Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

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Virginia Legislative Update for 2014

2014 LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Virginia’s 2014 Legislative Session ended up being quite dynamic, with a number of legislative victories. These changes will go into effect tomorrow – July 1, 2014.

Legislative Victories

SB 228 (Bailey’s Law): This law requires pet stores to post information about the source of their dogs, including the breeders’ name, city, state and USDA license number. Additionally, SB 228 gives consumers a new remedy – for veterinary bills to care for a sick dog or cat purchased at a pet store, instead of being forced to return the animal to the pet store, or to absorb those costs if the purchaser kept the animal.

SB 42 (Fox Penning): This long-anticipated law phases out existing fox pens and prohibit new pens from opening.

HB 972 (Protective Orders): HB 972 authorizes courts to grant possession of a companion animal to protective order petitioners.

SB 177 (Service Animals): This law expands the definition of “service dog” to be more in line with the federal definition, by including dogs trained to assist those with physical, sensory, intellectual, developmental, or mental disability, or mental illness.

SB 432/HB 54 and HB 740 (Dogs and Fowl/Livestock): These bills addressed dogs who injure or kill livestock and fowl. Now, animal control officers will have the option of seizing the dog, instead of having no choice but to kill the dog. As a compromise, the bills bumped the cap for compensation to farmers from $400 to $750 per animal for livestock (but did not change the $10 compensation figure for fowl).

SB 444 (Hybrids): SB 444 authorizes localities to prohibit residents from keeping dog-wolf hybrids by ordinance. Current law only authorizes a permitting system. This bill also changed the definition of “hybrid” slightly.

HB 588 (Cemetery grounds): HB 588 allows cemeteries to devote a section of cemetery grounds to interment of human and pet remains.

HB 1067 (Definitions): This bill amended some of the definitions in Virginia Code Section 3.2-6500, which will impact all releasing agencies in the Commonwealth. “Pounds” will no be called “public animal shelters,” and shelters will now be distinguished as either “public animal shelters” or “private animal shelters.” The definition of “public animal shelter” has been simplified to “a facility operated by the Commonwealth, or any locality, for the purpose of impounding or sheltering seized, stray, homeless, abandoned, or surrendered animals or a facility operated for the same purpose under a contract with any locality.”   The definition for “private animal shelters” has not been changed.

The definitions of “home-based rescue” and “foster care provider” were also updated. A “home-based rescue” is now defined as “an incorporated, nonprofit animal welfare organization that takes custody of companion animals for the purpose of facilitating adoption and houses such companion animals in a foster home or a system of foster homes.” This definition removes the requirement that the rescue accept more than 12 animals or three unweaned litters to qualify as a rescue. The definition of “foster care provider” has also been amended to apply to “persons” rather than individuals, to clarify that a veterinary practice or pet supply store that houses foster animals will also qualify as a “foster care provider.”

Bills that didn’t make it out of this Session

A number of bills did not make it out of session, including:

HB 212 (Motor Vehicles): This bill would have made it unlawful to drive while holding a companion animal. It was left In the House Transportation Committee.

HB 1188 (Animal Fighting): This bill would have amended Virginia’s animal fighting statute (Virginia Code Section 3.2-6571) to prohibit charging admission or wagering money at a fight, and would also have prohibited putting a dog in a pen with a coyote or fox. The bill was left in the House Court of Justice Committee.

SB 32 (Animal Abuser Registry): SB 32 would have required the Virginia State Police to create and maintain an animal abuser registry. This bill was continued to 2015 in the Finance Committee.

SB 622 (Spay/Neuter Fund): This bill would have established a state Spay/Neuter Fund, with a $50/ton surcharge on pet food distributed in Virginia. It was continued to the 2015 Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.


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More on Tracey v. Solesky and Maryland dog bite cases

The Maryland General Assembly’s Task Force appointed to address Tracey v. Solesky are working on a bill, and the General Assembly may have the opportunity to vote on the bill during an upcoming special session this month.  The bill is expected to impose liability on all dog owners, regardless of breed, but revert to the common law for landlords, imposing liability only if the landlord knows of the dog’s vicious propensities.

In the meantime, the law remains as it was prior to the Tracey v. Solesky ruling.  Delegate Heather Mizeur sent a request to the Maryland Attorney General regarding the status of the law while Ms. Tracey’s motion to reconsider is pending in the Maryland Court of Appeals.  The Attorney General responded that Tracey v. Solesky is stayed and does not take effect until the Court takes up the motion to reconsider.

Other jurisdictions are following Maryland closely, including right here in northern Virginia.  For a more detailed look at the ruling and its impact for Virginia, don’t miss my article in NOVADog Magazine’s summer edition.  You can also learn more by watching the current episode of The Pet Show with Dr. Katy, which features several interviews, including one with Libby Sherrill, the creator of the documentary Beyond the Myth.

UPDATE (8/6/12):  The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates just issued Resolution 100, promoting breed neutral legislation and proposing the elimination of breed bans and breed specific legislation.


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Hi Five! The USDA Proposes Rule to Close Internet Loophole

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed a rule that redefines the definition of “retail pet store” under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in order to shut a loophole that has allowed retailers to sell animals “sight unseen” via the internet, by mail or over the phone.

Initially passed in 1966, the AWA carved out retail pet stores, which would not be subject to USDA licensing and inspection requirements.  The rationale for this carve-out was because the consumer had the opportunity to check an animal’s health and condition in person in the store before buying the animal.  Technology has changed all of that, allowing retailers who use the internet, mail and phone sales to escape any kind of inspection by the consumer or the government.

Under the proposed rule, a person who breeds more than four female dogs, cats and/or small exotic or wild mammals must open their doors either to the public or to APHIS inspectors, who will also require a license.

This rule still doesn’t impact backyard breeders and traditional retail pet stores that sell directly to the public.  State regulation governs those stores and breeders, but states have had mixed results with puppy mill legislation.  When states have been able to pass puppy mill statutes, they are often fairly weak.  For example, Virginia’s puppy mill statute only covers breeders who have at least 50 breeding dogs.

The public will have 60 days from the time the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register to submit comments.  In the meantime, here is a link to the proposed rule.

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Free Downloads for Virginia Boarding Establishments

I’ve posted before about who is responsible for a boarded animal’s vet care, notice requirements for Virginia boarding establishments, and how bailment law impacts boarders and groomers.

I won’t repeat these posts, but it is vital that you understand Virginia’s veterinary care and liability notice requirements for boarding establishments.  “Boarding establishments” are defined quite broadly, and would include kennels, doggy daycares, veterinarians and animal hospitals that board animals, and any other place where companion animals are “sheltered, fed and watered in exchange for a fee.”

The one point worth repeating is that Virginia boarding establishments are required to provide veterinary care to animals in their care.  You may not get stuck with the bill, but you absolutely must get care for the animal in the event of an emergency.

All Virginia boarding establishments are required to give two types of notice regarding liability and veterinary care.  I’ve created two downloads that will help you get in compliance with both of these notice requirements.  These downloads comply with the law’s specific notice requirements,  right down to the correct font size (at least ten-point) and type (boldfaced)!

The first download (PDF) must be in a written document and spell out exactly what the law requires for emergency veterinary care and liability.  You must provide this written notice to your clients in writing before they drop off their animals.  You can include this in your contract if you give your clients a copy of the contract.  Best practices would be to include this in your contract and to have separate copies of this notice on brightly colored paper in case the client asks for a copy.

The second download (PDF) must be displayed on a sign placed in a conspicuous location and manner in your intake area.  Make sure that this sign and the other notice are in bold print with at least ten-point font.  It’s also best to have both notices in all caps.

If you are a Virginia company or nonprofit and you want to know more about other laws that may impact you, consider getting a copy of the Virginia Comprehensive Animal Law Handbook.  It costs only $10, it’s updated annually, and you can order it from the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies.


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Public Meeting on the Solesky Decision this Sunday

The Maryland Animal Law Center will be hosting a public meeting on the fallout of the Solesky decision and what impact it has on pet care industry companies, rescues and owners.  The meeting is this Sunday, May 6 from 2:00 to 4:00 at Coventry School for Dogs in Columbia, Maryland.  This is a great opportunity to get up to speed on what impact the Solesky decision may have.

iStock_000008198651XSmall pittie mix


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Follow up on the Solesky Ruling

Concerned about the recent Solesky decision in Maryland, and what impact it will have?

Tune in tonight at 8:00 PM on Pit Bulletin Legal News Radio for an in-depth discussion of the Solesky decision, and what impact it is having on rescues and insurance companies.  If you can’t make it tonight, the show will be archived so you can listen to it later.

The Humane Society of the United States has also compiled information especially for pit bull and pit bull mix owners who live and rent in Maryland.

If you are looking for an animal law attorney in Maryland, you can reach out to the Maryland State Bar Animal Law Section for help.

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Sometimes Bright Line Rules Just Aren’t the Answer: The Problem with Tracey v. Solesky

Bright line rules have their place. Society often benefits from clear, objective and unambiguous rules, when those rules produce even-handed and predictable results and  have very little risk of creating harsh or unjust results. Take speed limits, voting ages, and Miranda warnings as examples.

But sometimes life is not black and white. Bright line rules are inappropriate and dangerous tools any time the issues turn on a variety circumstances and there is a risk of sweeping up innocent activity or individuals. Then a balancing test, or case-by-case analysis, is much more appropriate.

Today, the Court of Appeals of Maryland opted for a bright line rule in exactly the kind of case where a bright line rule is inappropriate. In Tracey v. Solesky, the Court ruled:

Upon a plaintiff’s sufficient proof that a dog involved in an attack is a pit bull or a pit bull cross, and that the owner, or other person(s) who has the right to control the pit bull’s presence on the subject premises (including a landlord who has a right to prohibit such dogs on leased premises) knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull, that person is liable for the damages caused to a plaintiff who is attacked by the dog on or from the owner’s or lessor’s premises. In that case a plaintiff has established a prima facie case of negligence. When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous.

Such a bright line rule – pit bulls are per se dangerous – is misguided. Don’t get me wrong. I in no way condone what happened in this case. The dog was left in a small pen, escaped, and attacked and seriously injured a child. The owner put the dog back in the same pen, and the dog escaped yet again, and mauled another child, causing life threatening injuries.

The dog’s breed is not the main issue in this case. The much larger issue is the fact that the owner was completely irresponsible.

There was no reason for the Court to make new law in this case. The defendant could have tried to invoke the “one free bite” rule. But, at best, the “one free bite” rule would only help him escape civil liability for money damages as to the first child. He was certainly on notice of the dog’s propensity when the second child was attacked. Additionally, the “one free bite” rule would not impede a dangerous dog proceeding, and a well-crafted dangerous dog statute can provide restitution to victims without the hassle of a civil law suit.

The most frustrating part of this ruling is that there are many pit bull and pit bull mix owners who are highly responsible and who will get swept up in this bright line rule. Likewise, the ruling will not affect the highly irresponsible owners of dogs who are not pit bulls or pit bull mixes. Dare I even mention the issue of how a court is to determine whether a dog is a pit bull or pit bull mix.

Courts and legislators should focus on owner responsibility, not breed. Fortunately, Virginia’s dangerous dog statute makes it clear that breed alone is not a reason to declare a dog to be dangerous. I hope Virginia keeps its focus on owner responsibility and does not choose to follow the path of neighboring Maryland in this regard.

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