We’ve all seen storefronts with adorable puppies and kittens staring at us and waiting to be taken home. It’s hard to resist those big round eyes looking up at you — unless you stop to think about where these animals have probably come from.
The animals sold in pet stores most likely come from puppy mills — places where profit trumps the welfare of the animals. Taking home one of these puppies or kittens will only fuel the ongoing misery that the parents live in. Here’s a graphic example of an investigation into the true source of the animals sold in Petland, a large retail outlet for live animals:
In an effort to stop supporting puppy bans, local jurisdictions have begun passing laws to ban the sale of live animals in pet stores. Just yesterday, Toronto became the second city in Canada, after Richmond, British Columbia, to pass such a ban. In the United States, at least three cities have passed pet store bans — South Lake Tahoe, West Hollywood and Lake Worth in Florida.
I am an adamant supporter of these bans. But it is not a stand alone solution. These bans must be coupled with public education about the rationale for the bans — that buying an animal from a store profits puppy mills. And as I’ve harped on before, we need to tackle the overpopulation issue from all angles — supply side and demand side — with well crafted spay/neuter laws and breeding regulations, and stronger animal abuser and puppy mill laws.
Although officials may understand your position in relying on the written statements, the law does provide for a civil penalty of up to $250 for noncompliance. This goes for the staff member’s animal cruelty conviction and the director’s neglect conviction, because the law makes it clear that it is your duty to update the statements if anything changes. The law imposes the same duty to obtain these statements for Virginia poundsand shelters.
The animal abuser bill would require adults convicted of felony animal cruelty or animal fighting to register in person with the sheriff of the county or city where they live, and to re-register annually. The sheriff would have to notify every residence and business within a ½ mile radius of the abuser’s residence within ten days of the initial registration. The abuser’s information would also be kept in a central registry with the State Police, and posted publicly on the State Police website.
As a former public defender who struggled with the implications of sex offender registration on my clients, I have to give some credence to people like Wayne Pacelle of HSUS who have reservations about registries such as these. But I do think that well crafted registries can serve a function. This is particularly so with animal abuse registries, when jurisdictions like Virginia impose duties on rescues, pounds and shelters to report and update personnel information. Registries would also help to track puppy mills, dog fighting rings and animal hoarders.
An American flag flies over Ground Zero today. People in New York and all over the world observe a moment of silence at the exact times that the planes struck each of the Towers, the Pentagon, and the ground in Pennsylvania. The flag reminds us to never forget those who perished on what may be the darkest day of our history.
All was not dark that day. Incredible acts of heroism took place ten years ago — not the least of which were the passengers on the plane in Pennsylvania who sacrificed their lives so that another attack would not occur in Washington, DC.
There were plenty of canine heroes working beside the human heroes that day. The Daily Mail Online has a beautiful tribute to the few surviving search and rescue dogs from 9/11, with photos of the dogs then and now. Ten years ago, these dogs were adolescent search and rescue dogs who worked around the clock with their handlers to search for survivors among the rubble at Ground Zero. Today, these dogs are beautiful mature seniors who are still faithful companions.
And speaking of the most faithful companion of all, the Scoop has the tale of Omar Rivera, a blind computer technician who was on the 71st floor of one of the towers ten years ago. Knowing he would not make it to the bottom in time, Rivera selflessly unleashed his service dog, Dorado, to at least give Dorado the chance to escape and survive. The pressing crowd came between Dorado and Rivera, but Dorado fought his way back to his handler, and actually led him to safety down 71 flights of steps before the tower collapsed.
May we all stay safe today and every day. And may we always remember those who we lost ten years ago, and those — human and canine — whose acts of bravery will always shine through the darkness of that day.
If you have time tomorrow (Sunday, September 11, 2011), please come join me for a presentation on Dog Ownership and the Law from 1:00 to 3:00 at Fur-Get Me Not’s Dog Training School at 4120 South Four Mile Run Drive in Arlington, Virginia.
If you think of it, please register online beforehand on Fur-Get Me Not’s website, in order to give us a sense of how many people are coming. But if you didn’t pre-register, no worries! Feel free to drop by anyway.
Attendance is free, but we are suggesting a $15 donation. All proceeds go straight to Fur-Get Me Not’s rescue partners, including Homeward Trails Animal Rescue!
My last post talked about Indiana’s failed attempt to use tax evasion laws against owners of a puppy mill. One of the greatest weaknesses with the Indiana officials’ plan was that they sold the 240 seized dogs to the Humane Society of the United States for a mere $300. In a sting operation, Department of State Revenue officials had purchased two dogs from the puppy mill at $225 a piece, and the Department estimated the value of each dog at $300 when calculating what the owners owed in taxes, penalties and interest. Based on the tax court’s ruling, I doubt that a more realistic price tag would have helped the officials’ case, but at least it would have helped negate the argument that the Department wasn’t really looking for tax revenue to fill its coffers.
On a much more optimistic note, a federal jury recently awarded $330,000 in damages to Thomas Russell’s family, whose nine-year-old black lab named Lady was killed by police officers executing a search warrant. Two officers entered his house to search based on a search warrant in a drug investigation. Russell offered to lock Lady in a room, but the police refused. They entered the house with guns drawn and shot Lady as she rounded the corner wagging her tail. The police claimed they shot Lady in self-defense. The police found no drugs or other evidence during the search. The family sued the officers and the City of Chicago, alleging excessive force, false arrest, and infliction of emotional distress. On top of the $330,000 in damages, the jury awarded $2,000 in punitive damages against the officer who shot Lady and $1,000 in punitive damages against that officer’s supervisor.
As I’ve mentioned before, Virginia does not allow emotional distress damages for injury or harm to pets in negligence cases. But the word is still out on whether a Virginia plaintiff could recover damages for emotional distress to companion animals injured or killed by willful, intentional or outrageous torts. With the Russell case, Illinois joins the list of states – which include Florida, Idaho, Kentucky and Louisiana – that will allow damages in those situations. With each state that rules in favor of plaintiffs in these cases, Virginia and other states may just be getting that much closer to valuing companion animals beyond their mere “replacement value.”
Virginia and Kristin Garwood operated Breezy Valley Dairy Farm in Mauckport, Indiana, a family farm that had been in the Garwood family for thirty years. In 2007, the rising price of grain and falling price of milk put the farm in financial jeopardy. Virginia decided to supplement the family’s income by selling dogs. She started the dog breeding business by buying a pregnant Cocker Spaniel and selling her four puppies for a total of $400. She also sold two of her own Australian Shepherd’s puppies for $150. That same year, Virginia bought 34 more breeding dogs, but could not breed all of them immediately due to health issues.
In 2008, Virginia purchased even more breeding stock, and sold 52 dogs for a total of $4,144. Animal control received a complaint about the treatment and sale of one of Garwood’s dogs. When animal control officials investigated the Garwoods in October 2008, Virginia was uncooperative.
In late 2008 and early 2009, a friend of the Garwoods shut down his dog breeding business and gave the Garwoods dogs that were either “undesirable breeds” or incredibly unkempt. Virginia treated, groomed and sold the dogs, and gave most of the proceeds to her friend. Two more complaints trickled to animal control, and animal control reported the Garwoods as a possible puppy mill to the Office of the Attorney General (AG).
At the time, Indiana did not have a puppy mill statute and Indiana law did not define the term “puppy mill.” There were no laws that criminalized actions like the Garwood’s breeding and dog selling practices. Taking a page about Al Capone from the history books, the authorities looked to tax evasion laws as a way to go against the Garwoods.
In early 2009, the AG and the Indiana Department of State Revenue began investigating the Garwoods for state income and sales tax evasion. The authorities even went so far as to set up an undercover “sting operation” to buy two puppies from the Garwoods for $550. The Garwoods gave no receipts, but claimed orally that sales tax was included in the price.
The authorities now had what they needed to move in on the Garwoods. On May 29, 2008, the Department of State Revenue issued “jeopardy assessment” notices, demands, vouchers and warrants against the Garwoods. The officials concluded that Virginia and Kristin each owed over $142,000 in taxes, penalties and interest.
In the early morning hours of June 2, 2008, the authorities served the Garwoods with the jeopardy assessment documents, and demanded immediate payment in full of all tax, penalties and interest. Not surprisingly, the Garwoods were unable to pay in full.
The tax court began its analysis by pointing out that the state’s power to pursue a “jeopardy assessment” is very limited, and warranted in only four situations – when the taxpayer is about to: (1) quickly leave the state; (2) remove property from the state; (3) conceal property in the state; or (4) do any other act that would jeopardize collection of taxes.
The Indiana tax officials were not arguing the first two points – that the Garwoods were trying to leave the state or take property out of the state. Rather, they relied on the last two prongs – concealing property in the state and actions jeopardizing tax collection – to justify the jeopardy assessments.
Arguing that the Garwoods were concealing property, the officials pointed to Virginia’s refusal to cooperate with animal control officers, and the fact that the dogs could easily be sold in bulk or set free. The tax court dismissed these arguments out of hand, calling them “specious non sequiturs” (ouch!).
The officials relied heavily on the fourth prong to justify the jeopardy assessments. In deciding what kinds of actions could constitute “any other act that would jeopardize collection of taxes,” the officials consulted IRS publications and guidelines. The officials then pointed to several facts to justify seizing the dogs – the Garwoods advertised the dogs in local newspapers, bred and sold the dogs, failed to register as a retail merchant, failed to prepare and file sales tax returns, and failed to report the income on their tax returns.
Once again, the tax court ignored these arguments. In a dismissive footnote, the tax court gave no weight whatsoever to the IRS guidelines. The tax court concluded that these facts merely showed the Garwoods were not paying taxes, but not that they were jeopardizing collection efforts.
At the end of the opinion, the tax court gratuitously scolded the authorities for the media hype surrounding the case. The court also pointed out a serious flaw with the case – the officials sold the 240 dogs to HSUS for a mere $300. In the tax court’s mind, this showed that the state wasn’t actually motivated by filling its coffers with tax revenues, but instead wanted to shut down a puppy mill. The huge gap between the $300 price tag and the $142,000 tax bill against Virginia and Kristin Garwood didn’t help matters.
This case shows the incredible need for strong laws aimed at puppy mills. Fortunately, Indiana passed a puppy mill statute in 2009 that requires commercial dog breeders to register with the state and keep basic records, and imposes minimal standards of care on the breeders. But Indiana’s puppy mill statute still may not address most critical issue posed by the Garwood case – the need to give authorities the power to seize dogs caught up in abusive or neglectful circumstances.