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