Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

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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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Humane Lobby Day and an Overview of Virginia’s 2012 Legislative Session

Please join the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies and the Humane Society of the United States this Thursday in Richmond for Humane Lobby Day.  There will be plenty to discuss with your representatives.  Here is my take on each of the companion animal related bills in this session:

STRONGLY SUPPORT:

HB 158 (Prohibiting Devocalization):  A great bill designed to end an inhumane practice. Virginia missed the opportunity to pass this last year, but will hopefully come through this session.

HB 363 (Companion Animals in Protective Orders):  This bill clarifies that judges have the ability to include companion animals in protective orders.

HB 650 (Notice of Euthanasia for Companion Animals):  This bill provides that shelters or pounds give notice to rescues in the position to help out before euthanizing healthy, adoptable companion animals.

HB 695/SB 202 (Prohibiting Fox and Coyote Penning):  Like dog fighting, which is now outlawed in all fifty states, fox penning is an inhumane “sport” that amounts to cruelty.

HB 888 (Allowing Local Anti-Tethering Ordinances):  This merely clarifies that localities have the ability to pass their own anti-tethering ordinances.

HB 1242/SB 477 (Prohibiting Exotic Animals):  A necessary response to the tragedy last year in Ohio.

SB 359 (TNR):  This bill clarifies that TNR is a legal and acceptable practice to control feral cat populations that should not be hindered by current abandonment laws.

HJ 143 (Spay Day):  Who could resist this?!

SUPPORT IN PART AND OPPOSE IN PART:

HB 537/SB 305 (Dangerous Dog Registry):  This bill makes good changes to shift more responsibility to local animal control officers, but the 45-day window to comply with the registration certification procedures is too long.  When there has been an issue such as obtaining insurance that has taken longer than the current 10-day window, animal control officers are more than willing to work with registrants.  A 15-day window would probably be sufficient.

STRONGLY OPPOSE:

HB 95 (Bear Hound Training):  Training is already allowed during most times of the day, and there is no reason to extend training into the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning.

SB 610 (Agricultural Animals):  This bill is a huge setback, as it tries to peel off hunting, working and show dogs from the definition of companion animals and puts all authority in the hands of the State Vet instead of localities and animal control officers.

Please reach out to your state representatives to ask for support regarding these vital companion animal issues.  If you are unsure of who your representatives are, or how to contact them, visit the Virginia General Assembly website.


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Virginia 2012 Legislative Roundup, Part Two

As promised, here is more information about a few of the bills in this legislative session:

HB 1242/SB 477 would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor (punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2500 fine) to possess, sell or breed exotic animals.  This bill is in response to the tragedy last year in Ohio resulting in the death of almost fifty animals after the owner released the animals and killed himself.

SB 359 will officially legalize Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) programs. This bill clarifies that anyone engaged in TNR is not an “owner” who could be deemed to be “abandoning” the cats.

If you would like to know more about fox penning and HB 695/SB 202, the Humane Society of the United States has put together a video explaining this blood sport and why it is vital that we push to prohibit this cruel practice.  A major focus of Humane Lobby Day in Richmond this Thursday will be to gather support for these bills.

Last but not least is HJ 143, which would establish February 28 as Spay Day.

Now the bad news.  As is often the case, a devastating bill will sneak into the legislation when no one is looking.  And so it is with SB 610.  This bill would prohibit localities and animal control officers from regulating agricultural animals, placing all authority over agricultural animals in the hands of the State Vet.  This bill would also expand the definition of agricultural animals to include hunting, working and show dogs.  Needless to say, this bill would be a tremendous set back to animal welfare by placing a huge burden on the State Vet’s office, and taking the power to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty and neglect out of the hands of localities and animal control officers who are in the best position to take action.

Stay posted later this week for an overview of the good, the bad and the ugly in the bills geared towards companion animals in this legislative session.

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Alexandria, Virginia Steps Up Safety For Companion Animals

Tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM, the Alexandria City Council is poised to pass two ordinances aimed at companion animal safety.

The first ordinance is not a new topic for this blog –whether electronic collars qualify as “leashes” under Alexandria’s leash laws. The City Council is addressing this issue head on, and if this ordinance passes, will say unequivocally that a shock collar does not qualify as a leash. This law is a welcome step in the path of countries like Wales, which recently banned electronic collars.

Here is the gist of proposed amendment to Alexandria’s ordinance from the definitions section in Section 5-7-31 (j), with new language in bold and italics:

(j) Run or running at large. Roaming or running off the premises of its owner not under the control of its owner or a responsible person capable of physical restraining the dog and not secured by a leash, lead or other means of physical restraint, which leash, lead or other means of physical restraint is not harmful or injurious to the dog and which is held by a responsible person capable of physically restraining the dog. An electronic collar or other similar electronic device does not qualify as a leash, lead or other means of physical restraint.

Similar changes prohibiting electronic collars will carry through to Section 5-7-33.1, addressing dogs running at large, and Section 5-7-35, Alexandria’s leash law. You can see all of the proposed changes and further discussion on the proposed ordinance on the City of Alexandria’s website.

The second ordinance addresses locking animals in hot cars. The proposed law would make it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine for confining an animal in a car if the outside temperature is 70 degrees or hotter and the car is not properly air conditioned. The law would also make it a crime punishable by a fine and up to twelve months in jail for leaving an animal unattended if the animal suffers heat stress.

Here is the full language of proposed Section 5-7-58:

Sec. 5-7-58 Confinement of animals in vehicles prohibited.
(a) Any person who confines an animal in an unattended, enclosed vehicle where the outside temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, and the interior of the vehicle is not provided with conditioned air to maintain an internal temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or less, shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.
(b) Any person who confines an animal in an unattended, enclosed vehicle so as to cause the animal to suffer from heat stress as diagnosed by a licensed veterinarian, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The Animal Control Officer or other officer shall have the authority to remove any animal found in an enclosed vehicle that appears to be suffering from heat stress. The animal shall be provided immediate veterinary care. The animal owner or custodian shall be responsible for all expenses incurred during the removal of the animal or its subsequent treatment and impoundment.
(c) In the event that the person responsible for the violation cannot be ascertained, the registered owner of the vehicle, as required by Chapter 6 of Title 46.2 of the Code of Virginia (1950), as amended, shall constitute in evidence a prima facie presumption that such registered owner was the person who committed the violation.
Section 2. That this ordinance shall become effective upon the date and at the time of its final passage.

Again, you can check the City’s website for more information on Section 5-7-58.

As a resident of Alexandria since 1997, it will make me very proud to see both of these ordinances pass tomorrow!  Check here for more information on the Saturday, November 12, 2011 9:30 AM docket.

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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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Wales Prosecutes its First Shock Collar Case

Back in November, I reported on legislation banning shock collars in Wales. This week, BBC reports that a Welsh prosecutor named David Prosser became the first to successfully prosecute under the new legislation.

When Welsh legislators were first considering the ban, animal welfare groups such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other organizations, including the Kennel Club, came out in support of the ban. These organizations called shock collars “cruel and unnecessary,” and pointed to shock collars’ potential to harm animals.

Others opposed the ban, claiming that the evidence and science did not demonstrate that shock collars harm animals, and arguing that shock collars are effective tools to protect and train animals.

In March 2010, the National Assembly for Wales unanimously passed legislation banning the use of any collar emitting an electronic shock for dogs and cats. A violation of the law is punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine.

After the law came into effect, Petsafe, Ltd, a pet product manufacturer, and the Electronic Collar Manufacturer Association challenged the law. But the High Court in Wales rejected their challenge and upheld the legislation in November 2010.

This week, a Welsh court convicted the first person of violating the shock collar ban. Phillip Pook owns a border collie who is a notorious fence climber and escape artist. Six months before the ban took effect, Pook bought a collar designed to emit an electronic shock if his dog approached a wall on his property. Pook claimed he did not know the law had changed, but the prosecution introduced evidence that Pook was warned about the new law. The court convicted Pook and sentenced him to a fine of £2000 (about $3200).

I’m glad to see a law that bans shock collars not only for training, but also for use with an electronic fence. And I am amazed and comforted to see that the Welsh legislators were unanimous in passing the ban. Currently, the UK and Scotland are considering similar legislation. The BBC reports that there are about 500,000 shock collars in the UK, with about 20,000 of those in Wales.  If you would like to know how local jurisdictions treat shock collars, take a look at this post.

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How Do I Find A Good Rescue?

Data provided by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (VDACS) demonstrate how vital rescues are to animal welfare. In Virginia in 2010, rescues accounted for 10,816 stray, seized, transferred and surrendered animals. These Virginia rescues adopted 4,886 and transferred another 1,846 of those animals. The rescues euthanized only 427 of those animals. This is an adoption rate of 45%, and euthanasia rate of only 4%.

The overall 2010 figures, including data for shelters, pounds, humane societies and rescues, show a different picture. Of an overall number of 185,948 stray, seized, transferred and surrendered animals, 54,425 were adopted, another 24,137 were transferred and 72,403 were euthanized. This is an adoption rate of 29%, and euthanasia rate of 39%.

With their high adoption rates and low euthanasia rates, rescues are a very attractive option for someone looking to adopt a companion animal. However, not all rescues are created equally.

On more than one occasion, I have gotten a phone call from a person who adopted an animal from a “rescue,” only to discover that the rescue was hardly a benevolent non-profit. The “rescue” instead was in the business of selling animals that are unhealthy or not the size or breed that was promised. And even when rescues have their heart in the right place, more and more rescues act as venues for animal hoarders, like we’ve seen recently with Annette Thompson in Goochland County and Janet Hollins in Prince William County.

In light of all this, there are several things that you can do to make sure that the rescue you are considering is legitimate.

First, if the rescue claims to be a 501(c)(3), you can double check this using the Guidestar website. Guidestar can show you vital information such as the non-profit’s mission statement and recent 990 tax filings. The rescue’s 990 will show you even more information, such as how the organization is funded and how much the organization spends on administration and fundraising versus costs directly related to the animals’ care.

Second, a rescue claiming to be a non-profit may have additional state regulations and obligations. For instance, all Virginia non-profits must register with VDACS’s Department of Consumer Affairs to solicit as a charitable organization. You can check whether the rescue is registered to solicit using the Department of Consumer Affairs’ website.

Third, check to see if the rescue is complying with its state registration or reporting obligations. In Virginia, rescues must register and report data annually to VDACS and the Office of the State Veterinarian. VDACS maintains an online database that tells you which rescues are reporting, and gives data for each rescue for how many animals they take in per year, the source of those animals, and the disposition of the animals.

Fourth, the rescue should have a written adoption contract that complies with all legal obligations. For instance, Virginia rescues must comply with Virginia Code Section 3.2-6574, which requires a written contract between the rescue and adopter in which the adopter agrees to neuter an intact dog or cat within 30 days of adoption or the date that the animal reaches six months of age.  Any decent rescue will likely also have a contractual provision that requires the adopter to return the animal to the rescue if the adopter can no longer care for the animal.

If you are checking out a rescue, here are some red flags to watch out for:

  • The “rescue” claims to be a 501(c)(3), but you can find no information using Guidestar and state regulatory sites.
  • The rescue uses a high percentage of funds for administrative costs, rather than costs directly related to care of the animals, such as veterinary care, food, training and boarding.
  • The “rescue” does not have a contract. Or it has a contract, but the contract lacks key provisions, such as requiring the adopter to spay or neuter the animal, or return the animal to the rescue if the adopter can no longer care for the animal.
  • The “rescue” cannot produce identifying information and veterinary records for their companion animals.
  • The “rescue” charges high “adoption fees,” and has a website promising to sell you the perfect purebred or designer breed puppies or kittens. Take a look at the ASPCA’s website for more information on internet scams.

As with any company, don’t just rely on the rescue’s website. You should be able to call the rescue and speak with a live person. When you see a particular companion animal you are interested in, you should be able to meet the animal and the foster, and review the animal’s veterinary records, before you decide if the animal is right for you. If you already have a dog and you are looking to adopt a second dog, ask to set up a meet and greet for the dogs.  If the rescue is hesitant with any of these requests, think again before you adopt from them!

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