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!

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Never Forget! A Tribute Ten Years Later

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.


The Amazing Things that Dogs (and Kids) Can Do

I have just started reading the wonderful book, Dog Sense, by John Bradshaw, in which Bradshaw discusses (among many other topics) how science can help redefine dogs’ roles in our lives. We may not need our dogs to help us hunt and herd livestock in our daily lives these days. But as we learn more about their incredible capabilities, dogs are taking on ever more specialized tasks. Three wonderful examples came to the forefront as I watched the news and my Facebook account this past week.

We’ve all heard of drug-sniffing and bomb-sniffing dogs – but a sperm-sniffing dog? Apparently, a Swiss K-9 named Rapports Opus is specially trained to detect sperm. Rapports Opus recently caught the scent of sperm at a crime scene in a Swiss park where a woman claimed a man had forced her to perform oral sex on him. Officers sent the evidence for testing, and the DNA in the sample matched that of the 23-year-old suspect. The suspect has been apprehended, and is currently facing trial on rape charges. That is one impressive dog!  Thanks very much to Nan Arthur of Whole Dog Training and Christy Hill of Coaching Creative Canines for posting this story.

Speaking of K-9s, a local K-9 unit recently lost a hero. Lightcap, a bomb sniffing K-9 with the Fairfax County Police Department, served from 2006 to 2011. Not even cancer kept this dedicated K-9 down, with Lightcap continuing his service during his final year even while battling the disease. Lightcap not only sniffed bombs, but also performed work such as finding shell casings at the scene of shootings. Lightcap passed on July 14 of this year. May this hero rest in peace. Special thanks to Lesley Sullivan of The Pawkeepers for bringing this story to my attention.

Of course, law enforcement is not the only area where dogs use their specially honed detection skills. Service dogs are becoming more and more prevalent, including service dogs who can detect seizures. Evan Moss, a seven-year-old boy here in Northern Virginia, suffers from epilepsy, which is causing severe and debilitating seizures. Evan recently heard about seizure detection dogs. He and his parents realize that a seizure detection dog would be life-altering for Evan, and contacted 4 Paws for Ability. The only problem is the price tag — $13,000. So what did Evan do? He wrote a book called “My Seizure Dog,” in which he describes all the wonderful things he will be able to do with the aid of his special service dog. Evan’s book is $10, and you can purchase it online at or Amazon. You can also make a donation Evan’s fund with 4 Paws for Ability. Evan also has a website, Dog 4 Evan.  If you would like to meet Evan in person, he is having a book signing today from 1:00 to 3:00 at the Grounded Coffee Shop at 6919 Telegraph Road in Fairfax County, Virginia. What a special child! Best of luck to you, Evan! Thanks to the Washington Post for highlighting Evan’s story in this weekend’s Metro section.

UPDATE (7/25/11):  Congratulations, Evan!  The Washington Post reports that 600 people went to his booksigning at Grounded Coffee, 400 books sold (that’s $4000 right there!).  And donations are still pouring in.  The donation link to Evan’s website,, shows he has over $7,000 raised now!  Looks like Evan will have his seizure alert dog, and hopefully very soon!

UPDATE (7/27/11):  Evan will be getting his service dog!  He reached his goal of $13,000 — and the donations are still rolling in!  Plus, Evan’s book is #1 on Amazon for bestsellers in Children’s health books! Congratulations, Evan!

UPDATE (8/2/11):  Evan has raised over $20,000!  Not only will he get his dog, the extra funds will go to two other deserving children who need service dogs!  Check out today’s Washington Post update for more info on this fantastic story.

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Making a Difference this Memorial Day with Service Dogs, an arm of the Annenberg Foundation, has found a fantastic way to honor our veterans. will donate up to 100 service dogs (to the tune of up to $500,000) to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. You can help them reach this goal by liking the “Dog Bless You” Facebook Community. will donate one dog for every 5,000 likes. and the Annenberg Foundation are using the “Dog Bless You” campaign to raise awareness of our vets in need, and the amazing role that service dogs can play in their recovery. You can learn more about this worthy program in this Mother Nature Network article from last Friday. At the time of this post, “Dog Bless You” had over 186,000 likes!  You have until July 4 to help reach its goal.

Speaking of making a difference through service dogs, the Washington Post recently did an update on Andrew Stevens and his quest to have his service dog, Alaya, accompany him to school. Andrew’s parents, Angelo and Nancy Stevens, fought the Fairfax County Public School system when it denied Andrew, who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy, the right to bring Alaya to school. The school system came to a truce, and set up a trial period earlier this year. After three successful weeks, the school system finally agreed that Andrew can properly handle Alaya on his own, and are now allowing Alaya to accompany Andrew to school. Better yet, the Stevens’ hard work also convinced Virginia’s Department of Education to revise its policy to allow school kids to have service dogs, provided the student can handle the dog properly. In their ongoing quest to fight for their son and others who can benefit from service animals, Angelo and Nancy Stevens have established The Andrew Gordon Stevens Foundation. And – in keeping with the Memorial Day message – it is worth noting that Angelo Stevens serves our country as an Army sergeant!

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Justice For All — Including Our Four-Legged Friends!

Elizabeth on site

Elizabeth in her new home

As we finish out Be Kind To Animals Week, I am very pleased to announce that, just last week, Annette Thompson of Goochland County was convicted of six counts of failure to provide adequate care to dogs in her care, in violation of Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503.

Over a period of years, Ms. Thompson, along with her purported rescue, Pet Rescue Foundation, has had from 100 to 300 dogs on her property. When times were too tough for Ms. Thompson to care for the animals, she would call for help. Individuals and several local rescues – Homeward Trails, A Forever Home and HART – answered the call by donating food, taking in animals, and spending thousands of dollars on veterinary care.

But the do-gooders realized something was amiss when the number of dogs on Ms. Thompson’s property did not decrease, and the animals they pulled from the property continued to show serious medical conditions. Left with no options, they opted to present evidence to a Goochland County magistrate, who charged Ms. Thompson with failure to provide adequate care for the dogs.

The complainants successfully prosecuted the case in Goochland General District Court, and Ms. Thompson appealed. Last week, Commonwealth Attorney Claiborne Stokes presented evidence of six dogs in Ms. Thompson’s care to Goochland County Circuit Court Judge Cullen.

Sid on site and on the chain

The first dog Judge Cullen heard about was Sid, a gorgeous Akita mix who was left chained in Ms. Thompson’s driveway. Although Virginia law does not prohibit tethering a dog, it does require any tether to be at least three times the length of the animal, from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail. Sid is 45” long. The chain Sid was on was only about 1 ½ times his length – half of what was required by Virginia law.  (The beautiful black and white photo in this post is Sid — off of his chain and happy in his new home!)

The remaining five dogs suffered from a variety of untreated ailments, with the common denominator being heartworm.

The most egregious of the five was Elizabeth, a sweet Chow mix who could barely get around due to arthritis, a neurological condition and age. Elizabeth’s ears were torn up by fly strike, and she had open wounds on her back where insects had attacked her. Elizabeth was rescued in October 2009, and taken to the veterinarian the next day. Elizabeth was underweight, starved for human interaction and filthy with flea dirt. She tested positive for heartworm and hookworm. Elizabeth was successfully treated, and currently lives with a foster.

Two other dogs, Gingersnap and Birdy, were rescued by Homeward Trails in December 2009. Both tested positive for heartworm. Birdy also tested positive for whipworm. They were both successfully treated.

Gingersnap on the property

Birdy resting in her new home

The last two dogs, Jack-O and Aunt May, were rescued in April 2009. Both tested positive for heartworm. Jack-O also suffered from kidney disease which made it unsafe to treat the heartworm, and he ultimately had to be euthanized. Aunt May also suffered from other ailments along with the heartworm, and was euthanized.

Ms. Thompson’s defense was a claim that she was treating the dogs on her property with ivermectin for heartworm prevention. However, her heartworm protocol did not involve veterinary care or testing for heartworm before administering the preventative. She presented no records whatsoever for the dogs in her care – no veterinary records, no heartworm tests, and no information that she was weighing the dogs to ensure proper dosage, giving the proper amount of ivermectin or keeping a consistent schedule.

Judge Cullen saw through Ms. Thompson’s alleged defenses, understood the duties imposed by the law, and convicted on all counts. For a variety of reasons, many, many more counts could have been presented for the numerous other animals who suffered on Ms. Thompson’s property. Nonetheless, these six convictions represent a great victory – against the notions that it’s OK to tether animals and self-medicate without consulting a veterinarian. Additionally, these convictions will bar Ms. Thompson from being able to operate a rescue or serve as a foster for a rescue.


I’m grateful for the role I played in counseling the complainants and earning some justice for these dogs.  Hearty congratulations to all involved with this trial!


Aunt May

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Busted! Police Break Up Halifax County Dog Fighting Ring

A citizen tip regarding drugs launched a complex investigation in and around Halifax County, Virginia.  During the investigation, Jonathan Williams and Jermaine Thaxton sold a “fighting dog” to an undercover officer for $400.  Before putting the dog in the undercover officer’s trunk, Williams and Thaxton showed off the dog by bringing another dog around and provoking a fight.

The investigation ended yesterday, with state and federal law enforcement officials successfully busting a dog fighting ring in Halifax County, Virginia.  Four individuals — Williams and Thaxton, along with two others — have been charged in connection with the investigation.  The four men face a variety of state and federal dog fighting, drug and gun charges.

With the help of ASPCA, the officers rescued a total of forty-one pit bulls and beagles from the property.  The dogs are currently receiving veterinary care and will be temperament tested, with the aim of transferring the dogs to rescues for adoption.  The ASPCA gathered DNA evidence for all of the dogs to include in the Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) — the first national dog fighting DNA database.

For further information on this story, take a look at Roanoke’s WSLS 10 article and video, and this Gazette-Virginian story.  You can also follow the story on ASPCA’s blog.  Hats off to the officers and the ASPCA on this!

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Thanks To Sara Coolidge And Veterinarian Colleges For Acknowledging Animal Advocacy Blogs!

Sara Coolidge created the website/blog Veterinarian Colleges as a place to go to find answers to questions about how to become a veterinarian.  But her site doesn’t stop there.  She also blogs about such topics as animal welfare, animal rights and zoo reform. 

Sara just pulled together the top blogs on animal advocacy in a great post called “We All Have Rights:  The Top 45 Animal Advocacy Blogs.”  Many thanks to Sara and Veterinarian Colleges for including the Companion Animal Law Blog in the category for Animal Rights Law blogs!

Kudos to Sara for taking so seriously her oath as a veterinarian — which now includes animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering!


Kudos To Two Veterinarian Associations For Reiterating Their Commitment To Animals

Day in and day out, veterinarians work tirelessly to care for our companion animals.  On some days, they experience the joy of performing an initial wellness exam on a newly rescued dog or cat.  And on other days, they help us through painful and heartbreaking decisions and final moments with our best friends.

Bark Magazine’s recent blog post on The Bark highlights further lengths that veterinarian associations have recently taken to help the animals they serve every day.

Last month, the American Veterinary Medical Association Executive Board voted to revise to the oath taken by veterinarians to highlight animal welfare as a priority.  The Board added the parts in bold to the existing oath:

“Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.”

For more on the process of how this change came about, check out the article, Veterinarian’s Oath Revised to Emphasis Animal Welfare Commitment on the AVMA’s website.

Earlier this month, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians Board of Directors released its Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters, which is the result of the two-year ASV Shelter Standards Project initiative.  The Guidelines address the “Five Freedoms”:

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
  • Freedom from Discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behavior– by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

The Guidelines come up with 12 recommendations for animal shelters in the following areas:  management and record keeping, facility design and environment, population management, sanitation, medical health and physical well-being, behavioral health and mental well-being, group housing, animal handling, euthanasia, spay/neuter, transport, and public health.

If you would like to know more, visit the ASV website’s information page about the Project, which includes a link to the full version of the 65-page Guidelines.

These developments – particularly with the AVMA oath – are timely considering a recent MSNBC story, “When I Die, So Does My Dog:  Some Pet Owners Take Animals To Their Graves.”  Reading that story made me wonder if a vet would or could refuse to euthanize a healthy companion animal like the two-year old Yorkie mentioned.  As I delve more into pet trusts, I vow to educate a client who wished to have their pets euthanized upon their death about this new oath and the many wonderful options for caregivers.  [Hint, hint – to learn more about estate planning options for your companion animals, keep your eye out for a certain upcoming NovaDog Magazine article!]

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Lynchburg Fire Department Honors Search And Rescue Dog With Pet Oxygen Masks

Kudos to the Lynchburg Fire Department!  Captain Ron Sanders recently lost his incredible Belgian Malinois search and rescue dog, Ondo.  At 13 years old, Ondo had actually re-certified as a search and rescue dog, and was the only dog during the recertification test to find all six victims!  He was a fantastic dog that needed to be recognized.

In memory of Ondo, the fire department raised donations for pet oxygen masks to install in Lynchburg’s fire trucks and rescue units.  Just like Ondo’s tireless work in saving human lives during disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, these masks will aid in saving the lives of pets.  What a great way to honor a fantastic dog!

Special recognition goes to everyone who donated, along with Dr. Amy Touton of Lake Forest Animal Hospital, who helped to get the proper masks to fit pets, SurgiVet who provided the masks at a discounted price and shipped them for free, and Virginia-based High Peak Sportswear, who provided discounted bags to carry the masks with free printing “In Memory of Ondo” and instructions on oxygen saturation levels based on the size of the pet.  How wonderful to see so many folks chipping in to recognize Ondo’s years of service!

For more information on this story, check out this New Era Progress article, Pet Oxygen Masks Distributed This Week, on