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Virginia Legislative Update for 2014

 dog holding a wooden gavel in mouth 2014 LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Virginia’s 2014 Legislative Session ended up being quite dynamic, with a number of legislative victories. These changes will go into effect tomorrow – July 1, 2014.

Legislative Victories

SB 228 (Bailey’s Law): This law requires pet stores to post information about the source of their dogs, including the breeders’ name, city, state and USDA license number. Additionally, SB 228 gives consumers a new remedy – for veterinary bills to care for a sick dog or cat purchased at a pet store, instead of being forced to return the animal to the pet store, or to absorb those costs if the purchaser kept the animal.

SB 42 (Fox Penning): This long-anticipated law phases out existing fox pens and prohibit new pens from opening.

HB 972 (Protective Orders): HB 972 authorizes courts to grant possession of a companion animal to protective order petitioners.

SB 177 (Service Animals): This law expands the definition of “service dog” to be more in line with the federal definition, by including dogs trained to assist those with physical, sensory, intellectual, developmental, or mental disability, or mental illness. [Read more…]

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. [Read more…]

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.

Sometimes Bright Line Rules Just Aren’t the Answer: The Problem with Tracey v. Solesky

Bright line rules have their place. Society often benefits from clear, objective and unambiguous rules, when those rules produce even-handed and predictable results and  have very little risk of creating harsh or unjust results. Take speed limits, voting ages, and Miranda warnings as examples.

the word "mistake" being whited out But sometimes life is not black and white. Bright line rules are inappropriate and dangerous tools any time the issues turn on a variety circumstances and there is a risk of sweeping up innocent activity or individuals. Then a balancing test, or case-by-case analysis, is much more appropriate.

Today, the Court of Appeals of Maryland opted for a bright line rule in exactly the kind of case where a bright line rule is inappropriate. In Tracey v. Solesky, the Court ruled: [Read more…]

The Burden of Bailments: Lohre v. Posh Maids

hands holding a dog lease and collarOn August 17, 2011, Robin Lohre asked Posh Maids to clean her home. During the several hours it would take to clean the house, Lohre needed to run errands. Lohre made sure with the employee that her dog, Ruthie, could stay in the house during the cleaning. Lohre asked the employee not to let Ruthie out of the house, and gave careful instructions of how to go in and out of the mudroom if she had to go outside. Lohre then went to run errands with her six-year-old daughter.

Posh Maids called Lohre to tell her they were able to finish the cleaning a little ahead of schedule because additional employees arrived. Lohre and her daughter came home to find Ruthie dead under the dining room table. Lohre called Posh Maids, and was told that Ruthie was hit by a car, ran back home and was “whimpering a little.”
[Read more…]

Special Thanks to Operation Socialization for Guest Blogger Opportunity!

filing cabinet with an insurance tabHearty 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.

Alexandria Animals Score Big Today!

golden retriever playing with a tennis ball on his backThis 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!

Alexandria, Virginia Steps Up Safety For Companion Animals

Pomeranian in a life floatTomorrow morning at 9:30 AM, the Alexandria City Council is poised to pass two ordinances aimed at companion animal safety.

The first ordinance is not a new topic for this blog –whether electronic collars qualify as “leashes” under Alexandria’s leash laws. The City Council is addressing this issue head on, and if this ordinance passes, will say unequivocally that a shock collar does not qualify as a leash. This law is a welcome step in the path of countries like Wales, which recently banned electronic collars.

Here is the gist of proposed amendment to Alexandria’s ordinance from the definitions section in Section 5-7-31 (j), with new language in bold and italics:

(j) Run or running at large. Roaming or running off the premises of its owner not under the control of its owner or a responsible person capable of physical restraining the dog and not secured by a leash, lead or other means of physical restraint, which leash, lead or other means of physical restraint is not harmful or injurious to the dog and which is held by a responsible person capable of physically restraining the dog. An electronic collar or other similar electronic device does not qualify as a leash, lead or other means of physical restraint.

Similar changes prohibiting electronic collars will carry through to Section 5-7-33.1, addressing dogs running at large, and Section 5-7-35, Alexandria’s leash law. You can see all of the proposed changes and further discussion on the proposed ordinance on the City of Alexandria’s website.

The second ordinance addresses locking animals in hot cars. The proposed law would make it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine for confining an animal in a car if the outside temperature is 70 degrees or hotter and the car is not properly air conditioned. The law would also make it a crime punishable by a fine and up to twelve months in jail for leaving an animal unattended if the animal suffers heat stress.

Here is the full language of proposed Section 5-7-58:

Sec. 5-7-58 Confinement of animals in vehicles prohibited.
(a) Any person who confines an animal in an unattended, enclosed vehicle where the outside temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, and the interior of the vehicle is not provided with conditioned air to maintain an internal temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or less, shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.
(b) Any person who confines an animal in an unattended, enclosed vehicle so as to cause the animal to suffer from heat stress as diagnosed by a licensed veterinarian, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The Animal Control Officer or other officer shall have the authority to remove any animal found in an enclosed vehicle that appears to be suffering from heat stress. The animal shall be provided immediate veterinary care. The animal owner or custodian shall be responsible for all expenses incurred during the removal of the animal or its subsequent treatment and impoundment.
(c) In the event that the person responsible for the violation cannot be ascertained, the registered owner of the vehicle, as required by Chapter 6 of Title 46.2 of the Code of Virginia (1950), as amended, shall constitute in evidence a prima facie presumption that such registered owner was the person who committed the violation.
Section 2. That this ordinance shall become effective upon the date and at the time of its final passage.

Again, you can check the City’s website for more information on Section 5-7-58.

As a resident of Alexandria since 1997, it will make me very proud to see both of these ordinances pass tomorrow!  Check here for more information on the Saturday, November 12, 2011 9:30 AM docket.

My Sentiments Exactly! Medlen v. Strickland and Sentimental Value

Funny rottweiler holds dollars in mouth, isolated white backgroundOn June 2, 2009, the Medlens’ family dog, Avery, escaped from his backyard in Tarrant County, Texas. Animal Control responded and impounded Avery as a stray. Mr. Medlen went to the pound to claim Avery, but did not have enough money that day to pay the impound fees. The pound told Mr. Medlen that he could return on June 10 to get Avery, and a “hold for owner” tag was placed on Avery’s kennel.

On June 6, a pound employee made a list of dogs to be euthanized the following day, and mistakenly included Avery’s name on that list. Avery was euthanized the next day. The Medlens discovered the mistake and tragic result when they went to reclaim Avery as planned.

The Medlens sued the employee for negligence, claiming damages to compensate them for the unique sentimental or intrinsic value that Avery had. The employee argued that the Medlens weren’t entitled to those kinds of damages, and the trial court agreed with the employee.

On appeal, the pound employee relied on an 1891 Texas case, Heiligman v. Rose, for the proposition that Texas law treats dogs differently than other “personal property,” and limits damages to market value, or some special pecuniary value based on the dog’s usefulness or services. Heiligman involved three dogs who were poisoned. The dogs were bred and “well trained,” and one of the dogs would even bark in three different ways to signal whether a man, woman or child were approaching. The plaintiff in that case testified that the dogs’ “market value” was $5, but that she wouldn’t part with them for less than $50.

Arguing to reverse the trial court, the Medlens cited cases holding that plaintiffs are entitled to the sentimental or intrinsic value of property when the property has little to no “fair market value.” The appellate courts have not had the opportunity to decide cases with companion animals since Heiligman, but have looked at cases involving family correspondence, photographs and other keepsakes, shade and ornamental trees, and wedding veils, shoes, lace collars and watches.

On Friday, the Court of Appeals for the Second District of Texas issued its opinion agreeing with the Medlens, concluding that they entitled to damages reflecting Avery’s sentimental or intrinsic value. The highlight of the Court’s opinion is this wonderful acknowledgment of the special human-dog bond:

Because of the special position pets hold in their family, we see no reason why existing law should not be interpreted to allow recovery in the loss of a pet at least to the same extent as any other personal property. Cf. Bueckner, 886 S.W.2d at 377–78 (Andell, J., concurring) (“Society has long since moved beyond the untenable Cartesian view that animals are unfeeling automatons and, hence, mere property. The law should reflect society‘s recognition that animals are sentient and emotive beings that are capable of providing companionship to the humans with whom they live.”). Dogs are unconditionally devoted to their owners. Today, we interpret timeworn supreme court law in light of subsequent supreme court law to acknowledge that the special value of “man‘s best friend” should be protected.

Although this does allow for damages based on intrinsic or sentimental value, the Texas courts may still be unwilling to allow for damages for mental anguish or pain and suffering for the loss of a companion animal. Virginia has made it clear that a plaintiff in a negligence action cannot claim damages for pain and suffering – although there is a window of hope that the Virginia courts would allow those damages in intentional tort cases. But Virginia has yet to come out clearly on the issue of damages based on a companion animals’ intrinsic or sentimental value.

This case is a wonderful example of how we can work within the confines of the law – which still considers our companions to be personal property – to achieve results that nonetheless recognize the special place that our companion animals have in our lives.

Many thanks to Debra Griggs of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies for alerting me to this case!

News Flash! VFHS Regional Meeting Tonight in Arlington!

golden retriever holding a newspaperJoin the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies tonight for their Regional Meeting in Northern Virginia.  The meeting will be held from 7:00 to 9:00 PM at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, at 2650 S Arlington Mill Drive, Arlington, VA 22206 in Shirlington.

We will discuss the status of animal welfare in Virginia, upcoming legislation and what you can do to help.  Guest speakers include representatives from the Humane Society of the United States and Ally Cat AlliesCheck VFHS’s website for further information.

Hope to see you there!

Also take note that VFHS is offering an early bird special to renew your membership, and the new Comprehensive Animal Law Handbooks are out and available for only $10.  And stay tuned for more information about VFHS’s Annual Conference in Williamsburg on March 29-31, 2012!