114 North Alfred Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Is Increasing Minimum Wage Hurting Small Business Owners? Franchise Owners?

Pet Store | Heidi MeinzerAs a small business owner in Alexandria, Virginia, I understand the challenges many face when running their own company. If you are a small business owner, one such challenge you likely deal with on a regular basis is the question each employee is always asking—vocally or not.

“Shouldn’t I be paid more?”

A recent move by the city of Seattle has small business owners everywhere—particularly franchise owners—deeply concerned. The Emerald City raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour. [Read more…]

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…]

High Five! The USDA Proposes Rule to Close Internet Loophole

Dog on keyboard with a paw in the airToday, 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. [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.

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!

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!

Toronto is Next to Ban Sale of Cats and Dogs in Pet Stores

dashshund puppy sitting in a red cartWe’ve all seen storefronts with adorable puppies and kittens staring at us and waiting to be taken home.  It’s hard to resist those big round eyes looking up at you — unless you stop to think about where these animals have probably come from.

The animals sold in pet stores most likely come from puppy mills — places where profit trumps the welfare of the animals.  Taking home one of these puppies or kittens will only fuel the ongoing misery that the parents live in.  Here’s a graphic example of an investigation into the true source of the animals sold in Petland, a large retail outlet for live animals:

In an effort to stop supporting puppy bans, local jurisdictions have begun passing laws to ban the sale of live animals in pet stores.  Just yesterday, Toronto became the second city in Canada, after Richmond, British Columbia, to pass such a ban.  In the United States, at least three cities have passed pet store bans — South Lake Tahoe, West Hollywood and Lake Worth in Florida.

I am an adamant supporter of these bans.  But it is not a stand alone solution.  These bans must be coupled with public education about the rationale for the bans — that buying an animal from a store profits puppy mills.  And as I’ve harped on before, we need to tackle the overpopulation issue from all angles — supply side and demand side — with well crafted spay/neuter laws and breeding regulations, and stronger animal abuser and puppy mill laws.