally agreed that Andrew can properly handle Alaya on his own, and are now allowing Alaya to accompany Andrew to school. Better yet, the Stevens’ hard work also convinced Virginia’s Department of Education to revise its policy to allow school kids to have service dogs, provided the student can handle the dog properly. In their ongoing quest to fight for their son and others who can benefit from service animals, Angelo and Nancy Stevens have established The Andrew Gordon Stevens Foundation. And – in keeping with the Memorial Day message – it is worth noting that Angelo Stevens serves our country as an Army sergeant!

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Virginia’s New Agricultural Animal Bill in Action

When I first commented on Virginia’s new agricultural animal bill, HB 1541/SB 1026, I was cautiously optimistic. Agricultural animals were covered by Virginia’s animal cruelty statute, but they did not have the protections of a neglect or lack of adequate care statute equivalent to Section 3.2-6503’s adequate care requirements for companion animals. HB 1541/SB 1026 proposed a new statute, Section 3.2-6503.1, that would finally mandate standards for adequate care of agricultural animals.

HB 1541/SB 1026 and the addition of Section 3.2-6503.1 have generated a flurry of comments and criticism. Some of the criticism is directed towards exploitation of animals for food, clothing and other purposes – something that our society is unfortunately a very long way from addressing and prohibiting.

Other comments expressed a concern that the new agricultural animal bill would supplant – and virtually eliminate the use of – the animal cruelty statute as it applies to agricultural animals. This concern was the primary reason that I ultimately did not support HB1541/SB 1026.

A closer look at Section 3.2-6503.1 shows that the animal cruelty statute still applies to agricultural animals, and that Section 3.2-6503.1 will allow for intervention before treatment of agricultural animals rises to the level of cruelty.

Section 3.2-6503.1 requires owners to provide agricultural animals with “feed to prevent malnourishment,” “water to prevent dehydration, and “veterinary treatment as needed to address impairment of health or bodily function when such impairment cannot be otherwise addressed through animal husbandry, including humane destruction.”

By contrast, the animal cruelty statute prohibits depriving an animal (either companion or agricultural) of “necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment.” The term “necessary” is not defined further in the statute.

Section 3.2-6503.1 will take effect on July 1, 2011, and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and the Office of the State Veterinarian are already training animal control officers about how to implement the new statute. The Office of the State Veterinarian is emphasizing with the animal control officers that Section 3.2-6503.1 does nothing to change the animal cruelty statute – and that it allows the officers to intervene in order to prevent the situation from rising to abuse and neglect.

According to Dr. Dan Kovich of the Office of the State Veterinarian:

“If it was cruelty before, it’s cruelty now—this bill is a tool for early intervention.  Imagine two horses being kept on a bare dirt lot and not being provided with feed; one emaciated and one in good body condition. The first horse was, and remains, subject to the cruelty statute. The second horse cannot be demonstrated to suffer from a lack of necessary feed, and therefore no intervention can occur under existing law. This new statute will allow animal control officers to intervene simply because no feed is being provided, and therefore prevent the animal from actually having to suffer the process of malnourishment”

I am very relieved to know that officials see Section 3.2-6503.1 as a preventative measure – at least for food, water and veterinary care – that will augment Virginia’s animal cruelty statute. If used appropriately, animal control and law enforcement officers will now have a means to combat neglect of agricultural animals before the situation rises to the point of abuse and neglect.

One criticism that I still agree with is that the maximum penalties for lack of adequate care are far too light. As a Class Four Misdemeanor, the maximum penalty for agricultural animals is only a $250 fine. The penalty is the same for a first offense involving companion animals. Just last year, the General Assembly upped the ante for subsequent offenses involving companion animals – a move I hope will be forthcoming in future amendments to Section 3.2-6503.1.

Another critical issue is shelter and confinement standards for agricultural animals. Although the animal cruelty statute prohibits depriving an animal of “necessary shelter,” there is no clear guidance or definition for that term. Section 3.2-6503.1 does not address shelter. Organizations like The Humane Society of the United States are attacking agricultural animal confinement procedures nationwide. Perhaps the most notorious battle involved Proposition 2 in California, attacking the use of veal crates, battery cages and sow gestation crates. Although Section 3.2-6503.1 does not address these issues yet, we have to start somewhere. I can only hope that the General Assembly will use Section 3.2-6503.1 as a platform to address – and prohibit – these and other similar inhumane practices in the near future.

Here is the full text of Section 3.2-6503.1, which will take effect on July 1, 2011:

Section 3.2-6503.1: Care of agricultural animals by owner; penalty.
A. Each owner shall provide for each of his agricultural animals:
1. Feed to prevent malnourishment;
2. Water to prevent dehydration; and
3. Veterinary treatment as needed to address impairment of health or bodily function when such impairment cannot be otherwise addressed through animal husbandry, including humane destruction.
B. The provisions of this section shall not require an owner to provide feed or water when such is customarily withheld, restricted, or apportioned pursuant to a farming activity or if otherwise prescribed by a veterinarian.
C. There shall be a rebuttable presumption that there has been no violation of this section if an owner is unable to provide feed, water, or veterinary treatment due to an act of God.
D. The provisions of this section shall not apply to agricultural animals used for bona fide medical or scientific experimentation.
E. A violation of this section is a Class 4 misdemeanor.

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No Kids Allowed? Arlington County Bans Kids From Dog Parks

We’ve all seen signs that say “No Dogs Allowed.”  But “No Kids Allowed”?  That’s exactly what is about to happen in Arlington County’s dog parks.  Arlington County plans to ban kids under 8, and require an adult to accompany kids 8 to 14.  Some find the ban unnecessary, while others find this a very appropriate ending to National Dog Bite Prevention Week.

The Examiner’s story by Gwyn Donahue gives details about a Shirlington Community Canine Area meeting from yesterday, and notes that neighboring jurisdictions also have rules about kids in dog parks.  Fairfax bans kids 8 and under from its dog parks, requires adult supervision for kids 9 to 15, and requires handlers to be at least 16.  Alexandria requires adults to supervise kids under 16 inside fenced areas of its dog parks.

Another story by Arlington Kids questions the reason for the ban, and concern about the fact that it seems the County has made its mind up already without much public input.  WUSA News9 has posted a story and video about the controversy, and cites concerns not just of dog bites, but also unintentional injuries such as a child being knocked over accidentally while up to 100 dogs run around off leash at any given time in Arlington’s busiest dog park.

If you would like to be heard, you can contact the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreations Division Chief through the County’s Contact Us page or at (703) 228-6523 or -6525.  And feel free to weigh in on the issue here!

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An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure: Dog Bite Prevention Week

In keeping with Dog Bite Prevention Week, many interesting statistics have popped up in the media.

The U.S. Postal Service has released statistics for the number of dog bites to postal workers in 2010, broken out by city. Houston took the top spot with 62 attacks. Denver, with its long-standing pit bull ban, took the #8 spot, with 31 bites. The fact that Denver would rank so high despite its firm adherence to breed specific legislation is hardly a surprise to those who really understand dog bites.  Research by the National Canine Research Council shows that dog bites do not occur due to breed.  Rather, the most relevant factors are whether the dog is a “resident” dog (versus a primarily indoor “family” dog), whether the dog is intact, and whether the owner is responsible or properly supervised the dog.

The Insurance Journal also released statistics for the number of and costs related to dog bite insurance claims. State Farm’s data shows that California tops the list for the most dog bite claims, at 369, while Florida has the highest costs per claim, with an average claim of $38,356. I cannot resist a big shout out to State Farm, which continues its tradition of refusing to deny coverage based on breed. The one exception even State Farm cannot escape – the state of Ohio, which classifies bully breeds as automatically “vicious.” So where does Ohio fall in the list of dog bite claims? Number 3, with 215 claims, right behind California and Illinois. So much for the efficacy of breed specific legislation.

One group most at risk of dog bites is children. Psychology Today has a great article explaining why children are so at risk, which is due to insufficient supervision by adults, and children’s notoriously bad skills at reading body language. In an effort to address this, and just in time for Dog Bite Prevention Week, Dr. Sophia Yin has provided a poster that you can download from her website on recognizing a fearful dog’s body language.

For other tips on how to prevent dog bites, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s site and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s siteYou can also find more great information and downloads on Doggone Safe’s site.

Sid happy in his new home and off of his chain


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Justice For All — Including Our Four-Legged Friends!

Elizabeth on site

Elizabeth in her new home

As we finish out Be Kind To Animals Week, I am very pleased to announce that, just last week, Annette Thompson of Goochland County was convicted of six counts of failure to provide adequate care to dogs in her care, in violation of Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503.

Over a period of years, Ms. Thompson, along with her purported rescue, Pet Rescue Foundation, has had from 100 to 300 dogs on her property. When times were too tough for Ms. Thompson to care for the animals, she would call for help. Individuals and several local rescues – Homeward Trails, A Forever Home and HART – answered the call by donating food, taking in animals, and spending thousands of dollars on veterinary care.

But the do-gooders realized something was amiss when the number of dogs on Ms. Thompson’s property did not decrease, and the animals they pulled from the property continued to show serious medical conditions. Left with no options, they opted to present evidence to a Goochland County magistrate, who charged Ms. Thompson with failure to provide adequate care for the dogs.

The complainants successfully prosecuted the case in Goochland General District Court, and Ms. Thompson appealed. Last week, Commonwealth Attorney Claiborne Stokes presented evidence of six dogs in Ms. Thompson’s care to Goochland County Circuit Court Judge Cullen.

Sid on site and on the chain

The first dog Judge Cullen heard about was Sid, a gorgeous Akita mix who was left chained in Ms. Thompson’s driveway. Although Virginia law does not prohibit tethering a dog, it does require any tether to be at least three times the length of the animal, from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail. Sid is 45” long. The chain Sid was on was only about 1 ½ times his length – half of what was required by Virginia law.  (The beautiful black and white photo in this post is Sid — off of his chain and happy in his new home!)

The remaining five dogs suffered from a variety of untreated ailments, with the common denominator being heartworm.

The most egregious of the five was Elizabeth, a sweet Chow mix who could barely get around due to arthritis, a neurological condition and age. Elizabeth’s ears were torn up by fly strike, and she had open wounds on her back where insects had attacked her. Elizabeth was rescued in October 2009, and taken to the veterinarian the next day. Elizabeth was underweight, starved for human interaction and filthy with flea dirt. She tested positive for heartworm and hookworm. Elizabeth was successfully treated, and currently lives with a foster.

Two other dogs, Gingersnap and Birdy, were rescued by Homeward Trails in December 2009. Both tested positive for heartworm. Birdy also tested positive for whipworm. They were both successfully treated.

Gingersnap on the property

Birdy resting in her new home

The last two dogs, Jack-O and Aunt May, were rescued in April 2009. Both tested positive for heartworm. Jack-O also suffered from kidney disease which made it unsafe to treat the heartworm, and he ultimately had to be euthanized. Aunt May also suffered from other ailments along with the heartworm, and was euthanized.

Ms. Thompson’s defense was a claim that she was treating the dogs on her property with ivermectin for heartworm prevention. However, her heartworm protocol did not involve veterinary care or testing for heartworm before administering the preventative. She presented no records whatsoever for the dogs in her care – no veterinary records, no heartworm tests, and no information that she was weighing the dogs to ensure proper dosage, giving the proper amount of ivermectin or keeping a consistent schedule.

Judge Cullen saw through Ms. Thompson’s alleged defenses, understood the duties imposed by the law, and convicted on all counts. For a variety of reasons, many, many more counts could have been presented for the numerous other animals who suffered on Ms. Thompson’s property. Nonetheless, these six convictions represent a great victory – against the notions that it’s OK to tether animals and self-medicate without consulting a veterinarian. Additionally, these convictions will bar Ms. Thompson from being able to operate a rescue or serve as a foster for a rescue.

Jack-O

I’m grateful for the role I played in counseling the complainants and earning some justice for these dogs.  Hearty congratulations to all involved with this trial!

DISCLAIMER:  CASE RESULTS DEPEND UPON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE.  CASE RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR RESULT IN ANY FUTURE CASE UNDERTAKEN BY A LAWYER.

Aunt May

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Victory! California Supreme Court Dismisses Review in Chung

The California Supreme Court has just decided to “let sleeping dogs lie” and decline further review of a California Court of Appeals decision in People v. Chung, which extended the “exigent circumstances” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement to animals in distress.  This is a major victory for combatting animal abuse and neglect!  This move came in light of the Court’s recent decision in People v. Troyer, concluding that the police could invoke exigent circumstances to search a bedroom while looking for potential victims and suspects in a shooting incident.

The Court put the Chung case on hold pending Troyer.  Now that Troyer has been resolved and upheld the police officers’ actions under seemingly fuzzier facts, the Supreme Court of California was free to decide that no further appellate review was necessary in Chung.  This decision keeps in place the Court of Appeals’ ruling upholding the police officers’ actions in Chung to investigate a call of a dog in severe distress and enter Chung’s residence, despite not having a warrant.

Although I would have liked to have seen how the California Supreme Court would have handled the legal status of companion animals, the Court of Appeals decision had decent analysis on this point.  For instance, Chung argued that exigent circumstances should be limited to protecting human life and should not extend to protection of an animal.  The Court of Appeals could have rested its decision on the fact that dogs are property and that California law allows for exigent circumstances to prevent damage to property.  Instead, the court noted that that animal protection has long been a proper government concern, pointing to the fact that California’s animal cruelty statute dated back to 1872.  The Court of Appeals also discussed (albeit in a footnote) that doges have long held a special place in our lives, serving as our companions, aiding the disabled, and functioning as police, military, search and rescue and therapy dogs.

I will keep watching to see if this case is appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and will keep you posted!

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