Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

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How To Handle Hybrids?

Maine is implementing a new law that requires a wildlife-in-captivity permit for wolf hybrids, and spaying or neutering for any current owners of hybrids.

It is legal to own a hybrid in Virginia, but Virginia Code Section 3.2-6582 allows localities to set up permitting systems to regulate such things as how many hybrids a person can own, identification by tags or tattoos, and the keeping and handling of hybrids.

Today’s Washington Post article quotes Jim Doughty, who runs a refuge with wolf hybrids, as saying that this law unfairly targets hybrids, and that:

Any animal, no matter whether it’s a pure wolf or a Chihuahua or a pug or anything else, depends on the person and how they raise it. It’s the same thing with your kids. If you’re abusive toward your kids, they’re not going to be so good. If you work with them, they’ll be great.

I disagree with Doughty. Although I am an avid critic of breed specific legislation, I see wolves and wolf hybrids in a very different light from pit bulls and other dog breeds. No good comes of spreading the rumor that dogs and wolves are one in the same. For many reasons – including for safety, and from a behavior and training perspective – the public needs to be made aware of the fact that dogs are not wolves – and wolves are not dogs.

The difference between wolves and dogs comes across very clearly in John Bradshaw’s excellent book Dog Sense. The following video clip from BBC’s Secret Life of Dogs shows nature winning out over nurture when scientists try to raise wolf cubs like puppies (starting at 2:53 in this clip):

What is your experience with hybrids? Are you for or against a permit system for the ownership of hybrids like Maine has just passed?

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All is Not Lost: California Becomes First State to Pass Bill Mandating Microchips

In July, Happy the min-pin escaped from his yard in Riverside, California. His owners searched for him for two weeks, but never found him. They were so convinced that he was lost for good that they even adopted a new dog.

But just last week, two good Samaritans found Happy in a park in Palm Springs, and took him to the local animal shelter. Fortunately, Happy has a microchip, and it was easy to reunite him with his owners.

Sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for signature is Senate Bill 702, the country’s first legislation that would mandate microchips for pets as of January 1, 2012. The bill requires animal control agencies, shelters and rescues to microchip dogs and cats before being adopted or — if not already chipped like Happy — before being claimed if picked up as a stray.

Christian Science Monitor reports that California shelters impound more than one million dogs and cats a year, and euthanize over half of those animals.  The cost to house and euthanize those animals is $300 million each year.  This bill seeks to reduce the euthanasia rate and costs by increasing the chance that the animal and owner can be reunited.

Microchips are an inexpensive and easy way to make sure that your companion animals can be identified and that you can be notified quickly and easily. With last week’s earthquake and hurricane in this region, there is no time like the present to get your animals microchipped if they are not already. As pointed out by the Examiner, this is just the one step to careful emergency preparedness.

One word of warning. Even if your dogs and cats are microchipped, state law may still require collars and identification tags. For an example, take a look at Virginia Code Section 3.2-6531.

On a related note, now is a good time to review what to do if you find a stray animal, and what happens if your dog is picked up as a stray.

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Missing the Mark: Saginaw’s Misguided Dangerous Dog Ordinance

Officials in Saginaw, Michigan have been working on ordinances purportedly aimed at dog owner responsibility.  This could be a welcome change.  The current version of Saginaw’s “Animals, Birds and Bees” ordinance, Section 94.04, falls within Saginaw’s “public nuisance” laws, and fails to address even the most basic issues, such as a leash law.  One proposed ordinance is squarely aimed at owner responsibility, adding long overdue measures to Section 94.04.

First, Saginaw will add a leash law and prohibit tethering in most circumstances.  Owners would be required to keep dogs on leash.  Dogs could not be chained or tethered outside of the dogs’ “kennel, pen or fenced yard,” unless someone has physical control of a leash.  An inanimate object such as a tree, post or building will not cut it.  The requirement of physical control indicates that shock collars will not count in Saginaw.  This is a great step – with the caveat that the law should be clarified to state that a dog cannot be chained or tethered even if the dog is on the owner’s property.

Second, all dogs would need to be securely confined indoors or in adequately lighted and ventilated kennels.  If a dog is confined indoors, the dog would not be able to exit on the dog’s own volition.  Presumably, that means no more doggie doors in Saginaw.  And, thankfully, no more dogs left outside unattended.

Third, Saginaw residents would be limited to three dogs per household.  This three-dog limit would not apply to animal care and control organizations, rescues, registered foster homes, and certain service dog and hunting dog breeders.  Commercial breeders and brokers would be required to register with the City Clerk and obtain a business license.

Officials in Saginaw did not stop at overhauling Section 94.04.  They are proposing a second ordinance targeting “dangerous dogs.”  Unfortunately, this ordinance completely misses the mark and has virtually nothing to do with owner responsibility.

This ordinance will require the owners of “dangerous dogs” to register the dogs, and adhere to leash and confinement standards.  The owners will also have to pay a $20 registration fee and obtain and display signs indicating the presence of a dangerous dog on their property.  Failure to comply with the ordinance would result in civil fines.

The heart of problem is the proposed definition of a “dangerous dog” as any dog:

  1. with a propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack, to cause injury or to otherwise endanger the safety of” people or companion animals; or
  2. that attacks, attempts to attack or that, by its actions, gives indication that it is liable to attack a human being or other domestic animal one or more times without provocation; or
  3. of a breed that appears consistently in the top five (5) of the breeds on credible, analytical listings of “Most Dangerous Dogs” as verified and supplemented by local data and records for Saginaw County, including mixes.

Saginaw has inexplicably chosen to focus on breeds and dogs it believes may attack, rather than on individual dogs with demonstrably aggressive behavior.  The current list of “most dangerous dog” breeds in Saginaw include:  pit bull, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Bull Mastiff (Presna Canario) and Alaskan Malamute.  Saginaw will purportedly look to “credible,
analytical listings” to update their list annually.  Saginaw apparently forgot to look at statistics in the UK showing the three most aggressive dog breeds as Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers!

The simple truth is that focusing on breed will not decrease the number of dog bites.  According to a comprehensive 2009 study by the National Canine Research Council, the three predominant factors with dog bites are whether the dog:

  1. is a resident dog (kept primarily outdoors, used for guarding, protection, fighting or breeding, rather than a pet/family dog);
  2. is intact; and
  3. has a reckless, irresponsible owner.

Notice that breed is not one of these factors.  With its recent overhaul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Department of Justice (DOJ) agrees that the focus should be on the individual dog and not breed.  The ADA already condones the refusal to provide access to a service dog if an individual dog shows specific signs of aggression.  But the DOJ unequivocally refuses to bow to jurisdictions with breed bans.  This is leading to a nasty battle in Denver, where officials are refusing to exempt service dogs in Denver’s breed ban.  At least Saginaw was not so stubborn, exempting service dogs from its dangerous dog ordinance.

Although Virginia’s dangerous dog statute isn’t perfect, it does focus on individual dogs and specific aggressive behavior.  To be classified as a dangerous dog, Virginia requires an actual bite.  Last year, the General Assembly considered expanding the dangerous dog designation to dogs who “attempt to bite.”  Fortunately this bill died quickly in committee.  Additionally, Virginia refuses to bow to breed stereotypes, with the following language right in the dangerous dog statute:

No canine or canine crossbreed shall be found to be a dangerous dog or vicious dog solely because it is a particular breed, nor is the ownership of a particular breed of canine or canine crossbreed prohibited.

With Saginaw’s proposed leash, confinement and supervision requirements and a limit on the number of dogs a household can have, Saginaw will accomplish a great deal to increase owner responsibility and decrease the number of resident dogs.  If Saginaw wants more effective laws, research shows that focus on the spay/neuter issue rather than breed will go further to reduce the number of dog bites.

Laws requiring leashes and spay/neuter programs are not the only way to get at owner responsibility.  Education is also necessary.  The more we learn about animal behavior, the better.  At last Friday’s Mid-Atlantic Animal Law Symposium in Baltimore, Maryland, one participate raised the issue of humane education in schools.  If we could emphasize just three areas, we could do a great deal to better the bond between dogs and owners, and thereby decrease the number of dog bites:

  1. Learn how to read dogs’ body language.  The ASPCA’s website page on canine body language has a quick reference guide for starters.
  2. Never leave dogs unsupervised with children.  So many dog bites are to children.  Simple supervision, teaching a child not to approach a dog unless the child asks the owner for permission, and showing the child how to pet the dog appropriate would go far to decrease the number of dog bites.  Dogs & Storks has wonderful information about how to prepare the family dog for a new baby, and lots of other helpful information regarding dogs and children.
  3. Socialize, socialize, socialize.  Dr. Ian Dunbar has championed the importance of puppy socialization, and how socialization allows a puppy to become a well-adjusted adult dog.  Here’s a great video with Dr. Dunbar on the topic of dog bites and the tie to fear and lack of socialization.

The Saginaw City Council will introduce its proposed ordinances on April 18, and the ordinances are slated to be enacted May 9 and become effective May 19.  If Saginaw’s real purpose is to increase owner responsibility and decrease the number of dog bites, I encourage the Council to adopt the ordinance expanding Section 94.04, but ditch its dangerous dog ordinance.

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What Happens If My Dog Gets Picked Up As A Stray?

You let Fido out in your fenced-in back yard while you go grocery shopping one day.  Little do you know, the gate latch is coming undone, and a gust of wind blows the gate open.  Fido gets out and has a fun romp through the neighborhood.   A friendly animal control officer captures Fido, fortunately without incident.  The officer leaves you a voicemail message that Fido is fine, but that she’s taking him to the pound because Fido is not licensed and registered. 

You don’t understand why Fido had to go to the pound.  He was wearing his tags with your contact information and proof of his rabies vaccination.  On the way to the pound, you ask yourself whether the animal control officer had the right to impound Fido.

In fact, the animal control officer had no choice but to impound Fido.  Of course you can reclaim Fido, but the pound can and will require you to license and register your dog and pay any connected license and impoundment fees before you can take Fido home.

Virginia Code Section 3.2-6562 requires officers to capture and confine “any companion animal of unknown ownership running at large on which the license fee has not been paid.”  The pound must comply with the holding period required by Section 3.2-6546.  That holding period requires the pound to hold an animal for five days while it attempts to locate the owner.  If the pound can ascertain who the rightful owner is, it must hold the animal an additional five days to give the owner time to claim the animal.  The law gives the pound the right to require the owner to pay the license fee and all impoundment costs before returning the animal to its owner.

If the rightful owner doesn’t step up, the animal is deemed “abandoned” and becomes the property of the pound.  The pound may arrange for adoption or release to a rescue or shelter, or may euthanize if it follows specific procedures in the statutes.  The law also gives the animal control officer the ability to euthanize if the animal is injured, disabled or diseased “past recovery” or to the point that a reasonable owner would euthanize.

If your dog is picked up as a stray, there are several things you can do to get your dog back as safely and quickly as possible:

  1. NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG OUTSIDE UNATTENDED!  Even if you have a fully fenced yard, you should let your dogs out only when you are home and able to supervise them.
  2. Make an identification tag for your dog, and keep all contact information on the tag current.
  3. Keep your dog’s rabies vaccination up to date.  Make sure you have a tag and several copies of a certificate indicating accurate information for your dog’s most recent rabies vaccination.
  4. Register your dog in the locality in which you live.  Keep your dog’s license and corresponding tags up to date, and keep several copies of a certificate showing that your dog is properly licensed and registered. 
  5. Securely fasten the identification, rabies, and license and registration tags to your dog’s collar.  Make sure your dog is wearing her collar and tags any time you go out with her.
  6. Don’t count on tags alone.  Have your dog microchipped, and have several backup contacts linked to the microchip, including your dog’s veterinarian information and other emergency contacts.  Get a tag that says your dog is microchipped, along with the contact information of the microchip company, just in case the microchip malfunctions.
  7. If your dog has any special medical needs or allergies, make sure to have a very visible separate tag to alert people to these needs.  Include this information on the microchip and in your dog’s registration.
  8. Don’t hesitate to create other tags and add other microchip information if appropriate.  For instance, good rescues (like A Forever Home where I got Sophie) will give you a tag to put on your rescue’s collar, will ask you to include them in the information you provide to the microchip company, and won’t hesitate to step in and claim your dog if you are unable to do so for some reason. 
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What Should I Do If I Find A Stray?

If you find a stray, you have no specific duty to take the stray in.  Each county and city in Virginia has to have an animal control officer, and you are certainly within your rights to contact animal control to report the stray.

But if you decide to take in the stray, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6551 outlines what you have to do.  This code section kicks in if you provide “care or safekeeping” to the animal, or if you retain the animal “in such a manner as to control its activities.”  Within 48 hours, you must:

  1. Make a reasonable attempt to find the owner, if you can ascertain who the owner is by way of a tag, license, collar, tattoo or other form of identification or markings; AND
  2. Notify the local pound where the animal was found, and provide the pound with your name and phone number, the location where you found the animal, and a description of the animal along with any information from a tag, license, collar, tattoo or other form of identification or markings.

You can find helpful tips and guidance about stray animals from the Humane Society of the United States and the Missing Pet Partnership.  The most important consideration is safety — yours and the animal’s.  Remember that the animal will likely be fearful, and may be sick or injured.  Be particularly careful if you find the animal in an area with traffic.  Be aware that if you take in the stray, you take on the duty to provide the animal with adequate care.  This includes the duty to provide veterinary care, so be prepared to pay the vet bills if the stray is injured or sick.

The second most important consideration, thanks to the Missing Pet Partnership, is to “think lost, not stray” — and do all you can to get the animal back to its owner.   It is for this very reason that a violation of Section 3.2-6551 carries a civil penalty of up to $50 per animal.  The Missing Pet Partnership has some great ideas, including putting a long lead on a dog and telling him to go home to see if the animal knows its way home, hanging large “Found Dog” posters in the area where you found the dog, and taking the animal to animal control or a vet to see if the animal has a microchip.

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Come See Me and Bean Kinney in Booth 721 at the Chantilly Virginia Super Pet Expo!

Law firm Bean, Kinney & Korman, PC will be in Booth 718 721 (left side, right behind the Franchise Pavillion) for the Super Pet Expo in Chantilly, Virginia on March 18-20, 2011I will be there with two of my colleagues — Jennifer Lee and Alain Lapter — to talk about ways our law firm can help pet owners and pet care industry companies and organizations.  For pet owners, we’ll discuss everything from pet trusts to owner responsibility issues such as dog bite and dangerous dog liability.   For businesses and rescues, we’ll talk about many ways to protect your entity, from intellectual property to corporate, compliance and contract issues.  And we’ll have really fun giveaways!  Although Sophie will have to stay at home for this, I may also try to arrange for some guest appearances by Boomer!  Don’t miss it!

UPDATE (3/14/11):  The Super Pet Expo has had to make some floor plan revisions.  Bean Kinney’s booth will be #721 — right across from our original location.

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Happy New Year! Looking Back at 10 Posts from 2010

As we ring in 2011, here’s a quick recap of 10 facts and lessons from last year’s posts:

  1. Although federal law only requires labeling of fur garments, Virginia law actually prohibits garments made of dog or cat fur.
  2. The ADA definition of “service animal” is changing to limit service animals to basically only dogs.
  3. The videos involved in the US v. Stevens First Amendment case involved depictions of dog fighting, not animal crush videos.
  4. The American Veterinary Medical Association just changed the veterinarian’s oath to include animal welfare and the prevention of animal suffering.
  5. The Lynchburg Fire Department honored a search and rescue dog it recently lost by distributing pet oxygen masks on rescue vehicles.
  6. An appellate court in Wales just upheld legislation banning shock collars.
  7. Suffolk County, New York was the first jurisdiction to establish a public Animal Abuser Registry.
  8. Many home owner insurance carriers charge higher premiums or even exclude coverage for animal liability if the household contains a dog such as a pit bull, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Husky, Chow or Akita.
  9. Many Northern Virginia jurisdictions limit each household to three dogs, and require a kennel license for more than three dogs.
  10. A California Court of Appeals decision determined that the “exigent circumstances” exception the warrant requirement can include protection of the life of an animal.

May 2011 be peaceful, positive and prosperous for you and your loved ones!

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So How Many Companion Animals Can I Have?

There has been a surge of cases involving animal rescuers turned hoarders, and Virginia is no exception.  Recent cases have revealed hundreds of animals on a single person’s property, or dozens and dozens of animals living in a single townhouse.  People who criticize this type of animal hoarder need only point to often atrocious conditions that the animals live in and suffer through.  Nonetheless, these hoarders often have loyal supporters, who think they are saints whose “hearts are in the right places.”

But this begs the question of how many animals the law allows a person to have.  Once you take on a certain number of animals, you are limited by the type of housing you have, as well as the amount of time and money that you have to dedicate to your companion animals.  As the saying goes in The Little Prince, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

First and foremost, Virginia law requires you to provide adequate food, water, shelter, space, exercise, care and veterinary care for each companion animal.  [For more on this, see my previous post, So What Are My Responsibilities as a Pet Owner?]

Foster homes for rescues are governed by Virginia Code Section 3.2-6550, which sets a fifty-animal limits for foster homes.  [Shockingly, the penalty for violating this law is only a $250 civil fine!]  If you are a foster, be aware that you do not automatically have the right to keep up to fifty animals in your home.  You still need to comply with zoning laws and other laws in your local jurisdiction, which will likely have a much more stringent limit on the number of animals you can keep.

Take a look at these examples.  Arlington County and the City of Alexandria allow residents to have three dogs, but require a kennel license for any additional dogs.  If you would like more information, consult Section 2-12 of the Arlington County Code and Section 5-7-57 of the City of Alexandria CodeFairfax County residents can have two dogs on any sized lot, and additional dogs based on minimum lot sizes.  But Article 20 of Fairfax County’s Zoning Ordinance will start to consider your property as a kennel if “dogs are kept in numbers greater than ten (10) per 40,000 square feet,” or if the lot constitutes a “place or establishment in which dogs are kept, trained, boarded or handled for a fee.”  Prince William County requires kennel licenses for households with more than four dogs.

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