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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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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More on Tracey v. Solesky and Maryland dog bite cases

The Maryland General Assembly’s Task Force appointed to address Tracey v. Solesky are working on a bill, and the General Assembly may have the opportunity to vote on the bill during an upcoming special session this month.  The bill is expected to impose liability on all dog owners, regardless of breed, but revert to the common law for landlords, imposing liability only if the landlord knows of the dog’s vicious propensities.

In the meantime, the law remains as it was prior to the Tracey v. Solesky ruling.  Delegate Heather Mizeur sent a request to the Maryland Attorney General regarding the status of the law while Ms. Tracey’s motion to reconsider is pending in the Maryland Court of Appeals.  The Attorney General responded that Tracey v. Solesky is stayed and does not take effect until the Court takes up the motion to reconsider.

Other jurisdictions are following Maryland closely, including right here in northern Virginia.  For a more detailed look at the ruling and its impact for Virginia, don’t miss my article in NOVADog Magazine’s summer edition.  You can also learn more by watching the current episode of The Pet Show with Dr. Katy, which features several interviews, including one with Libby Sherrill, the creator of the documentary Beyond the Myth.

UPDATE (8/6/12):  The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates just issued Resolution 100, promoting breed neutral legislation and proposing the elimination of breed bans and breed specific legislation.


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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.


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Free Downloads for Virginia Boarding Establishments

I’ve posted before about who is responsible for a boarded animal’s vet care, notice requirements for Virginia boarding establishments, and how bailment law impacts boarders and groomers.

I won’t repeat these posts, but it is vital that you understand Virginia’s veterinary care and liability notice requirements for boarding establishments.  “Boarding establishments” are defined quite broadly, and would include kennels, doggy daycares, veterinarians and animal hospitals that board animals, and any other place where companion animals are “sheltered, fed and watered in exchange for a fee.”

The one point worth repeating is that Virginia boarding establishments are required to provide veterinary care to animals in their care.  You may not get stuck with the bill, but you absolutely must get care for the animal in the event of an emergency.

All Virginia boarding establishments are required to give two types of notice regarding liability and veterinary care.  I’ve created two downloads that will help you get in compliance with both of these notice requirements.  These downloads comply with the law’s specific notice requirements,  right down to the correct font size (at least ten-point) and type (boldfaced)!

The first download (PDF) must be in a written document and spell out exactly what the law requires for emergency veterinary care and liability.  You must provide this written notice to your clients in writing before they drop off their animals.  You can include this in your contract if you give your clients a copy of the contract.  Best practices would be to include this in your contract and to have separate copies of this notice on brightly colored paper in case the client asks for a copy.

The second download (PDF) must be displayed on a sign placed in a conspicuous location and manner in your intake area.  Make sure that this sign and the other notice are in bold print with at least ten-point font.  It’s also best to have both notices in all caps.

If you are a Virginia company or nonprofit and you want to know more about other laws that may impact you, consider getting a copy of the Virginia Comprehensive Animal Law Handbook.  It costs only $10, it’s updated annually, and you can order it from the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies.


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Public Meeting on the Solesky Decision this Sunday

The Maryland Animal Law Center will be hosting a public meeting on the fallout of the Solesky decision and what impact it has on pet care industry companies, rescues and owners.  The meeting is this Sunday, May 6 from 2:00 to 4:00 at Coventry School for Dogs in Columbia, Maryland.  This is a great opportunity to get up to speed on what impact the Solesky decision may have.


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Follow up on the Solesky Ruling

Concerned about the recent Solesky decision in Maryland, and what impact it will have?

Tune in tonight at 8:00 PM on Pit Bulletin Legal News Radio for an in-depth discussion of the Solesky decision, and what impact it is having on rescues and insurance companies.  If you can’t make it tonight, the show will be archived so you can listen to it later.

The Humane Society of the United States has also compiled information especially for pit bull and pit bull mix owners who live and rent in Maryland.

If you are looking for an animal law attorney in Maryland, you can reach out to the Maryland State Bar Animal Law Section for help.