Virginia Delegate Robert D. Orrock, Sr. (R-District 54) has introduced HB 1541, a bill that will lay out minimum standards of care for agricultural animals.
Currently, Virginia has minimum standards of care for companion animals, but lacks the equivalent for agricultural animals. This has seriously hindered law enforcement officers, who often feel the need to wait until conditions for agricultural animals reach life-threatening levels that can support animal cruelty charges. A perfect example of this is found in Sullivan v. Commonwealth, dealing with an extreme lack of care for a horse.
The heart of HB 1541 is the addition of Code Section 3.2-6503.1, setting out the standard of care for agricultural animals:
§ 3.2-6503.1. Care of agricultural animals by owner; penalty.
A. Each owner shall provide for each of his agricultural animals:
1. Feed to prevent emaciation;
2. Water to prevent dehydration; and
3. Veterinary treatment as needed to prevent impairment of health or bodily function when such impairment cannot be otherwise addressed through animal husbandry or humane destruction.
B. The provisions of this section shall not require an owner to provide feed or water (i) when such is customarily withheld, restricted, or apportioned pursuant to a farming activity; (ii) if otherwise prescribed by a veterinarian; or (iii) if the owner is unable to do so due to an act of God.
C. The provisions of this section shall not apply to agricultural animals used for bona fide medical or scientific experimentation.
D. A violation of this section is a Class 4 misdemeanor.
I would have liked to have seen more aggressive standards of care, and harsher penalties. A Class 4 misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of only $250. But this is a much-needed start. And it will hopefully serve as a launching pad for stricter laws in the future.
So what is an “agricultural animal”? Virginia Code Section 3.2-6500 defines “agricultural animals” to include “all livestock and poultry.” “Livestock” includes “all domestic or domesticated: bovine animals; equine animals; ovine animals; porcine animals; cervidae animals; capridae animals; animals of the genus Lama; ratites; fish or shellfish in aquaculture facilities…; enclosed domesticated rabbits or hares raised for human food or fiber; or any other individual animal specifically raised for food or fiber, except companion animals.” “Poultry” includes “all domestic fowl and game birds raised in captivity.”
For comparisons of the definitions of “agricultural animal” and “companion animal,” and the competing minimum standards of care, take a look at Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503 and my previous post, So What Are My Responsibilities As a Pet Owner?
I have heard through the grapevine that HB 1541 has very wide support, and I certainly hope this is the case. If the General Assembly passes HB 1541, law enforcement will have a new tool to aid agricultural animals before conditions reach critical levels.
UPDATED: After many thoughtful comments and more thinking particularly of the relationship between this bill and the current animal cruelty statute, please refer to my later post for my current thoughts on this bill.