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Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Search Dogs, Service Dogs, and PETA, Oh My! 2016 Virginia Legislative Update

servicedogWe are a couple of weeks into the 2016 Virginia Legislative Session. Here’s an update for this session, with my positions as to each bill:



HB 202: This bill allows K9 search and rescue organizations to acquire, store, use and dispose of anatomical gifts to train human remains detection dogs. It’s been amended to convene a work group to study options and recommend policies and procedures of using anatomical gifts for training purposes. The House passed this bill 99-0 and it’s on to the Senate Education and Health Committee.

HB 802: This bill addresses the supervision of veterinary technicians, and expands immunity for reporting animal cruelty to all individuals regulated by the Board of Veterinary Medicine (rather than only veterinarians, as the law currently states). This bill has been reported from committee 22-0.

SB 363: This bill prohibits a person from knowingly, willfully, and fraudulently representing their dog is a service dog, and punishes this act as a Class 4 Misdemeanor. The Senate passed SB 363 36-4, and it is on its way to the House. The House counterpart, HB 270, was laid on the table by voice vote in the House Criminal Law Subcommittee, but hopefully SB 363 will have sufficient steam to make it through the House.


HB 340: Last year, the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to pass SB 1381, which clarified the definition of a “private animal shelter” to state unequivocally that all private animal shelters have the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes for animals in their care. This year, PETA is looking to overturn SB 1381, arguing that private animal shelters should be able to have “other purposes.” What other purposes, you might ask? PETA’s self-reported statistics show that it euthanized 88% of the animals in its care in 2014.  The House Agricultural Subcommittee reported HB 340 to the full committee 6-1 (thank you, Delegate Keam!), but in a rare procedural move, the Chair of the Subcommittee is holding the bill in subcommittee until February 1 to see if compromise language could be reached.


HB 476: Virginia already has progressive reporting requirements for intake and disposition of animals by shelters, rescues, and animal control agencies. HB 476 would require those organizations to also submit their intake policies in their annual reports to the State Vet. I take no position on this bill, and defer to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the General Assembly as to whether they believe the extra reporting requirements are justified. The House passed this bill 98-0, and it’s now in the Senate Agricultural Committee. If the bill passes, it will be good to have data, for no other reason than to demonstrate that an organization’s intake policies have no direct correlation to the organization’s success.



HB 38/HB211/HB1155: These bills would grant immunity for forcible entry into a hot car to remove an unattended companion animal. The subcommittee voted to lay these bills on the table by voice vote.

HB 502: HB 502 is the Humane Cosmetics Act, which would prohibit animal testing for cosmetics and prohibit the sale of cosmetics that have used animal testing. The subcommittee recommended striking this bill from the docket by voice vote.

SB 6: SB 6 would require private animal shelters to supplement their annual report to include additional information regarding the animals they euthanize, including efforts to dispose of animals by nonlethal means and the basis for the decision to euthanize. The Senate Agricultural Committee continued this bill until 2017.

SB 18: This bill has been introduced in years past, and would establish a companion animal surgical sterilization program and fund. This bill was also continued until 2017.


HB 156: This bill is much like HB 340, in that it would allow “other purposes” for private animal shelters. But this bill went even further, striking the requirement that the shelter’s facility actually house or contain animals. Thankfully, the bill’s patron withdrew it, and now the battle focuses on HB 340.



HB 37: This bill would prohibit the towing of a car occupied by a companion animal.

HB 118: This bill would amend the form of government for Fairfax County to allow animal protection police who would have the powers of law enforcement officers as well as animal control officers.

HB 302: This bill would prohibit aversive training devices and training practices for elephants.

HB 958: HB 958 clarifies that drowning constitutes animal cruelty. There is an exception for completely submerged body-gripping traps permitted for use by the DGIF that needs to be addressed in future legislation, but this is a great start.

HB 1211/SB 651: These bills require animal control officer training within one year of being on the job, rather than two years as the law currently states.

HB 1231: This bill allows a district court to order confinement leashing and muzzling for a dog who has injured or killed livestock or poultry. Current law requires killing or removing the dog to another state.

HB 1238: HB 1238 allows law enforcement officers and their survivors to purchase working animals when the animal is retired from duty.

SB 9: This is a companion bill to HB 38 and HB 211, which would grant immunity to a person rescuing a dog in a hot car.


HB 157: This bill outlines various procedures for Department of Agriculture guidance documents, and explicitly states that a guidance document cannot serve as the basis to issue or deny an approval letter to operate a private animal shelter. This bill micromanages the Department of Agriculture, and ties its hands in enforcing SB 1381. This bill was taken up at the first House Agricultural Subcommittee hearing, but has been continued until February 1. We’ll see what the future holds for HB340 and HB157.

HB 1270: This bill requires the Department of Agriculture to create a Companion Animal Care Advisory Committee. When I served on a similar Work Group, we recommended that the law require all releasing agencies (shelters and rescues) to be “incorporated” – meaning that they at least be organized and maintained as a legal entity in Virginia. This is not required for a stakeholder organization on this proposed Advisory Committee. Any stakeholder making policy recommendations for releasing agencies must at a minimum adhere to this requirement, and have bylaws that outline the organization’s membership, governance, and voting rights.

HJ 160: HJ 160 requires the Agriculture and Health Departments to study Virginia’s procedures for licensing cats and dogs. I support this as it pertains to dogs, but oppose it as it pertains to cats. Current law allows localities to enact ordinances to require cat licenses, but there is no statewide requirement to license cats. I oppose any effort to require cat licenses statewide, particularly unless and until the law is clarified to allow localities and public shelters to conduct TNR. This bill also requires the departments to be aided by a panel of stakeholders – and just like HB 1270, any stakeholder recommending policy must at a minimum be organized and maintained as a legal entity in Virginia, and have bylaws outlining membership, governance, and voting rights.




Most people understand that describing shelters as “no kill” or “high kill” is counterproductive and divisive. Less obvious is the fact that the terms “open admission” shelter and “limited access” shelter suffer the same plight. Just like “no kill” organizations pounded their chests while wagging their fingers at “high kill” shelters, “open admission” shelters can fall into the trap of pounding their chests while wagging their fingers at “limited access” shelters. This is just as counterproductive and divisive, and misses the point.

In Virginia, there are two clearly delineated types of animal shelters – public shelters and private shelters. The delineation comes from the distinct purposes of each. Every jurisdiction must have a public shelter, which is charged with many purposes, from housing stray dogs until reclaimed by their owners, to sheltering animals seized due to cruelty or neglect. Private shelters exist to support public shelters, with the explicit purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes for animals in their care. Because of this clear legal delineation, I choose to use the terms “public” shelter and “private” shelter when describing shelters.

[Read more…]

5 Dog Bite Defenses Within Virginia’s Legislation

Dog DefensesIt’s estimated that there are roughly 80 million companion dogs in the United States.  That is over 80 million canine and feline family members and friends who share the couch with their owner, snag a bite of holiday dinner from under the table, and take walks in their bustling neighborhood.

Along with pet ownership comes responsibility.  Every year, some statistics estimate that 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs and 800,000 people are sent to receive medical treatment. The media and society tend to blame the dog for the attack.  However, there are often very valid reasons why a dog bites.  If a plaintiff sues you in civil court for money damages, or if the Commonwealth tries to have your dog declared dangerous, you and your dog may have options and defenses. [Read more…]

“Certificate of Excellence” from Living and Learning with Animals Professional Course

LLACOE2014_400 BADGEAs an animal law attorney and dog trainer, I am always trying to learn as much as I can about animal interaction with humans.

I recently completed Dr. Susan Friedman’s 2014 Living and Learning with Animals course. The course, for veterinary and animal professionals, explored the fundamental principles and procedures of teaching and learning.

Dr. Friedman provided a foundation for a comprehensive and coherent understanding of animal behavior analysis—focusing particularly on captive and companion animals.

While most of my work extends to dogs and cats, the principles discussed by the Utah State University research assistant professor are applicable to all animal species.

I’m very excited to announce that I received a “Certificate of Excellence” for the course. [Read more…]

Pet Businesses You Can Start Today

Pug with a Toy in its MouthMany people dream of starting their own business, and pet owners are no different. Our companion animals are faithful friends that provide us with comic relief and unconditional love. This thoughtful imagination doesn’t have to simply be a dream; there are many animal related business ideas that would be a lively career change and a strong investment.

Inspired by entrepreneur and author James Stephenson, Entrepreneur discusses many ways to get involved in this growing industry. The animal industry is constantly expanding, and there are many ways to be involved with this multi-million dollar, animal-loving business. [Read more…]

How to Start a Nonprofit Organization

Hands Typing on a KeyboardAs a small business and nonprofit lawyer, I have offered many clients legal assistance to help start their nonprofit organizations and small businesses.

The key components to starting a nonprofit is having a strong passion for the topic and following the processes correctly. If you are committed to starting an organization, there are many hoops to jump through. [Read more…]

Why Do Dogs Bite?

Dog Looking WearyDog bites seem to be filling the news these days, and the stories never have happy endings. Family members, visitors, and children are being bitten by familiar dogs. Fortunately, Virginia recognizes the focus should be on the deed, not the breed, with clear statutory language that no dog will be deemed dangerous or vicious based on the dog’s breed.

Dogs bite more than 4.5 million people every year, and more than 885,000 of those victims require emergency care, according to the CDC.

To get to the root of this problem, it’s important to ask why dogs bite before we can work on prevention.  [Read more…]

4 Dog Parks to Visit This Season

Dogs Playing OutsideAs the summer unwinds and families become accustomed to their new school and work schedule, many forget that their dog is affected, too. While there are less activities revolving around the house, make sure to spend quality time with your pets.

One of the best ways to enjoy this beautiful weather is visiting a dog park! Alexandria (and the surrounding areas) has numerous, bountiful dog parks that will make your dogs leap with joy. Remember to follow the dog park rules, bring a bowl for water, and trash bags. Most importantly, have fun with your dog!

Remember that not every dog is a candidate for the dog park, and that there are pros and cons even for those dogs who are appropriate candidates for dog park fun.  Before you leash your dog up for the park, take a look at what the ASPCA advises about the subject.  You should also check out Dr. Sophia Yin’s article on Dog Park Etiquette. [Read more…]

Go Into a Pet Custody Battle Fully Armed

dog playing tug-of-warDetermining who gets custody over a family pet can be one of the most heart-wrenching experiences (besides child custody) during a separation or divorce.

Most of us consider our companion animals to be family members.   However, the law sees animals as property, which means that you need to prove that you and your family pet should stay together.

Working with an animal law lawyer will help give you the best chance of keeping your companion animal.

As an animal law lawyer, creating a strategy to keep the beloved animal with a client relies on a couple different things. Be prepared go into a pet custody battle fully armed with evidence that you deserve to be the primary caregiver of your furry companion. [Read more…]

Adopt a Pet at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria

puppyBringing a new four-legged friend home for the first time is a special moment for the entire family. You bond with the animal, showing him or her around the house, the yard, and neighborhood. This is where they will spend their days, enjoying the company of your family while growing close to each member.

Adopting a pet is one of the most generous things you can do for an animal. The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Virginia, located on Eisenhower Avenue, is a great place to find a new furry companion, with cats, dogs, and other small animals looking for a home.

Before you head over to the shelter, there are a few adoption tips recommended by the Animal Welfare League: [Read more…]