A citizen tip regarding drugs launched a complex investigation in and around Halifax County, Virginia. During the investigation, Jonathan Williams and Jermaine Thaxton sold a “fighting dog” to an undercover officer for $400. Before putting the dog in the undercover officer’s trunk, Williams and Thaxton showed off the dog by bringing another dog around and provoking a fight.
The investigation ended yesterday, with state and federal law enforcement officials successfully busting a dog fighting ring in Halifax County, Virginia. Four individuals — Williams and Thaxton, along with two others — have been charged in connection with the investigation. The four men face a variety of state and federal dog fighting, drug and gun charges.
With the help of ASPCA, the officers rescued a total of forty-one pit bulls and beagles from the property. The dogs are currently receiving veterinary care and will be temperament tested, with the aim of transferring the dogs to rescues for adoption. The ASPCA gathered DNA evidence for all of the dogs to include in the Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) — the first national dog fighting DNA database.
The Maryland General Assembly just finished its session this week, taking major steps forward with several animal rights bills.
HB 227/SB 115 authorizes a court to prohibit a defendant from owning, possessing or residing with an animal as a condition of probation for specific violations concerning animal abuse, neglect or cruelty. [By comparison, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570 allows a court to prohibit a person convicted of animal cruelty from owning or possessing a companion animal. Virginia Code Section 3.2-6571 requires a court to prohibit a person convicted of dog or cock fighting from owning or possessing companion animals or cocks. Unfortunately, Virginia’s version of neglect (lack of adequate care, found in Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503) does not authorize a court to prohibit possession of companion animals.]
SB 639/HB 339 establishes a task force for a statewide spay/neuter fund. The bill specifies the task force’s membership, chair and staff; requires the task force to review spay/neuter programs, collect and review data, and make recommendations for a spay/neuter fund; and requires the task force to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and specified committees in the General Assembly on or before January 1, 2012.
SB 839/HB 940 requires a kennel license for persons who own or have custody of fifteen or more female dogs kept for the purpose of breeding and who sell dogs from six or more litters a year; requires each county to collect and maintain specified information related to each kennel license; and requires each county to report specified information to the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation on or before January 15 of each year. [Virginia already has a similar statute for breeders found in Virginia Code Sections 3.2-6507.1 through 3.2-6507.6, but it only applies to breeders with thirty or more adult female dogs.]
HB 912 would have required retail pet stores to post specific information about each dog on each dog’s cage, maintain written records about each dog for one year after the date of sale of the dog. [Virginia has similar “pet shop” laws, including specific Consumer Protection Act violations, found in Virginia Code Sections 3.2-6512 to 3.2-6516.]
HB 294 would have prohibited infliction of unnecessary suffering or pain on an animal through the use of a rifle, a handgun, or a specified weapon. [To the contrary, the Virginia General Assembly focused much of its energy on pro-hunting legislation this session.]
HB 301 would have authorized the Department of Natural Resources to suspend hunting licenses or privileges of persons convicted of state or federal hunting violations, and would have required a minimum one-year suspension of hunting licenses or privileges for subsequent hunting violation convictions.
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:
with a propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack, to cause injury or to otherwise endanger the safety of” people or companion animals; or
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
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.
is a resident dog (kept primarily outdoors, used for guarding, protection, fighting or breeding, rather than a pet/family dog);
is intact; and
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
Make an identification tag for your dog, and keep all contact information on the tag current.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.