Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals


The Amazing Things that Dogs (and Kids) Can Do

I have just started reading the wonderful book, Dog Sense, by John Bradshaw, in which Bradshaw discusses (among many other topics) how science can help redefine dogs’ roles in our lives. We may not need our dogs to help us hunt and herd livestock in our daily lives these days. But as we learn more about their incredible capabilities, dogs are taking on ever more specialized tasks. Three wonderful examples came to the forefront as I watched the news and my Facebook account this past week.

We’ve all heard of drug-sniffing and bomb-sniffing dogs – but a sperm-sniffing dog? Apparently, a Swiss K-9 named Rapports Opus is specially trained to detect sperm. Rapports Opus recently caught the scent of sperm at a crime scene in a Swiss park where a woman claimed a man had forced her to perform oral sex on him. Officers sent the evidence for testing, and the DNA in the sample matched that of the 23-year-old suspect. The suspect has been apprehended, and is currently facing trial on rape charges. That is one impressive dog!  Thanks very much to Nan Arthur of Whole Dog Training and Christy Hill of Coaching Creative Canines for posting this story.

Speaking of K-9s, a local K-9 unit recently lost a hero. Lightcap, a bomb sniffing K-9 with the Fairfax County Police Department, served from 2006 to 2011. Not even cancer kept this dedicated K-9 down, with Lightcap continuing his service during his final year even while battling the disease. Lightcap not only sniffed bombs, but also performed work such as finding shell casings at the scene of shootings. Lightcap passed on July 14 of this year. May this hero rest in peace. Special thanks to Lesley Sullivan of The Pawkeepers for bringing this story to my attention.

Of course, law enforcement is not the only area where dogs use their specially honed detection skills. Service dogs are becoming more and more prevalent, including service dogs who can detect seizures. Evan Moss, a seven-year-old boy here in Northern Virginia, suffers from epilepsy, which is causing severe and debilitating seizures. Evan recently heard about seizure detection dogs. He and his parents realize that a seizure detection dog would be life-altering for Evan, and contacted 4 Paws for Ability. The only problem is the price tag — $13,000. So what did Evan do? He wrote a book called “My Seizure Dog,” in which he describes all the wonderful things he will be able to do with the aid of his special service dog. Evan’s book is $10, and you can purchase it online at or Amazon. You can also make a donation Evan’s fund with 4 Paws for Ability. Evan also has a website, Dog 4 Evan.  If you would like to meet Evan in person, he is having a book signing today from 1:00 to 3:00 at the Grounded Coffee Shop at 6919 Telegraph Road in Fairfax County, Virginia. What a special child! Best of luck to you, Evan! Thanks to the Washington Post for highlighting Evan’s story in this weekend’s Metro section.

UPDATE (7/25/11):  Congratulations, Evan!  The Washington Post reports that 600 people went to his booksigning at Grounded Coffee, 400 books sold (that’s $4000 right there!).  And donations are still pouring in.  The donation link to Evan’s website,, shows he has over $7,000 raised now!  Looks like Evan will have his seizure alert dog, and hopefully very soon!

UPDATE (7/27/11):  Evan will be getting his service dog!  He reached his goal of $13,000 — and the donations are still rolling in!  Plus, Evan’s book is #1 on Amazon for bestsellers in Children’s health books! Congratulations, Evan!

UPDATE (8/2/11):  Evan has raised over $20,000!  Not only will he get his dog, the extra funds will go to two other deserving children who need service dogs!  Check out today’s Washington Post update for more info on this fantastic story.


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.


Wonderful Week for the Animals, Part Three: Busted! Again! Dog Fighting Operation Shut Down in Gary, Indiana

What a great week last week was for the animals! The first post in this series covered Tuesday’s landmark indictment, with felony animal cruelty charges against four lab employees for heinous acts against lab animals. The second post described Thursday’s proposed comprehensive federal legislation to better the conditions of egg-laying hens and mandate honest egg labeling, thanks to tenacious efforts of agricultural animal welfare advocates.

Part Three involves yet another dog fighting bust last Thursday, July 7, 2011 – this time in Gary, Indiana.  In April of this year, law enforcement broke up a dog fighting ring in Halifax County, Virginia.

Law enforcement received an anonymous tip about an alleged dog fighting ring, and obtained a search warrant. A local news report said that the tip came from a person who had been to dog fights there, but started to feel guilty after working with pit bulls with Animal Control, and decided to turn the culprits in.

The search revealed a fighting area and dog fighting paraphernalia, including “breaking sticks” to pry the dogs’ jaws open and a treadmill to condition the dogs. Officers also found twenty kenneled dogs, including young puppies. The dogs had injuries consistent with dog fighting. Reports indicated that one dog was missing a large part of his lip, and another dog was missing an entire ear.

The raid let to arrests for four men – Brandon Peterson, Sammy Jones, Clifton Harris and Willie Hargrove. The four have been charged with felony dog fighting. In Indiana, that crime carries up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Representatives from the Humane Society of the United States were on hand to take the dogs to a safe and undisclosed place pending trial. The dogs will be evaluated, with the hopes of rehabilitating them.

As noted by HSUS and the Gary, Indiana Community website, the effort was made possible by collaboration with local law enforcement, HSUS, and several other local organizations, including Casa Del Toro Pit Bull Rescue, the Monroe County Humane Association, Honey Creek Animal Hospital, the Indiana Gaming Commission’s Gaming Control Division and Heartland Animal Rescue.

Law enforcement took the time to swab the breaking sticks and other evidence for blood, in order to link the paraphernalia to the dogs. But the blood can also be submitted to the country’s first dog fighting DNA database, Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). The University of California, Davis, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory maintains the Canine CODIS, and reports that it was established by the ASPCA, the Humane Society of Missouri and the Louisiana SPCA.

This case is yet another example of great collaboration on a local and national level to achieve great results – not the least of which is the safety and comfort of the 20 dogs, who no longer need to fight, or live in fear of losing a fight or acting as bait.

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Wonderful Week for the Animals, Part Two: Better Days Ahead for The Chicken and The Egg

The first post in this series dealt with a landmark victory confronting an area that has historically been filled with some of the cruelest suffering – laboratory animals.

On Thursday, July 7, 2011, there was yet another victory in yet another area of notoriously inhumane abuse and cruelty – the poultry industry.

Animal welfare organizations such as the Farm Sanctuary, Compassion Over Killing, the ASPCA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have been fighting for years to protect farm animals. The most famous of these battles was the successful ballot initiative, Proposition 2, in 2008 in California.

These organizations have vowed to go state-by-state with similar ballot initiatives in an effort to better the conditions of agricultural animals. Currently, ballot initiatives are on the table in Washington and Oregon.

But last Thursday, this dogged state-by-state approach brought the agricultural industry to its knees, with overarching and national results. HSUS announced a landmark truce between these activists and the United Egg Producers (UEP), the largest egg industry group in the nation, which represents owners of about 80% of the nation’s egg laying hens, according to the ASPCA. This truce will ensure better conditions for hens and more reliable egg labeling for consumers.

According to HSUS, HSUS and UEP have vowed to enact legislation that will require:

  • phased in construction of hen housing systems that will give each hen almost twice as much space as is currently provided
  • environmental enrichments such as perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas in hens’ housing systems
  • egg carton labeling such as “eggs from caged hens” and “eggs from cage-free hens”

and prohibit:

  • new construction of unenrichable battery cages by the end of 2011, and a phase out of barren battery cages
  • forced molting by starvation in order to manipulate the hens to lay eggs sooner
  • excessive ammonia levels in the hens’ housing systems
  • sale of eggs and egg products that don’t meet these standards

Major kudos to the hard-working animal welfare advocates at all of these organizations! This is a great example of how a well-run, successful state-by-state approach with specific goals can result in a federal legislative effort that will increase the welfare of hens nationwide.  And I love the fact that the Farm Sanctuary sees this as a major step — but not the final step — vowing to continue the fight for completely cage-free hens.

As this effort reaches Congress, make sure to encourage your Senators and Representatives to support this upcoming legislation.


Wonderful Week for the Animals, Part One: Undercover Investigation of North Carolina Laboratory Leads to First Time Felony Cruelty Charges

This past week has been a landmark week for the animals in many ways, worthy of three back-to-back blog posts!

On Tuesday, July 5, 2011, a North Carolina jury indicted four lab workers for felony animal cruelty charges. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) conducted an undercover investigation of Professional Laboratory Research Services (PLRS), a company that conducts research for pet products like flea and tick medication. PETA’s blog reports that lab employees Mary Ramsey, Jessica Detty, Christine Clement and Tracy Small were

among those caught on video kicking, throwing and dragging dogs; hoisting rabbits by their ears and puppies by their throats; violently slamming cats into cages; and screaming obscenities at terrified animals. One of those named is the worker seen on video trying to rip out a cat’s claws by violently pulling the animal from the fence onto which he or she clung in fear.

PETA reports that the investigation led to citations by USDA for Animal Welfare Act violations, closure of the lab, surrender of almost 200 dogs and 50 cats, and 14 felony cruelty charges counts against the four PLRS employees.

Prosecution of laboratories and their employees is rare. One reason is that animal cruelty statutes tend to have exceptions for laboratory animals. Virginia’s animal cruelty statute, Code Section 3.2-6570, exempts “bona fide scientific or medical experimentation.” North Carolina’s animal cruelty statute, Section 14-360, makes intentional animal cruelty a misdemeanor, and malicious animal cruelty a felony, but has an exception for “lawful activities conducted for purposes of biomedical research or training” and “activities conducted for lawful veterinary purposes.”

Another reason that cruelty prosecution involving laboratory animals is so rare is that states often defer to federal authorities. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which establishes basic standards of care and regulations for laboratory animals. But enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act is hardly common or consistent.

This time, PETA reported its findings to USDA, which took the situation seriously and worked together with state officials to bring the PLRS employees to justice — with felony animal cruelty charges.

PETA has been harshly criticized all too often for their own antics. But this time, PETA focused their efforts properly, with a fantastic result – and captured national attention, including with the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Kudos to all involved for seeing the PLRS employees’ acts for what they were – malicious cruelty that should never be justified as “lawful activities” in the name of research.


Shifting Winds on the Puppy Mill Problem

Over-population of companion animals is a huge problem, and puppy mills are the big bad boys contributing to this over-population dilemma. Puppy mills are not an issue due to just sheer numbers. Puppy mills’ focus on profit rather than health and welfare of the animals lead to abuse and neglect, unethical breeding practices, poor socialization, disease and health, behavior and genetic problems.

It’s difficult to say which way the political wind is blowing when it comes to puppy mills and commercial breeders. Over the last several years, many states have made major progress in passing puppy mill statutes – including in the puppy mill capital, Missouri, which passed Proposition B in 2010. Virginia passed its puppy mill law in 2008. Just last month, Texas became the next state to pass a puppy mill law.

Puppy mill statutes are designed to identify large scale breeders and impose reporting requirements, minimum standards of care, and other requirements. While it’s great news that more and more states are passing puppy mill laws, these laws tend to be fairly weak. For instance, Virginia’s puppy mill law doesn’t even kick in unless the breeder has 30 or more adult breeding females. And Virginia allows commercial dog breeders to have up to 50 breeding dogs at a time, or more if allowed by local ordinance and after a public hearing.

To make matters worse, states are backsliding on their puppy mill laws. Missouri has already started “tweaking” (i.e., decimating) Proposition B. The proposed changes would take away crucial parts of Proposition B, including:

  • the requirement to have a veterinarian visit and examine each dog at least one time a year;
  • explicit requirements to have continuous water and outdoor access;
  • prohibitions against stacked cages; and
  • limits on the number of intact dogs and breeding cycles

Just when things start looking miserable, other jurisdictions have come along to attack puppy mills on the demand side. South Lake Tahoe and West Hollywood in California and Lake Worth in Florida have outlawed the sale of dogs and cats in pet shops. San Francisco has long been planning to do the same. Not to be outdone, San Francisco proposed outlawing pet shops from selling not just cats and dogs, but all mammals and birds. But wait, the new version of San Francisco’s bill goes even further – to ban the sale of any kind of pet – mammal, bird, reptile, fish, you name it.

To really strike a blow against puppy mills and over-population, states and localities need to attack aggressively from the supply side and the demand side. I applaud San Francisco’s efforts. In a time when some seem to be weakening their laws designed to combat puppy mills from the supply side, it is refreshing to see San Francisco be so aggressive on the demand side. One way to make San Francisco’s proposed bill even better would be to include the internet in the definition of a “pet shop,” in order to eliminate the practice of online puppy scams.