Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals


Leave a comment

Reminder: VDACS Charitable Organization Form 102 Due May 15!

iStock_000014644722SmallTo all Virginia nonprofits, this is a reminder that May 15 is the deadline to renew your Form 102 with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs.

Organizations that wish to solicit charitable funds in Virginia must register with VDACS.  If you’ve already registered, you still need to renew your registration each year by May 15.

Don’t forget to include an updated list of officers and directors, a copy of your 990, and any amendments to your bylaws or articles of organization.  VDACS has a handy checklist for any other documents you might also need to include.

You can get a copy of Form 102 on VDACS’ website.


Leave a comment

Hi Five! The USDA Proposes Rule to Close Internet Loophole

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed a rule that redefines the definition of “retail pet store” under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in order to shut a loophole that has allowed retailers to sell animals “sight unseen” via the internet, by mail or over the phone.

Initially passed in 1966, the AWA carved out retail pet stores, which would not be subject to USDA licensing and inspection requirements.  The rationale for this carve-out was because the consumer had the opportunity to check an animal’s health and condition in person in the store before buying the animal.  Technology has changed all of that, allowing retailers who use the internet, mail and phone sales to escape any kind of inspection by the consumer or the government.

Under the proposed rule, a person who breeds more than four female dogs, cats and/or small exotic or wild mammals must open their doors either to the public or to APHIS inspectors, who will also require a license.

This rule still doesn’t impact backyard breeders and traditional retail pet stores that sell directly to the public.  State regulation governs those stores and breeders, but states have had mixed results with puppy mill legislation.  When states have been able to pass puppy mill statutes, they are often fairly weak.  For example, Virginia’s puppy mill statute only covers breeders who have at least 50 breeding dogs.

The public will have 60 days from the time the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register to submit comments.  In the meantime, here is a link to the proposed rule.


Leave a comment

Operation Socialization Guest Blog, Part 2: Contracts and Waivers

Don’t miss Part 2 of my “Are You Covered” guest blog series with Operation Socialization!  The series is designed to help trainers think about the business end of training, and give pointers about protecting their businesses.

Part 1 discussed the importance of creating an entity for your business and properly insuring the business.

Part 2 talks about contracts and waivers, with extra tips for those of you who work with aggressive dogs.

Watch for Part 3, which will discuss ways to protect yourself and your business from liability.

Never underestimate the importance of treating training as a business, and doing all you can to protect that business.  If you’d like to know more about the basics of protecting your business, check out these top ten tips!


Leave a comment

Special Thanks to Operation Socialization for Guest Blogger Opportunity!

Hearty thanks to Operation Socialization for offering me a great guest blogger opportunity!  Operation Socialization is a network of professional dog trainers and businesses. Operation Socialization’s vision is to raise awareness about the importance of puppy socialization and to provide the humans on the other end of the leash with education and resources to give puppies the best possible start in life.

Operation Socialization recently asked me about ways to protect a dog training business.  Operation Socialization’s main focus for the guest blog series is on  risk management and insurance issues.  Insurance is one of the many components to protecting your business.  For a nice checklist to get you started (or to double check for your existing business), take a look at this prior blog post.

To read the first part of my response to  Operation Socialization’s questions on risk management and insurance issues, take a look at my guest post:  Are You Covered?  Protecting Your Business, Part One.


1 Comment

Canine Al Capone? Tax Evasion May Not Give Authorities Grounds to Seize Dogs from Puppy Mills

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 officials, assisted by the Indiana State Police and 60 volunteers from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Missouri Humane Society seized all 240 dogs, including pets and farm dogs. The authorities also seized $1260 in cash, $1325 in checks, tax returns, and records showing that the Garwoods made over $25,000 from selling dogs.

The next day, the Indiana authorities sold all 240 dogs to HSUS for a total of $300. A local news channel posted photos on its website showing the crowded conditions and stacked cages that the dogs lived in.

The Garwoods filed a tax appeal challenged the state’s authority to seize their dogs. Just last month, the Indiana Tax Court issued its 15-page decision.

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.

At the very least, Virginia and Kristin Garwood did plead guilty to tax evasion, and received suspended sentences with probation.  In the meantime, the Indiana Office of the Attorney General has indicated that they plan to appeal the tax court’s decision to the Indiana Supreme Court.

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.


6 Comments

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.


7 Comments

How Do I Find A Good Rescue?

Data provided by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (VDACS) demonstrate how vital rescues are to animal welfare. In Virginia in 2010, rescues accounted for 10,816 stray, seized, transferred and surrendered animals. These Virginia rescues adopted 4,886 and transferred another 1,846 of those animals. The rescues euthanized only 427 of those animals. This is an adoption rate of 45%, and euthanasia rate of only 4%.

The overall 2010 figures, including data for shelters, pounds, humane societies and rescues, show a different picture. Of an overall number of 185,948 stray, seized, transferred and surrendered animals, 54,425 were adopted, another 24,137 were transferred and 72,403 were euthanized. This is an adoption rate of 29%, and euthanasia rate of 39%.

With their high adoption rates and low euthanasia rates, rescues are a very attractive option for someone looking to adopt a companion animal. However, not all rescues are created equally.

On more than one occasion, I have gotten a phone call from a person who adopted an animal from a “rescue,” only to discover that the rescue was hardly a benevolent non-profit. The “rescue” instead was in the business of selling animals that are unhealthy or not the size or breed that was promised. And even when rescues have their heart in the right place, more and more rescues act as venues for animal hoarders, like we’ve seen recently with Annette Thompson in Goochland County and Janet Hollins in Prince William County.

In light of all this, there are several things that you can do to make sure that the rescue you are considering is legitimate.

First, if the rescue claims to be a 501(c)(3), you can double check this using the Guidestar website. Guidestar can show you vital information such as the non-profit’s mission statement and recent 990 tax filings. The rescue’s 990 will show you even more information, such as how the organization is funded and how much the organization spends on administration and fundraising versus costs directly related to the animals’ care.

Second, a rescue claiming to be a non-profit may have additional state regulations and obligations. For instance, all Virginia non-profits must register with VDACS’s Department of Consumer Affairs to solicit as a charitable organization. You can check whether the rescue is registered to solicit using the Department of Consumer Affairs’ website.

Third, check to see if the rescue is complying with its state registration or reporting obligations. In Virginia, rescues must register and report data annually to VDACS and the Office of the State Veterinarian. VDACS maintains an online database that tells you which rescues are reporting, and gives data for each rescue for how many animals they take in per year, the source of those animals, and the disposition of the animals.

Fourth, the rescue should have a written adoption contract that complies with all legal obligations. For instance, Virginia rescues must comply with Virginia Code Section 3.2-6574, which requires a written contract between the rescue and adopter in which the adopter agrees to neuter an intact dog or cat within 30 days of adoption or the date that the animal reaches six months of age.  Any decent rescue will likely also have a contractual provision that requires the adopter to return the animal to the rescue if the adopter can no longer care for the animal.

If you are checking out a rescue, here are some red flags to watch out for:

  • The “rescue” claims to be a 501(c)(3), but you can find no information using Guidestar and state regulatory sites.
  • The rescue uses a high percentage of funds for administrative costs, rather than costs directly related to care of the animals, such as veterinary care, food, training and boarding.
  • The “rescue” does not have a contract. Or it has a contract, but the contract lacks key provisions, such as requiring the adopter to spay or neuter the animal, or return the animal to the rescue if the adopter can no longer care for the animal.
  • The “rescue” cannot produce identifying information and veterinary records for their companion animals.
  • The “rescue” charges high “adoption fees,” and has a website promising to sell you the perfect purebred or designer breed puppies or kittens. Take a look at the ASPCA’s website for more information on internet scams.

As with any company, don’t just rely on the rescue’s website. You should be able to call the rescue and speak with a live person. When you see a particular companion animal you are interested in, you should be able to meet the animal and the foster, and review the animal’s veterinary records, before you decide if the animal is right for you. If you already have a dog and you are looking to adopt a second dog, ask to set up a meet and greet for the dogs.  If the rescue is hesitant with any of these requests, think again before you adopt from them!