Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

Alexandria Animals Score Big Today!


This morning, the City Council in Alexandria, Virginia faced a final vote on two crucial companion animal laws.

The first vote was politically very easy and straightforward — after all, who could possibly disagree that there should be a specific cruelty law to address leaving an animal in a car on a hot day?  The new City Code Section 5-7-58 will punish leaving an animal in a car that is not air-conditioned if the outside temperature is 70 degrees or hotter with a fine, and makes it a jailable offense to leave an animal in a car if the animal suffers heat stress.  The vote took no time, passing 6-0.  There was no debate against the law, and plenty of well-deserved kudos to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria and its hard-working animal control officers for taking the initiative on this issue.

The political temperature on the next vote was unknown — whether City Council would pass a law that would say definitively that electronic collars don’t cut it under Alexandria’s leash laws.  (Sound familiar?  Who’s said that before…?)  Plenty of speakers came out in support of proposed amendment to the leash law, and no one spoke against it.

After the testimony, Vice Mayor Kerry Donley started the discussion with the comment that this law — like the previous one — was a “no brainer.”  Donley’s first question to the staff was about the penalty for violating the leash ordinance, which is currently a $100 civil fine.  He then asked if that was the most the City could do under state law, and invited the staff to make a recommendation at a later date to stiffen the penalty.  And a discussion of possible harsher penalties for recidivists followed.  Nicely done, Mr. Vice Mayor!

Councilmember Del Pepper praised the ordinance for giving clear guidance to animal control officers and one more welcome tool for the officers.  Councilmember Rob Kupricka commented that electronic collars pose safety issues for the public and not just the animals, and he hoped the new law would aid the officers in confronting off leash dogs.

A crucial question raised by Pepper was how to get the word out to the citizens of Alexandria that electronic collars would no longer suffice as a “leash.”  Joy Wilson, the Director of Animal Control, responded that she plans to focus on educating the public about why the law changed.  Councilmember Frank Fannon had an excellent suggestion about reaching out through Alexandria’s robust pet care industry to spread the news.

After discussion, the City Council voted — once again, unanimously — in support of the change.  With that vote, the City of Alexandria has made it clear that electronic collars pose a sufficient safety threat to the dogs and the public that they will no longer count as “leashes” or “physical restraint” under the leash laws.

Major kudos to Alexandria’s Animal Control Officers and the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria!  As a resident of Alexandria since 1997, I can’t be more proud!  Thanks for all you do and congratulations on this huge victory for the animals!

Author: Heidi Meinzer

Attorney and Animal Lover, not necessarily in that order

12 thoughts on “Alexandria Animals Score Big Today!

  1. I am thrilled to see lawmakers address this safety and welfare issue so directly. Well done!

  2. If I remember correctly: after Wales banned shock collars, the shock collar industry challenged the law, but thankfully it was upheld. Do you think laws like these will encourage local, large retailers to stop carrying e-collars in stores and online?

    And now we need to get rid of Electronic Fences!

  3. Great news! Hopefully before long ‘ecollars’ will be nothing but a bad memory.

    • This law only clarifies that a shock collar can’t qualify as a leash. Probably the movement to get rid of them all together needs to come from Virginia’s General Assembly instead of jurisdiction by jurisdiction, but one step at a time! This was great considering that a jurisdiction in a more rural part of Virginia recently did the opposite and clarified that an electronic collar does qualify for a leash.

  4. What a sad day for Alexandria’s well trained dogs. the lack of education and understanding of all dog training tools that is coming out of Alexandria saddens me and makes me happy that I don’t live in that part of Virginia.

    Although I am all for the dogs in the car ruling, good call!

    I wonder when people will choose education and knowledge over myth and stories. Remote collars do not ” pose a sufficient safety threat to the dogs and the public” What a load of B.S. Remote collars have trained and will continue to train thousands of dogs every year to be well mannered, good citizens.

    I understand the desire for leash laws but if one is going to not allow electronic collars and say they are going to “educate” the public about why a law has changed, perhaps they should take the time to educate themselves about the benefits of a remote collar and what a professional trainer that specializes in Electronic collars can teach you and your dog about how to work as a team both on and off leash.

    Banning tools and methods isn’t the way to run a community. Education and follow through is. Far more injuries to dogs and owners are coming from retractable/flexi leads then remote collars. Are you going to ban those next?

    • I can’t say that dogs don’t learn with shock collars — if the handler knows how to use the shock collar properly and fully understands positive punishment, which can be a big if. Any animal — people included — can learn how to avoid discomfort or pain. I can also say that dogs learn with positive reinforcement methods that are much easier for the everyday handler to implement, much more humane for the dog, and a better way to build a bond between dog and human. I agree that flexi leads are nightmares, but the ordinance doesn’t address them — yet. At least they are physical and visible, unlike the shock collars.

  5. Pingback: Get A Grip! Does An Electronic Collar Count As A Leash Under The Leash Laws? Should It? « Companion Animal Law Blog

  6. This was indeed a no brainer and Mayor Donley has my condolences.

    The issue here is that (except for whether you can be jailed or not) the law says nothing about the animals’ welfare. They don’t have to be injured, suffering, even showing signs of distress. This is animal cruelty that can be proven with nothing but a thermometer. Do you carry a thermometer with you? If you take your case to court, will the court believe your statement
    about your thermometer or that of the ACO or humane investigator?

    Nor is there a time limit — thirty seconds or even five would be a violation. So exactly how do you take a dog with you in your car for the nine months of the year when outside temps above 70 are possible and you want to travel beyond the range permitted by your bladder?

    There are dog shows, hunting with dogs, and just plain traveling with your dog because it’s fun for all 12 months of the year. Is it the consensus of Alexandria residents that nobody should do these things?

    Of course this law won’t be needlessly enforced by most ACOs — “It’s just a tool.” (A phrase that should make every citizen cringe — but that’s another post.) Do you know which ACO is on today in the areas through which you’ll be traveling? Or whether she’s in a good mood today? Does your car look like you might be a breeder? A dog rescuer?

    This is not a citation, folks, it’s animal cruelty — a class 1 misdemeanor after which you can never again sell a dog and the court may bar you from ever owning one. We already had laws against injuring a dog or even causing one unnecessary distress and those laws have generally been enforced unless you are the CEO of the Richmond SPCA.

    The animals lost on November 12th and animal owners lost even bigger.

    • Thanks for your comments, Walt. The new ordinance makes the offense jailable only if the animal suffers heat stress. Otherwise, temperatures above 70 degrees will be punished with a fine only. The law still allows animals in the car above 70 if the car is climate controlled. A time limit simply would not be possible. On typical Alexandria summer days, a car can heat up in seconds. You can make a pit stop, provided you keep the A/C on. Travel with an extra set of keys so that you can still lock the car. This is precisely how K9 cars are set up. The news has been full of far too many instances of animals suffering in hot cars, and it is time public awareness grows and this cycle stops.

      • I’d be happy to leave the air on in my car…..but unfortunately I can’t lock it while it’s running. It’s a “safety” measure on my car. So what am I supposed to do in that situation?? If I’m alone with my dog in my car I can’t stop and go to the bathroom?? Or should I just leave my car unlocked so someone can come along and steal it? And what is a “K9 car”? I just have a plain old van.

        This is just one more law making it more difficult to own and care for pets.

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