Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals


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Be Careful What You Ask For: The Dire Consequences of Backyard Chickens

iStock_000002590317XSmallArlington County has been considering allowing backyard hens for a while now. It is commendable to find a way to obtain eggs in a way that doesn’t support big farms and the egg industry. However, backyard chickens in an urban community have the potential for very drastic – even deadly – consequences.

Surprisingly, Arlington County’s current zoning ordinance does not prohibit chickens, but Section 12.7.1 of the zoning ordinance does require poultry to be kept in a building, structure or yard located at least 100 feet from a street or lot line. Considering Arlington’s urban nature and small lots, this set back requirement prohibits the vast majority of residents from having chickens.

Not surprisingly, the County Manager recently recommended against backyard hens at a County Board work session last November. The staff had too many questions about hen raising, including what to do with dead, dying and abandoned hens, the impact on the Animal Welfare League of Arlington and animal control officers, and health and pest concerns.

The County Manager raised one other specific concern that Virginia residents may not be aware of – Virginia Code Section 3.2-6552 and its requirement to immediately kill any dog caught in the act of killing or injuring livestock or poultry. Yes, you read right – “kill”, not euthanize.  Section 3.2-6552’s language and requirements are so extreme that it’s worth it to post the statute verbatim here:

§ 3.2-6552. Dogs killing, injuring or chasing livestock or poultry.

It shall be the duty of any animal control officer or other officer who may find a dog in the act of killing or injuring livestock or poultry to kill such dog forthwith whether such dog bears a tag or not. Any person finding a dog committing any of the depredations mentioned in this section shall have the right to kill such dog on sight as shall any owner of livestock or his agent finding a dog chasing livestock on land utilized by the livestock when the circumstances show that such chasing is harmful to the livestock. Any court shall have the power to order the animal control officer or other officer to kill any dog known to be a confirmed livestock or poultry killer, and any dog killing poultry for the third time shall be considered a confirmed poultry killer. The court, through its contempt powers, may compel the owner, custodian, or harborer of the dog to produce the dog.

Any animal control officer who has reason to believe that any dog is killing livestock or poultry shall be empowered to seize such dog solely for the purpose of examining such dog in order to determine whether it committed any of the depredations mentioned herein. Any animal control officer or other person who has reason to believe that any dog is killing livestock, or committing any of the depredations mentioned in this section, shall apply to a magistrate serving the locality wherein the dog may be, who shall issue a warrant requiring the owner or custodian, if known, to appear before a general district court at a time and place named therein, at which time evidence shall be heard. If it shall appear that the dog is a livestock killer, or has committed any of the depredations mentioned in this section, the district court shall order that the dog be: (i) killed immediately by the animal control officer or other officer designated by the court; or (ii) removed to another state that does not border on the Commonwealth and prohibited from returning to the Commonwealth. Any dog ordered removed from the Commonwealth that is later found in the Commonwealth shall be ordered by a court to be killed immediately.

It’s difficult to fathom how this statute plays out in any jurisdiction, let alone in an urban jurisdiction like Arlington.  But take this as one example.  A neighbor’s chicken gets out of your neighbor’s yard and wanders into your backyard.  Your dog chases and injures or kills the chicken.  An animal control officer drives by just at that time, and sees the dog with the chicken.  Your neighbor is quite understanding and admits it was his fault for not keeping his chicken in his yard, and the animal control officer certainly doesn’t want to get involved.

Under Section 3.2-6552, the animal control officer has no choice but to kill the dog immediately.  The option to seize the dog isn’t applicable, because the animal control officer was an eyewitness to the events and there would be no need to have a hearing about whether your dog was the guilty party.  The animal control officer in all likelihood would not be carrying a firearm.  And even if a person lawfully has a firearm in Arlington, it is against the law to discharge a firearm in the county.  That leaves incredibly undesirable options like snapping the dog’s neck or beating the dog to death – actions that constitute cruelty.

A bill pending in the General Assembly proposes softening – but not eliminating – the dire consequences of Section 3.2-6552.  HB740 would allow localities with a population density of at least 3400 persons per square mile to pass an ordinance to limit or eliminate the animal control officer’s duty to kill or seize a dog, and to limit or eliminate an individual’s rights to kill the dog.

For those Arlington County residents who want local fresh eggs, you can have your cake and eat it, too, by shopping at Arlington County’s many wonderful local farmers’ markets and avoiding these potential hazards.


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Update on Virginia’s 2012 Legislative Session

As well as this legislative session started, not much positive happened for animals this year.  Here’s a rundown of what the General Assembly did this year:

HB 95 (Bear Hound Training):  Even though bear hound training was already allowed during most times of the day, this bill extended the hours of training bear hounds to include 4:00 AM to 10:00 PM.  The Senate  stopped this bill in its tracks last year, but it sailed through the House and the Senate this year and was signed into law by the Governor.

HB 158 (Prohibiting Devocalization):  This is the second time Virginia missed an opportunity to put a stop to the inhumane practice of devocalization. This bill was pushed off until 2013 when it was continued by voice vote in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 363 (Companion Animals in Protective Orders):  This bill would have clarified that judges have the ability to include companion animals in protective orders, but it was left in the House Appropriations Committee.

HB 537/SB 305 (Dangerous Dog Registry):  This bill made its way up to the Governor and was signed into law.  It shifts more responsibility to local animal control officers to regulate dangerous dogs, and changed the time to comply with  registration from 10 days to 45 days.

HB 650 (Notice of Euthanasia for Companion Animals):  This bill would require shelters or pounds to give notice to rescues in the position to help out before euthanizing healthy, adoptable companion animals.  This is yet another example of a bill that got stuck in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 695/SB 202 (Prohibiting Fox and Coyote Penning):  This bill would have outlawed the cruel blood sport of fox and coyote penning.  I’m very disappointed to say that this bill, like many others, did not make it out of the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 888 (Allowing Local Anti-Tethering Ordinances):  This bill would have clarified that localities can pass their own anti-tethering ordinances.  No surprises here — yet another bill stuck in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 1242/SB 477 (Prohibiting Exotic Animals):  This bill was in response to the tragedy last year in Zanesville, Ohio involving the deaths of numerous exotic animals.  The House continued this bill in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee by voice vote to the 2013 session.  The Senate kicked it to the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

SB 359 (TNR):  This bill would declare TNR to be a legal and acceptable practice to control feral cat populations.  It passed the Senate, but got stuck in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

SB 610 (Agricultural Animals):  This bill got lots of traction, but fortunately did not become law.  It is still kicking around the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.  This bill seeks to exclude hunting, working and show dogs from the definition of companion animals, and would throw a great deal more on the shoulders of the State Vet instead of localities and animal control officers.

There’s much work ahead of us to prepare for the 2013 legislative session!  We could especially use help from those of you with delegates in the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.  If you’re not sure who your delegate is, or whether they are members of that committee, take a look now with the Virginia General Assembly “Who’s My Legislator” site.


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Humane Lobby Day and an Overview of Virginia’s 2012 Legislative Session

Please join the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies and the Humane Society of the United States this Thursday in Richmond for Humane Lobby Day.  There will be plenty to discuss with your representatives.  Here is my take on each of the companion animal related bills in this session:

STRONGLY SUPPORT:

HB 158 (Prohibiting Devocalization):  A great bill designed to end an inhumane practice. Virginia missed the opportunity to pass this last year, but will hopefully come through this session.

HB 363 (Companion Animals in Protective Orders):  This bill clarifies that judges have the ability to include companion animals in protective orders.

HB 650 (Notice of Euthanasia for Companion Animals):  This bill provides that shelters or pounds give notice to rescues in the position to help out before euthanizing healthy, adoptable companion animals.

HB 695/SB 202 (Prohibiting Fox and Coyote Penning):  Like dog fighting, which is now outlawed in all fifty states, fox penning is an inhumane “sport” that amounts to cruelty.

HB 888 (Allowing Local Anti-Tethering Ordinances):  This merely clarifies that localities have the ability to pass their own anti-tethering ordinances.

HB 1242/SB 477 (Prohibiting Exotic Animals):  A necessary response to the tragedy last year in Ohio.

SB 359 (TNR):  This bill clarifies that TNR is a legal and acceptable practice to control feral cat populations that should not be hindered by current abandonment laws.

HJ 143 (Spay Day):  Who could resist this?!

SUPPORT IN PART AND OPPOSE IN PART:

HB 537/SB 305 (Dangerous Dog Registry):  This bill makes good changes to shift more responsibility to local animal control officers, but the 45-day window to comply with the registration certification procedures is too long.  When there has been an issue such as obtaining insurance that has taken longer than the current 10-day window, animal control officers are more than willing to work with registrants.  A 15-day window would probably be sufficient.

STRONGLY OPPOSE:

HB 95 (Bear Hound Training):  Training is already allowed during most times of the day, and there is no reason to extend training into the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning.

SB 610 (Agricultural Animals):  This bill is a huge setback, as it tries to peel off hunting, working and show dogs from the definition of companion animals and puts all authority in the hands of the State Vet instead of localities and animal control officers.

Please reach out to your state representatives to ask for support regarding these vital companion animal issues.  If you are unsure of who your representatives are, or how to contact them, visit the Virginia General Assembly website.


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Virginia 2012 Legislative Roundup, Part Two

As promised, here is more information about a few of the bills in this legislative session:

HB 1242/SB 477 would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor (punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2500 fine) to possess, sell or breed exotic animals.  This bill is in response to the tragedy last year in Ohio resulting in the death of almost fifty animals after the owner released the animals and killed himself.

SB 359 will officially legalize Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) programs. This bill clarifies that anyone engaged in TNR is not an “owner” who could be deemed to be “abandoning” the cats.

If you would like to know more about fox penning and HB 695/SB 202, the Humane Society of the United States has put together a video explaining this blood sport and why it is vital that we push to prohibit this cruel practice.  A major focus of Humane Lobby Day in Richmond this Thursday will be to gather support for these bills.

Last but not least is HJ 143, which would establish February 28 as Spay Day.

Now the bad news.  As is often the case, a devastating bill will sneak into the legislation when no one is looking.  And so it is with SB 610.  This bill would prohibit localities and animal control officers from regulating agricultural animals, placing all authority over agricultural animals in the hands of the State Vet.  This bill would also expand the definition of agricultural animals to include hunting, working and show dogs.  Needless to say, this bill would be a tremendous set back to animal welfare by placing a huge burden on the State Vet’s office, and taking the power to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty and neglect out of the hands of localities and animal control officers who are in the best position to take action.

Stay posted later this week for an overview of the good, the bad and the ugly in the bills geared towards companion animals in this legislative session.


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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.


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Virginia’s New Agricultural Animal Bill in Action

When I first commented on Virginia’s new agricultural animal bill, HB 1541/SB 1026, I was cautiously optimistic. Agricultural animals were covered by Virginia’s animal cruelty statute, but they did not have the protections of a neglect or lack of adequate care statute equivalent to Section 3.2-6503’s adequate care requirements for companion animals. HB 1541/SB 1026 proposed a new statute, Section 3.2-6503.1, that would finally mandate standards for adequate care of agricultural animals.

HB 1541/SB 1026 and the addition of Section 3.2-6503.1 have generated a flurry of comments and criticism. Some of the criticism is directed towards exploitation of animals for food, clothing and other purposes – something that our society is unfortunately a very long way from addressing and prohibiting.

Other comments expressed a concern that the new agricultural animal bill would supplant – and virtually eliminate the use of – the animal cruelty statute as it applies to agricultural animals. This concern was the primary reason that I ultimately did not support HB1541/SB 1026.

A closer look at Section 3.2-6503.1 shows that the animal cruelty statute still applies to agricultural animals, and that Section 3.2-6503.1 will allow for intervention before treatment of agricultural animals rises to the level of cruelty.

Section 3.2-6503.1 requires owners to provide agricultural animals with “feed to prevent malnourishment,” “water to prevent dehydration, and “veterinary treatment as needed to address impairment of health or bodily function when such impairment cannot be otherwise addressed through animal husbandry, including humane destruction.”

By contrast, the animal cruelty statute prohibits depriving an animal (either companion or agricultural) of “necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment.” The term “necessary” is not defined further in the statute.

Section 3.2-6503.1 will take effect on July 1, 2011, and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and the Office of the State Veterinarian are already training animal control officers about how to implement the new statute. The Office of the State Veterinarian is emphasizing with the animal control officers that Section 3.2-6503.1 does nothing to change the animal cruelty statute – and that it allows the officers to intervene in order to prevent the situation from rising to abuse and neglect.

According to Dr. Dan Kovich of the Office of the State Veterinarian:

“If it was cruelty before, it’s cruelty now—this bill is a tool for early intervention.  Imagine two horses being kept on a bare dirt lot and not being provided with feed; one emaciated and one in good body condition. The first horse was, and remains, subject to the cruelty statute. The second horse cannot be demonstrated to suffer from a lack of necessary feed, and therefore no intervention can occur under existing law. This new statute will allow animal control officers to intervene simply because no feed is being provided, and therefore prevent the animal from actually having to suffer the process of malnourishment”

I am very relieved to know that officials see Section 3.2-6503.1 as a preventative measure – at least for food, water and veterinary care – that will augment Virginia’s animal cruelty statute. If used appropriately, animal control and law enforcement officers will now have a means to combat neglect of agricultural animals before the situation rises to the point of abuse and neglect.

One criticism that I still agree with is that the maximum penalties for lack of adequate care are far too light. As a Class Four Misdemeanor, the maximum penalty for agricultural animals is only a $250 fine. The penalty is the same for a first offense involving companion animals. Just last year, the General Assembly upped the ante for subsequent offenses involving companion animals – a move I hope will be forthcoming in future amendments to Section 3.2-6503.1.

Another critical issue is shelter and confinement standards for agricultural animals. Although the animal cruelty statute prohibits depriving an animal of “necessary shelter,” there is no clear guidance or definition for that term. Section 3.2-6503.1 does not address shelter. Organizations like The Humane Society of the United States are attacking agricultural animal confinement procedures nationwide. Perhaps the most notorious battle involved Proposition 2 in California, attacking the use of veal crates, battery cages and sow gestation crates. Although Section 3.2-6503.1 does not address these issues yet, we have to start somewhere. I can only hope that the General Assembly will use Section 3.2-6503.1 as a platform to address – and prohibit – these and other similar inhumane practices in the near future.

Here is the full text of Section 3.2-6503.1, which will take effect on July 1, 2011:

Section 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 malnourishment;
2. Water to prevent dehydration; and
3. Veterinary treatment as needed to address impairment of health or bodily function when such impairment cannot be otherwise addressed through animal husbandry, including humane destruction.
B. The provisions of this section shall not require an owner to provide feed or water when such is customarily withheld, restricted, or apportioned pursuant to a farming activity or if otherwise prescribed by a veterinarian.
C. There shall be a rebuttable presumption that there has been no violation of this section if an owner is unable to provide feed, water, or veterinary treatment due to an act of God.
D. The provisions of this section shall not apply to agricultural animals used for bona fide medical or scientific experimentation.
E. A violation of this section is a Class 4 misdemeanor.


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Legislative Score Card: Let’s See How Virginia’s General Assembly Has Done

This session is over for the Virginia General Assembly as of Friday February 25, 2011.  Let’s see how they did with the companion animal law bills.  Below is a description of each bill, the grade I gave the bill in my previous post, and where each bill stands.  All in all, I have to warn you that this session was dismal.

HB 1541 (patron: Robert D. Orrick, Sr.)/SB 1026 (patron: Phillip P. Puckett), addressing care of agricultural animals and penalty for failure to provide care.  This is the bill that provides such minimum standards of care for agricultural animals that it actually threatens to carve agricultural animals out of the current animal cruelty standards under Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570Grade:  F.  Result:  This bill passed in the House by a vote of 98-0.  The Senate added some language regarding seizure and impoundment procedures, and that amendment was accepted by the HouseThe Senate’s version of this bill had language clarifying that animal cruelty under Section 3.2-6570 was still on the table for agricultural animals, but the House rejected the Senate’s version, and that language did not make its way into the final billBig step backwards for Virginia here.  UPDATE (5/21/11):  Take a look at this post on this statute’s implementation.  This gives me comfort, but there is still a long way to go to protect Virginia’s agricultural animals.

HB 1556 (patron: Tony Wilt), which would allow training of dogs to hunt bears to occur at night.  Grade:  F.  Result:  This bill passed in the House by a vote of 89-7, but has been passed by indefinitely in the Senate’s Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.  Nice job, Senate!

HB 1716 (patron: James M. Scott, Ward L. Armstrong and Charniele L. Herring), allowing a court to include in a protective order provisions prohibiting harm to a companion animal and damage to any item of personal property.  Grade:  A.  Result:  This bill got kicked around last year, and fortunately came back up again this session.  The House decided to incorporate this bill with HB 2063.  The latest language of HB 2063 does not specifically list companion animals, but it did add the italicized language for a protective orders involving domestic abuse, stating a court may:  “Prohibit[] acts of family abuse or criminal offenses that result in injury to person or property.”  For non-domestic protective orders, similar language was added:  “Prohibiting acts of violence, acts of sexual battery, or acts of stalking in violation of § 18.2-60.3 force, or threat or criminal offenses resulting in injury to person or property.”  This puts petitioners in the position of arguing their companion animals are property.  Better than nothing?  I’m not so sure.

HB 1889 (patron: Tony Wilt), allowing the use of tracking dogs to find wounded or dead bear or deer.  Grade:  F.  Result:  This bill passed resoundingly in the House, and finally passed in the Senate, too.  The final language changed a bit, but the amendment was nothing substantive.  This law still gets a huge thumbs down in my opinion.

HB 1930 (patron:  Daniel W. Marshall, III), establishing a statewide animal abuser registry.  Grade:  A+.  Result:  This bill never got past the House Committee for Courts of Justice.  Virginia missed out on being the first state to set up a statewide animal abuser registry.  Very disappointing.

HB 2108 (patron: Ward L. Armstrong)/SB 842 (patron: J. Chapman Petersen), which would allow circuit Courts to appoint new humane investigators.  Grade:  A.  Result:  This bill was already kicked around last year.  Not surprisingly, the House version is stuck yet again in the House Agricultural, Chesapeake and Natural Resources CommitteeThe Senate version has been passed by indefinitely in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 2134 (patron: William K. Barlow), providing that law enforcement K9s would not need to be quarantined unless the K9 was showing active signs of rabies or was suspected of having rabies.  Grade:  B.  Result:  Yet another bill that will languish in the House Agricultural, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 2195 (patron: Patrick Hope and Robin Abbott), prohibiting devocalization of a cat or dog unless necessary for health reasons.  Grade:  A+.  Result:  Another bill left to sit in the House Committee for Courts of Justice.  Another missed opportunity here.

HB 2312 (patron: Richard P. Bell and Robin Abbott), which would redefine “home based rescue” and add reporting requirements.  Grade:  F.  Result:  The House has allowed this bill to sit in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.  So the House got one thing right with companion animals this session.

HB 2482 (patron:  R. Lee Ware, Jr.), which would provide new procedures for the impoundment, seizure, return or forfeiture of animals when the owner or custodian is suspected of animal welfare violations.  Grade:  F.  Result:  This bill has also gotten stuck in the House Agricultural, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.  OK, make that two things the House got right.