Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals


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Legislative Score Card for Virginia’s Proposed Companion Animal Law Bills

The General Assembly has a complete mixed bag of companion animal law bills coming up this session.   Here are my thoughts on these ten bills.  Please chime in!

HB 1541 (patron: Robert D. Orrick, Sr.)/SB 1026 (patron: Phillip P. Puckett), addressing care of agricultural animals and penalty for failure to provide care.  This is the bill that provides minimum — and I mean minimum — standards of care for agricultural animals:  feed to prevent emaciation, water to prevent dehydration and the most basic vet treatment.  And the penalty is a mere $250 fine.  The fact that the General Assembly finally proposed standards for agricultural animals is far outweighed by how much this bill waters down the animal cruelty standards under Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570, which makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2500 fine for failure to provide any animal with “necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment.”  I have blogged on this before, and thought further on the issue after reading many thoughtful comments.  The General Assembly may try to re-work this language, but they have a long way to go to win my vote on this bill.  Grade:  F.  UPDATE (5/21/11):  Take a look at this post on the statute’s implementation — this definitely affects my overall grade, but there’s still a lot of work to do!

HB 1556 (patron: Tony Wilt), which would allow training of dogs to hunt bears to occur at night.  Currently, training is limited to one-half hour before sunrise until four and a half hours after sunset.  This bill has passed in the House, and is on its way to the Senate.  I vote thumbs down — bear hunting with dogs is cruel to both bear and dog, and training day and night seems completely unnecessary.  Grade:  F

HB 1716 (patron: James M. Scott, Ward L. Armstrong and Charniele L. Herring), allowing a court may to include in a protective order provisions prohibiting harm to a companion animal and damage to any item of personal property.  This bill got kicked around last year, and for some reason the same thing may happen this year.  There is every reason to pass this bill.  It is well known that harm to animals is often a prelude to harm to humans, and hurting a beloved companion animal can be a way for an abuser to get at a loved one.  Grade:  A

HB 1889 (patron: Tony Wilt), allowing the use of tracking dogs to find wounded or dead bear or deer during archery, muzzleloader, or firearm bear or deer hunting season, so long as those retrieving the bear or deer have permission to hunt or access to the land and do not have a weapon in their possession.  However, if the county allows bear or deer hunting with dogs, hunters may carry a weapon and have unrestrained dogs while searching for wounded or dead animals.  As for me, ditto on this as on HB 1556.  Grade:  F

HB 1930 (patron:  Daniel W. Marshall, III), establishing a statewide animal abuser registry.  This bill defines “animal abuser” as an adult who has been convicted of a felony violation of Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570 (cruelty to animals) or 3.2-6571 (animal fighting) or of a substantially similar law of another state or of the United States and requires any animal abuser physically within the boundaries of the Commonwealth for more than ten consecutive days to register in person with the sheriff of the county or city in which the animal abuser resides or is located. The bill also requires the offender to reregister annually. Failure to register or reregister is a Class 6 felony. The bill requires the sheriff to notify every residence and business within a one-half mile radius of the abuser’s residence or location within ten days of initial registration. The bill requires that registry information be maintained in a central registry by the State Police and posted on their website.  This would be an excellent step in the right direction, following the first public animal abuser registry in Suffolk County, New York last year and setting a high price for failure to register.  Thank you, Delegate Marshall!  Grade:  A+

HB 2108 (patron: Ward L. Armstrong)/SB 842 (patron: J. Chapman Petersen), which would allow circuit Courts to appoint new humane investigators. Currently, existing humane investigators may be reappointed, but the program is no longer open to new participants. The administrative entity that oversees animal control will be required to supervise humane investigators and maintain and annually update a list of persons eligible for appointment as humane investigators. Circuit courts that appoint a humane investigator must notify the administrative entity that oversees animal control in the locality where the humane investigator serves if a humane investigator’s term expires and he is not appointed to a succeeding term before or within 30 days.  This is another bill that got kicked around last year, and the time to pass it is now!  One thing that is being bantered about is whether to have humane investigators report straight to animal control, instead of the agency that oversees animal control, but either way, I give it a thumbs up.  Grade:  A

HB 2134 (patron: William K. Barlow), providing that law enforcement K9s would not need to be quarantined unless the K9 was showing active signs of rabies or was suspected of having rabies.  The law enforcement agency would be obliged to notify the local health director of any abnormal behavior with the K9 and provide access to the K9 for examination at any reasonable time.  I don’t feel as strongly about this bill as the others, but I support it.  I’d love to hear other thoughts on this one.  Grade:  B

HB 2195 (patron: Patrick Hope and Robin Abbott), requiring veterinarians to keep records of devocalization procedures, and providing that any person, including a licensed veterinarian, who performs a surgical devocalization on a cat or dog when the procedure is not necessary to treat or relieve an illness, disease, or injury or to correct a congenital abnormality that is causing or may cause the animal physical pain or harm, is guilty of a Class 6 felony.  Wow!  Big thumbs up for this one.  I love the substance, and the penalty, which would put Virginia in line with some of the toughest states on the devocalization issue.  Grade:  A+

HB 2312 (patron: Richard P. Bell and Robin Abbott), which would redefine “home based rescue” to remove the requirement that the rescue operate primarily for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes for companion animals.  Also, prior to transferring animals, animal shelters and other releasing agencies would be required to provide certifying documents that state that the entity is in compliance with existing law and assured that its home-based rescues and fosters provide adequate care.  As animal hoarding cases explode in number and severity, this is no time to take away a requirement that a home based rescue operate to provide permanent adoptive homes.  I’ve got to vote thumbs down on this one.  I don’t mind seeing one more background check to be sure abusers are not serving as rescues or fosters, but the rescues need access to the criminal background records.  Wouldn’t that animal abuser registry be nice?  Grade:  F

HB 2482 (patron:  R. Lee Ware, Jr.), which would provide new procedures for the impoundment, seizure, return or forfeiture of animals when the owner or custodian is suspected of animal welfare violations.  Animals in the custody or possession of dealers or pet shops that fail to adequately care for such animals shall be subject to impoundment pursuant to any directive or under any supervision as may be provided by the investigating official, animal control officer, or State Veterinarian’s representative.  Such animals are subject to seizure if (i) under a direct and immediate threat or (ii) the owner or custodian is unable to or does not provide adequate impoundment.  If convicted, the impounded or seized animals may be forfeited or returned to the owner or custodian at the discretion of the court. This bill would also repeal the prohibition on persons that have been convicted of animal cruelty from selling or trading companion animals.  The welfare requirement that emergency veterinary treatment is provided for animals under certain conditions would no longer include treatment for disease progression.  This bill would be a step backwards by allowing abusers to get their animals back, and I give it a thumbs down.  Grade:  F


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Settlement On The Courthouse Steps: Prince George’s County Must Address Humane Treatment of Companion Animals

On July 29, 2008, Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo was out walking his two Labradors.  As he approached his porch, he saw a package that had just been delivered to the house.  He reached over, picked it up and took it inside.  Little did he know what was in the package, or what was about to happen next.

Prince George’s County law enforcement knew that the package contained drugs, and suspected the mayor or a family member was involved in drug dealing.  A police SWAT team was not available, so a deputy SWAT team took over.  Some of the deputies thought they had a “no knock” warrant, but the police had actually not requested one.  They stormed the house without announcing themselves, killing both dogs in the process.

Mayor Calvo sued the County, and the parties have reached a settlement on the eve of trial.  The terms of settlement are confidential, but — kudos to the Mayor — the settlement included two provisions.  First, Prince George’s County law enforcement must change how and when they use SWAT teams.  Second, they must focus on more humane treatment of companion animals.

On one hand, I would have loved to have seen this case go to trial, for no other reason than to allow Maryland to weigh in on whether it is time to treat companion animals like more than mere personal property.  But had the Mayor prevailed at trial, he would not have gotten these two very important considerations addressed.  I will be anxiously awaiting how Prince George’s County addresses companion animals in the wake of this law suit and settlement, and whether the changes they make can be applied to the many, many other cases of law enforcement shootings of companion animals.

We may get another shot at changing Maryland law.  I’ll be keeping my eye on what happens with the Jenkins lawsuit filed in Frederick County, Maryland.


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Are You In Compliance? Vet Care Notice Requirements For Virginia Boarding Establishments

Did you know that you’re required to give your boarding customers notice of how vet care treatment works while your customers’ companion animals are in your care?  And that failure to give the right notice is a Class Three Misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine?

We should start by reviewing what a “boarding establishment” is.  Virginia Code Section 3.2-6500 defines a “boarding establishment” as “a place or establishment other than a pound or animal shelter where companion animals not owned by the proprietor are sheltered, fed, and watered in exchange for a fee.”  That seems broad enough to cover not only kennels, but also doggie daycares and train and board programs.

Boarding establishments must provide two types of notice to boarding customers under Virginia Code Section 3.2-6519.  The underpinning of these requirements is that, while your boarding clients’ companion animals are in your care, you are responsible for providing the animals with adequate care – including adequate veterinary care – as required by Section 3.2-6503.

First – before your clients drop off their animals – you must give them the following notice, in writing and in ten-point boldfaced type:

THE BOARDING OF ANIMALS IS SUBJECT TO ARTICLE 4 (§ 3.2-6518 ET SEQ.) OF CHAPTER 65 OF TITLE 3.2.  IF YOUR ANIMAL BECOMES ILL OR INJURED WHILE IN THE CUSTODY OF THE BOARDING ESTABLISHMENT, THE BOARDING ESTABLISHMENT SHALL PROVIDE THE ANIMAL WITH EMERGENCY VETERINARY TREATMENT FOR THE ILLNESS OR INJURY.

THE CONSUMER SHALL BEAR THE REASONABLE AND NECESSARY COSTS OF EMERGENCY VETERINARY TREATMENT FOR ANY ILLNESS OR INJURY OCCURRING WHILE THE ANIMAL IS IN THE CUSTODY OF THE BOARDING ESTABLISHMENT.  THE BOARDING ESTABLISHMENT SHALL BEAR THE EXPENSES OF VETERINARY TREATMENT FOR ANY INJURY THE ANIMAL SUSTAINS WHILE AT THE BOARDING ESTABLISHMENT IF THE INJURY RESULTED FROM THE ESTABLISHMENT’S FAILURE, WHETHER ACCIDENTAL OR INTENTIONAL, TO PROVIDE THE CARE REQUIRED BY § 3.2-6503BOARDING ESTABLISHMENTS SHALL NOT BE REQUIRED TO BEAR THE COST OF VET CARE FOR INJURIES RESULTING FROM THE ANIMAL’S SELF-MUTILATION.

For this notice, I suggest having this language in your boarding, doggie daycare and board and train contracts, as well as having a separate document to give to your clients at their initial intake meetings.  Don’t hesitate to give them another copy when they drop their animals off.  Keep a pile of extra copies right in your intake area.  Printing these notices on boldly colored paper isn’t a bad idea.  And there’s no harm in putting this language on your website.

Second, you must have a sign prominently displayed in your intake area with the following notice, in ten-point boldfaced type:

PUBLIC NOTICE

THE BOARDING OF ANIMALS IS SUBJECT TO ARTICLE 4 (§ 3.2-6518 ET SEQ.) OF CHAPTER 65 OF TITLE 3.2 OF THE CODE OF VIRGINIA.  YOU HAVE SPECIFIC REMEDIES WHEN BOARDING ANIMALS IN THIS OR ANY OTHER BOARDING ESTABLISHMENT IN VIRGINIA.  A COPY IS AVAILABLE IMMEDIATELY UPON REQUEST AND IS TO BE PRESENTED TO YOU AT THE TIME OF INTAKE IN THE FORM OF A WRITTEN DOCUMENT.  IF YOU HAVE A COMPLAINT, YOU MAY CONTACT YOUR LOCAL LAW-ENFORCEMENT OFFICER OR THE VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND CONSUMER SERVICES, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA.

Ironically, failure to provide these notices carries a harsher penalty than the failure to provide adequate care to a companion animal (at least for first offenses), which is only a Class Four Misdemeanor punishable by up to a $250 fine.  Hmmm…. Sounds like yet another example of mixed up legislative priorities, and yet another argument for harsher penalties for animal neglect.


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Who Is Responsible For A Boarded Animal’s Vet Care And Bills?

A new boarding client comes to you with her sweet, new Labradoodle named Snickers.*  The client is going on vacation for a week, and she asks you to board Snickers for her.  Little did you know that Snickers has severe separation anxiety.  On the first night he’s at your boarding facility, he throws himself against his kennel door to the point that he’s injured and bleeding. 

First question:  Are you responsible for getting Snickers to the vet?  Answer:  Yes!

Section 3.2-6518 requires boarding establishments and groomers to provide emergency veterinary treatment for any illness or injury occurring while the animal is in their custody.  Under that section, boarding establishments and groomers have the same responsibility as owners to provide companion animals with adequate care.  Section 3.2-6503 outlines those seven responsibilities:  adequate food and water, shelter, space and exercise, care – and veterinary care.  And Section 3.2-6503 explicitly applies to every pound, shelter, rescue, foster home, dealer, pet shop, exhibitor, kennel, groomer and boarding establishment.

Second question:  Who pays the vet bills?  Answer:  In this case, probably the client. 

Boarders and groomers are responsible for the vet bills if an animal sustains injury at the boarder’s or groomer’s facility, or while in the custody of a boarder or groomer, and the injury resulted from the boarder or groomer’s failure – whether accidental or intentional – to provide adequate care or if the injury resulted from the boarder or groomer’s actions.  Otherwise, the owner picks up the costs, including when the injuries result from the animal’s self-mutilation. 

Likely, Snickers’ injuries would be considered self-mutilation, with the client picking up the tab for Snickers’ vet bills.  However, if the client warned the staff about Snickers’ condition, and the staff ignored the warning, or failed to check on Snickers for a considerable amount of time, the boarding establishment just might be on the hook for the bills.

In case you’re wondering, Section 3.2-6500 defines both “boarding establishment” and “groomer.”  A “boarding establishment” is “a place or establishment other than a pound or animal shelter where companion animals not owned by the proprietor are sheltered, fed, and watered in exchange for a fee.”  This definition is arguably broad enough to cover not only kennels, but also doggie daycares and boarding and training facilities.  A “groomer” is “any person who, for a fee, cleans, trims, brushes, makes neat, manicures, or treats for external parasites any animal”  – also a pretty broad definition.

If you board or groom animals, establish an intake procedure that requires the potential client and companion animal to come in person before you agree to board or groom the animal.  Use written forms asking potential clients whether their animals suffer from health issues, separation anxiety, dog-dog aggression, dog-people aggression, and other behavior problems.  And before you finish drafting those forms, make sure you check the next post.  You may not realize it, but Virginia requires boarding establishments to give very specific written warnings to their boarding clients about veterinary costs.

These responsibilities are nothing to take lightly.  If an owner fails to give a companion animal adequate care, the owner is subject to a Class 4 Misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $250 (for a first offense).  But if a boarding establishment or groomer violates Section 3.2-6518, they subject themselves to seizure of the animals and a Class 1 Misdemeanor, which carries up to twelve months in jail and/or a $2500 fine.

* All characters in this post are purely fictional, and any resemblance to real individuals is purely coincidental.  Nor do I wish to pick on Labradoodles or dogs named Snickers!


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Sharing Ideas: Further Reflection On Standards For Agricultural Animals

I started this blog with the hope that people could come together to share ideas about various legal issues impacting animals, and that we could all learn from each other’s input.  I am thrilled to see this start to happen.  The one post has generated the most comments, and got me thinking the most in response, is about Virginia’s proposed standards for agricultural animals.

The proposed standards are basic, to say the least.  Water to prevent dehydration.  Food to prevent starvation.  And very basic veterinary care.  With a maximum penalty of $250.

My initial feelings were, “Well, at least it’s a start.”  After all, the General Assembly has been tweaking the comparable statute for companion animals, recently making certain subsequent offenses jailable.

Many of the comments demonstrate that people are, understandably, vehemently opposed to these proposed standards.  If you want your opposition to be heard, you should act now.  The House’s version of this bill, HB 1541, is slated for a Subcommittee Meeting on Monday, January 24.  The Senate’s version, SB 1026, has been referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.

So what specific suggestions can you make to your legislators?  Here are some options:

  1. Oppose the bill, and urge the General Assembly to take another year to think about the standards.  This is not such a bad idea, and in the meantime, animal control officers still have tools like the animal cruelty statue at their disposal.
  2. Oppose the bill, and urge the General Assembly to adopt the same standards for agricultural animals as exists for companion animals, at least as to adequate water, food and veterinary care.  This is an excellent idea in theory, but I fear will never make it past the farming industry lobby.
  3. Oppose the bill, urge the General Assembly to take another year to think about standards for agricultural animals, but in the meantime, change the law to categorize horses with companion animals instead of agricultural animals.  This would extend the standards for companion animals at least to horses, and would go a long way, considering the number of recent abuse cases involving horses.
  4. Support the bill, and hope for the best that the General Assembly will use the standards as a springing board for tougher laws in the future.  This is sounding less and less like an option to me.

On a positive note, it is not all doom and gloom this legislative session.  In fact, the General Assembly has proposed some great legislation.  HB 1716 would allow judges to prohibit harm to companion animals in protective orders.  HB 1930 would establish a statewide animal abuser registry, much like the first public registry started in Suffolk County, New York last yearHB 2195 would require veterinarians to keep records of devocalization procedures, and would make it a felony to perform devocalization procedures on cats or dogs unless performed to treat illness, disease, injury, or a congenital abnormality causing the animal pain or injury.  And SB 842 would allow judges to appoint new humane investigators.

Feel free to reach out to your legislators to let them know how you feel about the agricultural animal standards – and don’t forget to mention your support for these other bills.  If you need to find out who represents you in the General Assembly, go to the Who’s My Legislator? page on the General Assembly’s Legislative Information System site and type in your address and find your state delegate and senator.

UPDATE (5/21/11):  Take a look at this post for some comfort in how Virginia officials see this statute as a preventative measure that will not affect the cruelty statute.


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Calling for Comments to the Model Veterinary Practice Act

The American Veterinary Medical Association is currently calling for comments to its Model Veterinary Practice Act.  The AVMA is accepting comments from January 15 through February 14, 2011 and has made it incredibly easy to comment right from its website

If you are curious about what provisions of the Model Act that Virginia has adopted, take a look at the Virginia Code Sections governing the practice of veterinary medicine.  For more information on other states, go to the AVMA state legislative resource page.


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Hot Off The Press! Play, Pet Trusts and Proactive Advice

Don’t miss the brand new edition of NOVADog Magazine!  There is a ton of great information, and you can read the magazine cover to cover right on line!

The cover features the handsome Golden Retriever Hunter, loved by Tammy Rosen of Fur-Get Me Not.  Inside is a wonderful article by Vivian Leven Shoemaker, Fur-Get Me Not’s Training Director and owner of Positive Dog, (starting on page 14) on interactive toys and playing with your dog.

The Expert Advice column by Lisa Colon Tudor of KissAble Canine (found on page 10) talks about humping behavior and how to stop it — a very hot topic for Boomer right now!

And my colleague Jennifer Lee and I contributed an article about how to include pets in your estate plans (starting on page 19).  My favorite part of the article?  The story of a caregiver of three lucky rescues in Maryland who continues the deceased owner’s weekly ritual of making a Friday night spaghetti dinner for the dogs. 

There’s much, much more in this edition, so please check it out!