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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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Be Careful What You Ask For: The Dire Consequences of Backyard Chickens

iStock_000002590317XSmallArlington County has been considering allowing backyard hens for a while now. It is commendable to find a way to obtain eggs in a way that doesn’t support big farms and the egg industry. However, backyard chickens in an urban community have the potential for very drastic – even deadly – consequences.

Surprisingly, Arlington County’s current zoning ordinance does not prohibit chickens, but Section 12.7.1 of the zoning ordinance does require poultry to be kept in a building, structure or yard located at least 100 feet from a street or lot line. Considering Arlington’s urban nature and small lots, this set back requirement prohibits the vast majority of residents from having chickens.

Not surprisingly, the County Manager recently recommended against backyard hens at a County Board work session last November. The staff had too many questions about hen raising, including what to do with dead, dying and abandoned hens, the impact on the Animal Welfare League of Arlington and animal control officers, and health and pest concerns.

The County Manager raised one other specific concern that Virginia residents may not be aware of – Virginia Code Section 3.2-6552 and its requirement to immediately kill any dog caught in the act of killing or injuring livestock or poultry. Yes, you read right – “kill”, not euthanize.  Section 3.2-6552’s language and requirements are so extreme that it’s worth it to post the statute verbatim here:

§ 3.2-6552. Dogs killing, injuring or chasing livestock or poultry.

It shall be the duty of any animal control officer or other officer who may find a dog in the act of killing or injuring livestock or poultry to kill such dog forthwith whether such dog bears a tag or not. Any person finding a dog committing any of the depredations mentioned in this section shall have the right to kill such dog on sight as shall any owner of livestock or his agent finding a dog chasing livestock on land utilized by the livestock when the circumstances show that such chasing is harmful to the livestock. Any court shall have the power to order the animal control officer or other officer to kill any dog known to be a confirmed livestock or poultry killer, and any dog killing poultry for the third time shall be considered a confirmed poultry killer. The court, through its contempt powers, may compel the owner, custodian, or harborer of the dog to produce the dog.

Any animal control officer who has reason to believe that any dog is killing livestock or poultry shall be empowered to seize such dog solely for the purpose of examining such dog in order to determine whether it committed any of the depredations mentioned herein. Any animal control officer or other person who has reason to believe that any dog is killing livestock, or committing any of the depredations mentioned in this section, shall apply to a magistrate serving the locality wherein the dog may be, who shall issue a warrant requiring the owner or custodian, if known, to appear before a general district court at a time and place named therein, at which time evidence shall be heard. If it shall appear that the dog is a livestock killer, or has committed any of the depredations mentioned in this section, the district court shall order that the dog be: (i) killed immediately by the animal control officer or other officer designated by the court; or (ii) removed to another state that does not border on the Commonwealth and prohibited from returning to the Commonwealth. Any dog ordered removed from the Commonwealth that is later found in the Commonwealth shall be ordered by a court to be killed immediately.

It’s difficult to fathom how this statute plays out in any jurisdiction, let alone in an urban jurisdiction like Arlington.  But take this as one example.  A neighbor’s chicken gets out of your neighbor’s yard and wanders into your backyard.  Your dog chases and injures or kills the chicken.  An animal control officer drives by just at that time, and sees the dog with the chicken.  Your neighbor is quite understanding and admits it was his fault for not keeping his chicken in his yard, and the animal control officer certainly doesn’t want to get involved.

Under Section 3.2-6552, the animal control officer has no choice but to kill the dog immediately.  The option to seize the dog isn’t applicable, because the animal control officer was an eyewitness to the events and there would be no need to have a hearing about whether your dog was the guilty party.  The animal control officer in all likelihood would not be carrying a firearm.  And even if a person lawfully has a firearm in Arlington, it is against the law to discharge a firearm in the county.  That leaves incredibly undesirable options like snapping the dog’s neck or beating the dog to death – actions that constitute cruelty.

A bill pending in the General Assembly proposes softening – but not eliminating – the dire consequences of Section 3.2-6552.  HB740 would allow localities with a population density of at least 3400 persons per square mile to pass an ordinance to limit or eliminate the animal control officer’s duty to kill or seize a dog, and to limit or eliminate an individual’s rights to kill the dog.

For those Arlington County residents who want local fresh eggs, you can have your cake and eat it, too, by shopping at Arlington County’s many wonderful local farmers’ markets and avoiding these potential hazards.

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Ring in the New Year — but not too loudly!

iStock_000029585012XSmallBy all means, ring in 2014 – but don’t be too loud!  You may be kicking off the new year with a new noise ordinance.

Fairfax County and other localities in Virginia have not been enforcing noise ordinances since 2009, when the Supreme Court of Virginia struck down Virginia Beach’s noise ordinance as unconstitutionally vague in Tanner, et al. v. City of Virginia Beach, 277 Va. 432 (2009).  Virginia Beach’s ordinance prohibited “unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary” noise that is “detrimental to the life or health of persons of reasonable sensitivities.”  The noise at issue involved hip-hop, punk rock and indie music pumping from Virginia Beach’s Peppermint Beach Club on Atlantic Avenue.

The language in Fairfax County’s old noise ordinance was very similar to the Virginia Beach ordinance, prohibiting “any unnecessary sound which annoys, disturbs or perturbs reasonable persons with normal sensibilities.”  By contrast, Fairfax County’s new noise ordinance will prohibit noise “that is audible in any other person’s residential dwelling with the doors and window’s to the other person’s residential dwelling closed.”

Arlington County is also working on updating its noise ordinance, proposing to prohibit amplified sound over specific distances (20 feet from the sound in another dwelling or 50 feet across property boundaries), or barking or squawking at least once per minute for 10 consecutive minutes.  The “squawking” prohibition may be in anticipation of backyard chickens – a topic worthy of its own blog post and major public education about Virginia’s mandatory and immediate death sentence for chicken-killing dogs.

With the old ordinances, local officers became particularly adept at trying to resolve noise conflicts in creative ways.   Hopefully these efforts will not fully disappear as jurisdictions amend their noise ordinances.  Slapping someone with a ticket or a lawsuit is much less effective that solving the underlying problem – particularly with an incessantly barking dog.  For excellent ideas about how to address excessive barking, take a look at this recent blog post by trainer Veronica Sanchez with Cooperative Paws in Vienna, Virginia!


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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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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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Update on Virginia’s 2012 Legislative Session

As well as this legislative session started, not much positive happened for animals this year.  Here’s a rundown of what the General Assembly did this year:

HB 95 (Bear Hound Training):  Even though bear hound training was already allowed during most times of the day, this bill extended the hours of training bear hounds to include 4:00 AM to 10:00 PM.  The Senate  stopped this bill in its tracks last year, but it sailed through the House and the Senate this year and was signed into law by the Governor.

HB 158 (Prohibiting Devocalization):  This is the second time Virginia missed an opportunity to put a stop to the inhumane practice of devocalization. This bill was pushed off until 2013 when it was continued by voice vote in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 363 (Companion Animals in Protective Orders):  This bill would have clarified that judges have the ability to include companion animals in protective orders, but it was left in the House Appropriations Committee.

HB 537/SB 305 (Dangerous Dog Registry):  This bill made its way up to the Governor and was signed into law.  It shifts more responsibility to local animal control officers to regulate dangerous dogs, and changed the time to comply with  registration from 10 days to 45 days.

HB 650 (Notice of Euthanasia for Companion Animals):  This bill would require shelters or pounds to give notice to rescues in the position to help out before euthanizing healthy, adoptable companion animals.  This is yet another example of a bill that got stuck in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 695/SB 202 (Prohibiting Fox and Coyote Penning):  This bill would have outlawed the cruel blood sport of fox and coyote penning.  I’m very disappointed to say that this bill, like many others, did not make it out of the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 888 (Allowing Local Anti-Tethering Ordinances):  This bill would have clarified that localities can pass their own anti-tethering ordinances.  No surprises here — yet another bill stuck in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 1242/SB 477 (Prohibiting Exotic Animals):  This bill was in response to the tragedy last year in Zanesville, Ohio involving the deaths of numerous exotic animals.  The House continued this bill in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee by voice vote to the 2013 session.  The Senate kicked it to the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

SB 359 (TNR):  This bill would declare TNR to be a legal and acceptable practice to control feral cat populations.  It passed the Senate, but got stuck in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

SB 610 (Agricultural Animals):  This bill got lots of traction, but fortunately did not become law.  It is still kicking around the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.  This bill seeks to exclude hunting, working and show dogs from the definition of companion animals, and would throw a great deal more on the shoulders of the State Vet instead of localities and animal control officers.

There’s much work ahead of us to prepare for the 2013 legislative session!  We could especially use help from those of you with delegates in the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.  If you’re not sure who your delegate is, or whether they are members of that committee, take a look now with the Virginia General Assembly “Who’s My Legislator” site.

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