Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals


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Ring in the New Year — but not too loudly!

iStock_000029585012XSmallBy all means, ring in 2014 – but don’t be too loud!  You may be kicking off the new year with a new noise ordinance.

Fairfax County and other localities in Virginia have not been enforcing noise ordinances since 2009, when the Supreme Court of Virginia struck down Virginia Beach’s noise ordinance as unconstitutionally vague in Tanner, et al. v. City of Virginia Beach, 277 Va. 432 (2009).  Virginia Beach’s ordinance prohibited “unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary” noise that is “detrimental to the life or health of persons of reasonable sensitivities.”  The noise at issue involved hip-hop, punk rock and indie music pumping from Virginia Beach’s Peppermint Beach Club on Atlantic Avenue.

The language in Fairfax County’s old noise ordinance was very similar to the Virginia Beach ordinance, prohibiting “any unnecessary sound which annoys, disturbs or perturbs reasonable persons with normal sensibilities.”  By contrast, Fairfax County’s new noise ordinance will prohibit noise “that is audible in any other person’s residential dwelling with the doors and window’s to the other person’s residential dwelling closed.”

Arlington County is also working on updating its noise ordinance, proposing to prohibit amplified sound over specific distances (20 feet from the sound in another dwelling or 50 feet across property boundaries), or barking or squawking at least once per minute for 10 consecutive minutes.  The “squawking” prohibition may be in anticipation of backyard chickens – a topic worthy of its own blog post and major public education about Virginia’s mandatory and immediate death sentence for chicken-killing dogs.

With the old ordinances, local officers became particularly adept at trying to resolve noise conflicts in creative ways.   Hopefully these efforts will not fully disappear as jurisdictions amend their noise ordinances.  Slapping someone with a ticket or a lawsuit is much less effective that solving the underlying problem – particularly with an incessantly barking dog.  For excellent ideas about how to address excessive barking, take a look at this recent blog post by trainer Veronica Sanchez with Cooperative Paws in Vienna, Virginia!


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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 Legislative Round Up for 2012 Session

It’s that time of year again! Several bills have already made it on this year’s slate, and a couple more may be added before the session is over. This year’s legislative session looks very promising for companion animals – with one glaring exception.

HB 95 (Bear Hound Training): We start with the one glaring exception. As things stand, hunters can train dogs to hunt bear from a half hour before sunrise until four and a half hours after sunset. This bill would allow this training to occur at night. Last year, the House passed this bill, but the Senate stopped the bill in its tracks.

HB 158 (Devocalization of Companion Animals): This bill makes devocalization a Class One Misdemeanor (punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine) unless the operation is necessary to relieve illness, disease, injury or pain. This is another carry over from last year, when this bill ended up getting stuck in the House Committee for Courts of Justice.

HB 363 (Companion Animals in Protective Orders): Once again, this bill ties into a bill from 2011. Last year’s bill would have granted courts explicit authority to include companion animals in domestic violence protective orders. It was resolved by adding language prohibiting acts of abuse or offenses that result in injury to person or “property.” Needless to say, confusion has arisen with this language, and this bill attempts to clarify that a protective order petitioner can be awarded control, custody and care of a companion animal.

For an overview of last year’s legislative session, take a look at this post.  And on to new topics for this year’s session:

HB 537/SB 305 (Dangerous Dog Registry): This bill proposes to place primary responsibility for registering dangerous dogs with animal control officers instead of the State Veterinarian’s office. It would also lengthen the amount of time to obtain the certificate of registration from ten days to 45 days. The certification fee would increase from $50 to $150, but the registration fee that went to the State Vet would be eliminated.

HB 650 (Notice of Euthanasia for Companion Animals): This bill requires city and county pounds to maintain a registry of organizations willing to accept healthy and non-vicious companion animals scheduled to be euthanized, and requires the pounds to give 24 hours’ notice to the organizations prior to euthanizing. This bill also requires pounds to make available annual statistics of impounded animals.

HB 695 (Prohibiting Fox and Coyote Penning): The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has taken this crucial issue head on this year. This bill would make fox and coyote penning a Class One Misdemeanor. If you don’t know about this cruel “sport,” think dog fighting, but using foxes and coyote as bait animals. Read more about it on HSUS’s website.  And, Virginians, you can send a message directly to your legislators on this HSUS site.

HB 888 (Anti-Tethering Ordinances): Virginia is a strong proponent of “Dillon’s Rule,” which dictates that counties, cities and other localities have only those powers that the state has explicitly granted them. This is reflected in Virginia Code Section 3.2-6543, which lays out for localities the types of ordinances they may enact that impact companion animals. Leash laws are explicitly included, but that section does not directly address tethering. Some Virginia localities, such as Alexandria, haven’t let that stop them. But this bill would wisely make it clear that localities can regulate tethering.

Watch for three more bills that are in the works for this year’s legislative session: (1) establishing February 28 as Spay Day; (2) addressing TNR (trap, neuter and return of feral cats); and (3) prohibiting ownership of exotic animals. I’ll post more information on these as they become available.

If you live in Virginia, please reach out to your local legislators on these bills.  And consider joining HSUS and the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies for Humane Lobby Day in Richmond on January 26, 2012!


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Missed Opportunities: Virginia’s Defeated Devocalization Bill

This last legislative session, Virginia proposed HB 2195, which would have prohibited devocalization of a dog or cat unless medically necessary. Unfortunately, the bill never made it out of the House Committee for Courts of Justice.

As I said in a post outlining how the Virginia General Assembly did in 2011, this was a missed opportunity.  Virginia could have joined the ranks of a small handful of states prohibiting devocalization. In 2010, Massachusetts passed Logan’s Law, becoming the first state to ban devocalization. Logan was a show dog devocalized by his breeder, then discarded when he stopped winning shows. Logan’s adopter, together with organizations like the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) and the Coalition to Protect and Rescue Pets, successfully convinced the Massachusetts legislators to prohibit the procedure.

Devocalization is a very invasive and risky procedure which severs the dog’s vocal cords.  Devocalization has the potential for lasting and serious physical, psychological and behavioral side effects. Often, scar tissue from the surgery will inhibit exercise and breathing, and can interfere with emergency intubation procedures. Excessive barking can be treated any number of ways, including training your dog or cat, ensuring he or she gets proper exercise and making positive changes in his or her environment. Even if used presumably as a last resort to combat excessive barking, it is an unnatural and inhumane procedure. Law enforcement also oppose debarking for safety reasons, because officers would no longer have a verbal warning of the presence of a dog. For more information on the procedure, take a look at HSMVA’s excellent fact sheet.

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that as of October 2010, only four states prohibit devocalization in some fashion. Massachusetts and New Jersey ban devocalization unless a licensed veterinarian deems the procedure to be medically necessary (for instance, to treat the presence of cancer). Pennsylvania prohibits devocalization unless performed by a licensed veterinarian using anesthesia. Ohio prohibits devocalization of any dog deemed dangerous.

Virginia did not miss out only on the chance to ban a cruel practice.  Virginia may have also missed the opportunity to obtain federal funding. Last month, Representative Ruppersberger from Maryland introduced HR 1725, which would authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to make grants of up to $1,000,000 per state for the prevention of cruelty to animals to states that have enacted laws prohibiting devocalization of dogs and cats for convenience. HR 1725 is currently in the House Committee on Agriculture.

Let’s hope that Congress puts its money where its mouth is on animal welfare by passing HR 1725, and that states, including Virginia, respond by banning devocalization.


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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.


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Legislative Score Card for Virginia’s Proposed Companion Animal Law Bills

The General Assembly has a complete mixed bag of companion animal law bills coming up this session.   Here are my thoughts on these ten bills.  Please chime in!

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 minimum — and I mean minimum — standards of care for agricultural animals:  feed to prevent emaciation, water to prevent dehydration and the most basic vet treatment.  And the penalty is a mere $250 fine.  The fact that the General Assembly finally proposed standards for agricultural animals is far outweighed by how much this bill waters down the animal cruelty standards under Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570, which makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2500 fine for failure to provide any animal with “necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment.”  I have blogged on this before, and thought further on the issue after reading many thoughtful comments.  The General Assembly may try to re-work this language, but they have a long way to go to win my vote on this bill.  Grade:  F.  UPDATE (5/21/11):  Take a look at this post on the statute’s implementation — this definitely affects my overall grade, but there’s still a lot of work to do!

HB 1556 (patron: Tony Wilt), which would allow training of dogs to hunt bears to occur at night.  Currently, training is limited to one-half hour before sunrise until four and a half hours after sunset.  This bill has passed in the House, and is on its way to the Senate.  I vote thumbs down — bear hunting with dogs is cruel to both bear and dog, and training day and night seems completely unnecessary.  Grade:  F

HB 1716 (patron: James M. Scott, Ward L. Armstrong and Charniele L. Herring), allowing a court may to include in a protective order provisions prohibiting harm to a companion animal and damage to any item of personal property.  This bill got kicked around last year, and for some reason the same thing may happen this year.  There is every reason to pass this bill.  It is well known that harm to animals is often a prelude to harm to humans, and hurting a beloved companion animal can be a way for an abuser to get at a loved one.  Grade:  A

HB 1889 (patron: Tony Wilt), allowing the use of tracking dogs to find wounded or dead bear or deer during archery, muzzleloader, or firearm bear or deer hunting season, so long as those retrieving the bear or deer have permission to hunt or access to the land and do not have a weapon in their possession.  However, if the county allows bear or deer hunting with dogs, hunters may carry a weapon and have unrestrained dogs while searching for wounded or dead animals.  As for me, ditto on this as on HB 1556.  Grade:  F

HB 1930 (patron:  Daniel W. Marshall, III), establishing a statewide animal abuser registry.  This bill defines “animal abuser” as an adult who has been convicted of a felony violation of Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570 (cruelty to animals) or 3.2-6571 (animal fighting) or of a substantially similar law of another state or of the United States and requires any animal abuser physically within the boundaries of the Commonwealth for more than ten consecutive days to register in person with the sheriff of the county or city in which the animal abuser resides or is located. The bill also requires the offender to reregister annually. Failure to register or reregister is a Class 6 felony. The bill requires the sheriff to notify every residence and business within a one-half mile radius of the abuser’s residence or location within ten days of initial registration. The bill requires that registry information be maintained in a central registry by the State Police and posted on their website.  This would be an excellent step in the right direction, following the first public animal abuser registry in Suffolk County, New York last year and setting a high price for failure to register.  Thank you, Delegate Marshall!  Grade:  A+

HB 2108 (patron: Ward L. Armstrong)/SB 842 (patron: J. Chapman Petersen), which would allow circuit Courts to appoint new humane investigators. Currently, existing humane investigators may be reappointed, but the program is no longer open to new participants. The administrative entity that oversees animal control will be required to supervise humane investigators and maintain and annually update a list of persons eligible for appointment as humane investigators. Circuit courts that appoint a humane investigator must notify the administrative entity that oversees animal control in the locality where the humane investigator serves if a humane investigator’s term expires and he is not appointed to a succeeding term before or within 30 days.  This is another bill that got kicked around last year, and the time to pass it is now!  One thing that is being bantered about is whether to have humane investigators report straight to animal control, instead of the agency that oversees animal control, but either way, I give it a thumbs up.  Grade:  A

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.  The law enforcement agency would be obliged to notify the local health director of any abnormal behavior with the K9 and provide access to the K9 for examination at any reasonable time.  I don’t feel as strongly about this bill as the others, but I support it.  I’d love to hear other thoughts on this one.  Grade:  B

HB 2195 (patron: Patrick Hope and Robin Abbott), requiring veterinarians to keep records of devocalization procedures, and providing that any person, including a licensed veterinarian, who performs a surgical devocalization on a cat or dog when the procedure is not necessary to treat or relieve an illness, disease, or injury or to correct a congenital abnormality that is causing or may cause the animal physical pain or harm, is guilty of a Class 6 felony.  Wow!  Big thumbs up for this one.  I love the substance, and the penalty, which would put Virginia in line with some of the toughest states on the devocalization issue.  Grade:  A+

HB 2312 (patron: Richard P. Bell and Robin Abbott), which would redefine “home based rescue” to remove the requirement that the rescue operate primarily for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes for companion animals.  Also, prior to transferring animals, animal shelters and other releasing agencies would be required to provide certifying documents that state that the entity is in compliance with existing law and assured that its home-based rescues and fosters provide adequate care.  As animal hoarding cases explode in number and severity, this is no time to take away a requirement that a home based rescue operate to provide permanent adoptive homes.  I’ve got to vote thumbs down on this one.  I don’t mind seeing one more background check to be sure abusers are not serving as rescues or fosters, but the rescues need access to the criminal background records.  Wouldn’t that animal abuser registry be nice?  Grade:  F

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.  Animals in the custody or possession of dealers or pet shops that fail to adequately care for such animals shall be subject to impoundment pursuant to any directive or under any supervision as may be provided by the investigating official, animal control officer, or State Veterinarian’s representative.  Such animals are subject to seizure if (i) under a direct and immediate threat or (ii) the owner or custodian is unable to or does not provide adequate impoundment.  If convicted, the impounded or seized animals may be forfeited or returned to the owner or custodian at the discretion of the court. This bill would also repeal the prohibition on persons that have been convicted of animal cruelty from selling or trading companion animals.  The welfare requirement that emergency veterinary treatment is provided for animals under certain conditions would no longer include treatment for disease progression.  This bill would be a step backwards by allowing abusers to get their animals back, and I give it a thumbs down.  Grade:  F