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Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Be Careful What You Ask For: The Dire Consequences of Backyard Chickens

Dog watching chickenArlington 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. [Read more…]

Update on Virginia’s 2012 Legislative Session

wooden stamp that creates "update" in inkAs well as this legislative session started, not much positive happened for animals this year.  Here’s a rundown of what the General Assembly did this year:

HB 95 (Bear Hound Training):  Even though bear hound training was already allowed during most times of the day, this bill extended the hours of training bear hounds to include 4:00 AM to 10:00 PM.  The Senate  stopped this bill in its tracks last year, but it sailed through the House and the Senate this year and was signed into law by the Governor.

HB 158 (Prohibiting Devocalization):  This is the second time Virginia missed an opportunity to put a stop to the inhumane practice of devocalization. This bill was pushed off until 2013 when it was continued by voice vote in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee. [Read more…]

Humane Lobby Day and an Overview of Virginia’s 2012 Legislative Session

white dog holding a blank sign from his mouthPlease join the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies and the Humane Society of the United States this Thursday in Richmond for Humane Lobby Day.  There will be plenty to discuss with your representatives.  Here is my take on each of the companion animal related bills in this session:

STRONGLY SUPPORT:

HB 158 (Prohibiting Devocalization):  A great bill designed to end an inhumane practice. Virginia missed the opportunity to pass this last year, but will hopefully come through this session.

HB 363 (Companion Animals in Protective Orders):  This bill clarifies that judges have the ability to include companion animals in protective orders.

HB 650 (Notice of Euthanasia for Companion Animals):  This bill provides that shelters or pounds give notice to rescues in the position to help out before euthanizing healthy, adoptable companion animals.

HB 695/SB 202 (Prohibiting Fox and Coyote Penning):  Like dog fighting, which is now outlawed in all fifty states, fox penning is an inhumane “sport” that amounts to cruelty.

HB 888 (Allowing Local Anti-Tethering Ordinances):  This merely clarifies that localities have the ability to pass their own anti-tethering ordinances.

HB 1242/SB 477 (Prohibiting Exotic Animals):  A necessary response to the tragedy last year in Ohio.

SB 359 (TNR):  This bill clarifies that TNR is a legal and acceptable practice to control feral cat populations that should not be hindered by current abandonment laws.

HJ 143 (Spay Day):  Who could resist this?!

SUPPORT IN PART AND OPPOSE IN PART:

HB 537/SB 305 (Dangerous Dog Registry):  This bill makes good changes to shift more responsibility to local animal control officers, but the 45-day window to comply with the registration certification procedures is too long.  When there has been an issue such as obtaining insurance that has taken longer than the current 10-day window, animal control officers are more than willing to work with registrants.  A 15-day window would probably be sufficient.

STRONGLY OPPOSE:

HB 95 (Bear Hound Training):  Training is already allowed during most times of the day, and there is no reason to extend training into the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning.

SB 610 (Agricultural Animals):  This bill is a huge setback, as it tries to peel off hunting, working and show dogs from the definition of companion animals and puts all authority in the hands of the State Vet instead of localities and animal control officers.

Please reach out to your state representatives to ask for support regarding these vital companion animal issues.  If you are unsure of who your representatives are, or how to contact them, visit the Virginia General Assembly website.

Virginia 2012 Legislative Roundup, Part Two

As promised, here is more information about a few of the bills in this legislative session:

HB 1242/SB 477 would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor (punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2500 fine) to possess, sell or breed exotic animals.  This bill is in response to the tragedy last year in Ohio resulting in the death of almost fifty animals after the owner released the animals and killed himself.small cat crouching between wood panelsSB 359 will officially legalize Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) programs. This bill clarifies that anyone engaged in TNR is not an “owner” who could be deemed to be “abandoning” the cats.

If you would like to know more about fox penning and HB 695/SB 202, the Humane Society of the United States has put together a video explaining this blood sport and why it is vital that we push to prohibit this cruel practice.  A major focus of Humane Lobby Day in Richmond this Thursday will be to gather support for these bills.

Last but not least is HJ 143, which would establish February 28 as Spay Day.

Now the bad news.  As is often the case, a devastating bill will sneak into the legislation when no one is looking.  And so it is with SB 610.  This bill would prohibit localities and animal control officers from regulating agricultural animals, placing all authority over agricultural animals in the hands of the State Vet.  This bill would also expand the definition of agricultural animals to include hunting, working and show dogs.  Needless to say, this bill would be a tremendous set back to animal welfare by placing a huge burden on the State Vet’s office, and taking the power to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty and neglect out of the hands of localities and animal control officers who are in the best position to take action.

Stay posted later this week for an overview of the good, the bad and the ugly in the bills geared towards companion animals in this legislative session.

Wonderful Week for the Animals, Part Two: Better Days Ahead for The Chicken and The Egg

The first post in this series dealt with a landmark victory confronting an area that has historically been filled with some of the cruelest suffering – laboratory animals.

On Thursday, July 7, 2011, there was yet another victory in yet another area of notoriously inhumane abuse and cruelty – the poultry industry.

hands holding grass and an egg that has "free range" written on itAnimal welfare organizations such as the Farm Sanctuary, Compassion Over Killing, the ASPCA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have been fighting for years to protect farm animals. The most famous of these battles was the successful ballot initiative, Proposition 2, in 2008 in California.

These organizations have vowed to go state-by-state with similar ballot initiatives in an effort to better the conditions of agricultural animals. Currently, ballot initiatives are on the table in Washington and Oregon.

But last Thursday, this dogged state-by-state approach brought the agricultural industry to its knees, with overarching and national results. HSUS announced a landmark truce between these activists and the United Egg Producers (UEP), the largest egg industry group in the nation, which represents owners of about 80% of the nation’s egg laying hens, according to the ASPCA. This truce will ensure better conditions for hens and more reliable egg labeling for consumers.

According to HSUS, HSUS and UEP have vowed to enact legislation that will require:

  • phased in construction of hen housing systems that will give each hen almost twice as much space as is currently provided
  • environmental enrichments such as perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas in hens’ housing systems
  • egg carton labeling such as “eggs from caged hens” and “eggs from cage-free hens”

and prohibit:

  • new construction of unenrichable battery cages by the end of 2011, and a phase out of barren battery cages
  • forced molting by starvation in order to manipulate the hens to lay eggs sooner
  • excessive ammonia levels in the hens’ housing systems
  • sale of eggs and egg products that don’t meet these standards

Major kudos to the hard-working animal welfare advocates at all of these organizations! This is a great example of how a well-run, successful state-by-state approach with specific goals can result in a federal legislative effort that will increase the welfare of hens nationwide.  And I love the fact that the Farm Sanctuary sees this as a major step — but not the final step — vowing to continue the fight for completely cage-free hens.

As this effort reaches Congress, make sure to encourage your Senators and Representatives to support this upcoming legislation.

Virginia’s New Agricultural Animal Bill in Action

Portrait of a cute pig, on black backgroundWhen I first commented on Virginia’s new agricultural animal bill, HB 1541/SB 1026, I was cautiously optimistic. Agricultural animals were covered by Virginia’s animal cruelty statute, but they did not have the protections of a neglect or lack of adequate care statute equivalent to Section 3.2-6503’s adequate care requirements for companion animals. HB 1541/SB 1026 proposed a new statute, Section 3.2-6503.1, that would finally mandate standards for adequate care of agricultural animals.

HB 1541/SB 1026 and the addition of Section 3.2-6503.1 have generated a flurry of comments and criticism. Some of the criticism is directed towards exploitation of animals for food, clothing and other purposes – something that our society is unfortunately a very long way from addressing and prohibiting.

Other comments expressed a concern that the new agricultural animal bill would supplant – and virtually eliminate the use of – the animal cruelty statute as it applies to agricultural animals. This concern was the primary reason that I ultimately did not support HB1541/SB 1026.

A closer look at Section 3.2-6503.1 shows that the animal cruelty statute still applies to agricultural animals, and that Section 3.2-6503.1 will allow for intervention before treatment of agricultural animals rises to the level of cruelty.

Section 3.2-6503.1 requires owners to provide agricultural animals with “feed to prevent malnourishment,” “water to prevent dehydration, and “veterinary treatment as needed to address impairment of health or bodily function when such impairment cannot be otherwise addressed through animal husbandry, including humane destruction.”

By contrast, the animal cruelty statute prohibits depriving an animal (either companion or agricultural) of “necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment.” The term “necessary” is not defined further in the statute.

Section 3.2-6503.1 will take effect on July 1, 2011, and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and the Office of the State Veterinarian are already training animal control officers about how to implement the new statute. The Office of the State Veterinarian is emphasizing with the animal control officers that Section 3.2-6503.1 does nothing to change the animal cruelty statute – and that it allows the officers to intervene in order to prevent the situation from rising to abuse and neglect.

According to Dr. Dan Kovich of the Office of the State Veterinarian:

“If it was cruelty before, it’s cruelty now—this bill is a tool for early intervention.  Imagine two horses being kept on a bare dirt lot and not being provided with feed; one emaciated and one in good body condition. The first horse was, and remains, subject to the cruelty statute. The second horse cannot be demonstrated to suffer from a lack of necessary feed, and therefore no intervention can occur under existing law. This new statute will allow animal control officers to intervene simply because no feed is being provided, and therefore prevent the animal from actually having to suffer the process of malnourishment”

I am very relieved to know that officials see Section 3.2-6503.1 as a preventative measure – at least for food, water and veterinary care – that will augment Virginia’s animal cruelty statute. If used appropriately, animal control and law enforcement officers will now have a means to combat neglect of agricultural animals before the situation rises to the point of abuse and neglect.

One criticism that I still agree with is that the maximum penalties for lack of adequate care are far too light. As a Class Four Misdemeanor, the maximum penalty for agricultural animals is only a $250 fine. The penalty is the same for a first offense involving companion animals. Just last year, the General Assembly upped the ante for subsequent offenses involving companion animals – a move I hope will be forthcoming in future amendments to Section 3.2-6503.1.

Another critical issue is shelter and confinement standards for agricultural animals. Although the animal cruelty statute prohibits depriving an animal of “necessary shelter,” there is no clear guidance or definition for that term. Section 3.2-6503.1 does not address shelter. Organizations like The Humane Society of the United States are attacking agricultural animal confinement procedures nationwide. Perhaps the most notorious battle involved Proposition 2 in California, attacking the use of veal crates, battery cages and sow gestation crates. Although Section 3.2-6503.1 does not address these issues yet, we have to start somewhere. I can only hope that the General Assembly will use Section 3.2-6503.1 as a platform to address – and prohibit – these and other similar inhumane practices in the near future.

Here is the full text of Section 3.2-6503.1, which will take effect on July 1, 2011:

Section 3.2-6503.1: Care of agricultural animals by owner; penalty.
A. Each owner shall provide for each of his agricultural animals:
1. Feed to prevent malnourishment;
2. Water to prevent dehydration; and
3. Veterinary treatment as needed to address impairment of health or bodily function when such impairment cannot be otherwise addressed through animal husbandry, including humane destruction.
B. The provisions of this section shall not require an owner to provide feed or water when such is customarily withheld, restricted, or apportioned pursuant to a farming activity or if otherwise prescribed by a veterinarian.
C. There shall be a rebuttable presumption that there has been no violation of this section if an owner is unable to provide feed, water, or veterinary treatment due to an act of God.
D. The provisions of this section shall not apply to agricultural animals used for bona fide medical or scientific experimentation.
E. A violation of this section is a Class 4 misdemeanor.

Legislative Score Card: Let’s See How Virginia’s General Assembly Has Done

Richmond Virginia State Capitol Building With Bright Blue SkyThis session is over for the Virginia General Assembly as of Friday February 25, 2011.  Let’s see how they did with the companion animal law bills.  Below is a description of each bill, the grade I gave the bill in my previous post, and where each bill stands.  All in all, I have to warn you that this session was dismal.

HB 1541 (patron: Robert D. Orrick, Sr.)/SB 1026 (patron: Phillip P. Puckett), addressing care of agricultural animals and penalty for failure to provide care.  This is the bill that provides such minimum standards of care for agricultural animals that it actually threatens to carve agricultural animals out of the current animal cruelty standards under Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570Grade:  F.  Result:  This bill passed in the House by a vote of 98-0.  The Senate added some language regarding seizure and impoundment procedures, and that amendment was accepted by the HouseThe Senate’s version of this bill had language clarifying that animal cruelty under Section 3.2-6570 was still on the table for agricultural animals, but the House rejected the Senate’s version, and that language did not make its way into the final billBig step backwards for Virginia here.  UPDATE (5/21/11):  Take a look at this post on this statute’s implementation.  This gives me comfort, but there is still a long way to go to protect Virginia’s agricultural animals.

HB 1556 (patron: Tony Wilt), which would allow training of dogs to hunt bears to occur at night.  Grade:  F.  Result:  This bill passed in the House by a vote of 89-7, but has been passed by indefinitely in the Senate’s Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.  Nice job, Senate!

HB 1716 (patron: James M. Scott, Ward L. Armstrong and Charniele L. Herring), allowing a court to include in a protective order provisions prohibiting harm to a companion animal and damage to any item of personal property.  Grade:  A.  Result:  This bill got kicked around last year, and fortunately came back up again this session.  The House decided to incorporate this bill with HB 2063.  The latest language of HB 2063 does not specifically list companion animals, but it did add the italicized language for a protective orders involving domestic abuse, stating a court may:  “Prohibit[] acts of family abuse or criminal offenses that result in injury to person or property.”  For non-domestic protective orders, similar language was added:  “Prohibiting acts of violence, acts of sexual battery, or acts of stalking in violation of § 18.2-60.3 force, or threat or criminal offenses resulting in injury to person or property.”  This puts petitioners in the position of arguing their companion animals are property.  Better than nothing?  I’m not so sure.

HB 1889 (patron: Tony Wilt), allowing the use of tracking dogs to find wounded or dead bear or deer.  Grade:  F.  Result:  This bill passed resoundingly in the House, and finally passed in the Senate, too.  The final language changed a bit, but the amendment was nothing substantive.  This law still gets a huge thumbs down in my opinion.

HB 1930 (patron:  Daniel W. Marshall, III), establishing a statewide animal abuser registry.  Grade:  A+.  Result:  This bill never got past the House Committee for Courts of Justice.  Virginia missed out on being the first state to set up a statewide animal abuser registry.  Very disappointing.

HB 2108 (patron: Ward L. Armstrong)/SB 842 (patron: J. Chapman Petersen), which would allow circuit Courts to appoint new humane investigators.  Grade:  A.  Result:  This bill was already kicked around last year.  Not surprisingly, the House version is stuck yet again in the House Agricultural, Chesapeake and Natural Resources CommitteeThe Senate version has been passed by indefinitely in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 2134 (patron: William K. Barlow), providing that law enforcement K9s would not need to be quarantined unless the K9 was showing active signs of rabies or was suspected of having rabies.  Grade:  B.  Result:  Yet another bill that will languish in the House Agricultural, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 2195 (patron: Patrick Hope and Robin Abbott), prohibiting devocalization of a cat or dog unless necessary for health reasons.  Grade:  A+.  Result:  Another bill left to sit in the House Committee for Courts of Justice.  Another missed opportunity here.

HB 2312 (patron: Richard P. Bell and Robin Abbott), which would redefine “home based rescue” and add reporting requirements.  Grade:  F.  Result:  The House has allowed this bill to sit in the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.  So the House got one thing right with companion animals this session.

HB 2482 (patron:  R. Lee Ware, Jr.), which would provide new procedures for the impoundment, seizure, return or forfeiture of animals when the owner or custodian is suspected of animal welfare violations.  Grade:  F.  Result:  This bill has also gotten stuck in the House Agricultural, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.  OK, make that two things the House got right.

Legislative Score Card for Virginia’s Proposed Companion Animal Law Bills

Young cute dog in front of blackboard during a math classThe General Assembly has a complete mixed bag of companion animal law bills coming up this session.   Here are my thoughts on these ten bills.  Please chime in!

HB 1541 (patron: Robert D. Orrick, Sr.)/SB 1026 (patron: Phillip P. Puckett), addressing care of agricultural animals and penalty for failure to provide care.  This is the bill that provides minimum — and I mean minimum — standards of care for agricultural animals:  feed to prevent emaciation, water to prevent dehydration and the most basic vet treatment.  And the penalty is a mere $250 fine.  The fact that the General Assembly finally proposed standards for agricultural animals is far outweighed by how much this bill waters down the animal cruelty standards under Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570, which makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2500 fine for failure to provide any animal with “necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment.”  I have blogged on this before, and thought further on the issue after reading many thoughtful comments.  The General Assembly may try to re-work this language, but they have a long way to go to win my vote on this bill.  Grade:  F.  UPDATE (5/21/11):  Take a look at this post on the statute’s implementation — this definitely affects my overall grade, but there’s still a lot of work to do!

HB 1556 (patron: Tony Wilt), which would allow training of dogs to hunt bears to occur at night.  Currently, training is limited to one-half hour before sunrise until four and a half hours after sunset.  This bill has passed in the House, and is on its way to the Senate.  I vote thumbs down — bear hunting with dogs is cruel to both bear and dog, and training day and night seems completely unnecessary.  Grade:  F

HB 1716 (patron: James M. Scott, Ward L. Armstrong and Charniele L. Herring), allowing a court may to include in a protective order provisions prohibiting harm to a companion animal and damage to any item of personal property.  This bill got kicked around last year, and for some reason the same thing may happen this year.  There is every reason to pass this bill.  It is well known that harm to animals is often a prelude to harm to humans, and hurting a beloved companion animal can be a way for an abuser to get at a loved one.  Grade:  A

HB 1889 (patron: Tony Wilt), allowing the use of tracking dogs to find wounded or dead bear or deer during archery, muzzleloader, or firearm bear or deer hunting season, so long as those retrieving the bear or deer have permission to hunt or access to the land and do not have a weapon in their possession.  However, if the county allows bear or deer hunting with dogs, hunters may carry a weapon and have unrestrained dogs while searching for wounded or dead animals.  As for me, ditto on this as on HB 1556.  Grade:  F

HB 1930 (patron:  Daniel W. Marshall, III), establishing a statewide animal abuser registry.  This bill defines “animal abuser” as an adult who has been convicted of a felony violation of Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570 (cruelty to animals) or 3.2-6571 (animal fighting) or of a substantially similar law of another state or of the United States and requires any animal abuser physically within the boundaries of the Commonwealth for more than ten consecutive days to register in person with the sheriff of the county or city in which the animal abuser resides or is located. The bill also requires the offender to reregister annually. Failure to register or reregister is a Class 6 felony. The bill requires the sheriff to notify every residence and business within a one-half mile radius of the abuser’s residence or location within ten days of initial registration. The bill requires that registry information be maintained in a central registry by the State Police and posted on their website.  This would be an excellent step in the right direction, following the first public animal abuser registry in Suffolk County, New York last year and setting a high price for failure to register.  Thank you, Delegate Marshall!  Grade:  A+

HB 2108 (patron: Ward L. Armstrong)/SB 842 (patron: J. Chapman Petersen), which would allow circuit Courts to appoint new humane investigators. Currently, existing humane investigators may be reappointed, but the program is no longer open to new participants. The administrative entity that oversees animal control will be required to supervise humane investigators and maintain and annually update a list of persons eligible for appointment as humane investigators. Circuit courts that appoint a humane investigator must notify the administrative entity that oversees animal control in the locality where the humane investigator serves if a humane investigator’s term expires and he is not appointed to a succeeding term before or within 30 days.  This is another bill that got kicked around last year, and the time to pass it is now!  One thing that is being bantered about is whether to have humane investigators report straight to animal control, instead of the agency that oversees animal control, but either way, I give it a thumbs up.  Grade:  A

HB 2134 (patron: William K. Barlow), providing that law enforcement K9s would not need to be quarantined unless the K9 was showing active signs of rabies or was suspected of having rabies.  The law enforcement agency would be obliged to notify the local health director of any abnormal behavior with the K9 and provide access to the K9 for examination at any reasonable time.  I don’t feel as strongly about this bill as the others, but I support it.  I’d love to hear other thoughts on this one.  Grade:  B

HB 2195 (patron: Patrick Hope and Robin Abbott), requiring veterinarians to keep records of devocalization procedures, and providing that any person, including a licensed veterinarian, who performs a surgical devocalization on a cat or dog when the procedure is not necessary to treat or relieve an illness, disease, or injury or to correct a congenital abnormality that is causing or may cause the animal physical pain or harm, is guilty of a Class 6 felony.  Wow!  Big thumbs up for this one.  I love the substance, and the penalty, which would put Virginia in line with some of the toughest states on the devocalization issue.  Grade:  A+

HB 2312 (patron: Richard P. Bell and Robin Abbott), which would redefine “home based rescue” to remove the requirement that the rescue operate primarily for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes for companion animals.  Also, prior to transferring animals, animal shelters and other releasing agencies would be required to provide certifying documents that state that the entity is in compliance with existing law and assured that its home-based rescues and fosters provide adequate care.  As animal hoarding cases explode in number and severity, this is no time to take away a requirement that a home based rescue operate to provide permanent adoptive homes.  I’ve got to vote thumbs down on this one.  I don’t mind seeing one more background check to be sure abusers are not serving as rescues or fosters, but the rescues need access to the criminal background records.  Wouldn’t that animal abuser registry be nice?  Grade:  F

HB 2482 (patron:  R. Lee Ware, Jr.), which would provide new procedures for the impoundment, seizure, return or forfeiture of animals when the owner or custodian is suspected of animal welfare violations.  Animals in the custody or possession of dealers or pet shops that fail to adequately care for such animals shall be subject to impoundment pursuant to any directive or under any supervision as may be provided by the investigating official, animal control officer, or State Veterinarian’s representative.  Such animals are subject to seizure if (i) under a direct and immediate threat or (ii) the owner or custodian is unable to or does not provide adequate impoundment.  If convicted, the impounded or seized animals may be forfeited or returned to the owner or custodian at the discretion of the court. This bill would also repeal the prohibition on persons that have been convicted of animal cruelty from selling or trading companion animals.  The welfare requirement that emergency veterinary treatment is provided for animals under certain conditions would no longer include treatment for disease progression.  This bill would be a step backwards by allowing abusers to get their animals back, and I give it a thumbs down.  Grade:  F

Sharing Ideas: Further Reflection On Standards For Agricultural Animals

four dogs looking at a bone from four directionsI started this blog with the hope that people could come together to share ideas about various legal issues impacting animals, and that we could all learn from each other’s input.  I am thrilled to see this start to happen.  The one post has generated the most comments, and got me thinking the most in response, is about Virginia’s proposed standards for agricultural animals.

The proposed standards are basic, to say the least.  Water to prevent dehydration.  Food to prevent starvation.  And very basic veterinary care.  With a maximum penalty of $250.

My initial feelings were, “Well, at least it’s a start.”  After all, the General Assembly has been tweaking the comparable statute for companion animals, recently making certain subsequent offenses jailable.

Many of the comments demonstrate that people are, understandably, vehemently opposed to these proposed standards.  If you want your opposition to be heard, you should act now.  The House’s version of this bill, HB 1541, is slated for a Subcommittee Meeting on Monday, January 24.  The Senate’s version, SB 1026, has been referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.

So what specific suggestions can you make to your legislators?  Here are some options:

  1. Oppose the bill, and urge the General Assembly to take another year to think about the standards.  This is not such a bad idea, and in the meantime, animal control officers still have tools like the animal cruelty statue at their disposal.
  2. Oppose the bill, and urge the General Assembly to adopt the same standards for agricultural animals as exists for companion animals, at least as to adequate water, food and veterinary care.  This is an excellent idea in theory, but I fear will never make it past the farming industry lobby.
  3. Oppose the bill, urge the General Assembly to take another year to think about standards for agricultural animals, but in the meantime, change the law to categorize horses with companion animals instead of agricultural animals.  This would extend the standards for companion animals at least to horses, and would go a long way, considering the number of recent abuse cases involving horses.
  4. Support the bill, and hope for the best that the General Assembly will use the standards as a springing board for tougher laws in the future.  This is sounding less and less like an option to me.

On a positive note, it is not all doom and gloom this legislative session.  In fact, the General Assembly has proposed some great legislation.  HB 1716 would allow judges to prohibit harm to companion animals in protective orders.  HB 1930 would establish a statewide animal abuser registry, much like the first public registry started in Suffolk County, New York last yearHB 2195 would require veterinarians to keep records of devocalization procedures, and would make it a felony to perform devocalization procedures on cats or dogs unless performed to treat illness, disease, injury, or a congenital abnormality causing the animal pain or injury.  And SB 842 would allow judges to appoint new humane investigators.

Feel free to reach out to your legislators to let them know how you feel about the agricultural animal standards – and don’t forget to mention your support for these other bills.  If you need to find out who represents you in the General Assembly, go to the Who’s My Legislator? page on the General Assembly’s Legislative Information System site and type in your address and find your state delegate and senator.

UPDATE (5/21/11):  Take a look at this post for some comfort in how Virginia officials see this statute as a preventative measure that will not affect the cruelty statute.

Virginia Finally Proposes Minimum Standards Of Care For Agricultural Animals

Girl hugging a horse laying on the ground with a fly sheet onVirginia Delegate Robert D. Orrock, Sr. (R-District 54) has introduced HB 1541, a bill that will lay out minimum standards of care for agricultural animals.

Currently, Virginia has minimum standards of care for companion animals, but lacks the equivalent for agricultural animals.  This has seriously hindered law enforcement officers, who often feel the need to wait until conditions for agricultural animals reach life-threatening levels that can support animal cruelty charges.  A perfect example of this is found in Sullivan v. Commonwealth, dealing with an extreme lack of care for a horse.

The heart of HB 1541 is the addition of Code Section 3.2-6503.1, setting out the standard of care for agricultural animals:

§ 3.2-6503.1. Care of agricultural animals by owner; penalty.

A. Each owner shall provide for each of his agricultural animals:

1. Feed to prevent emaciation;

2. Water to prevent dehydration; and

3. Veterinary treatment as needed to prevent impairment of health or bodily function when such impairment cannot be otherwise addressed through animal husbandry or humane destruction.

B. The provisions of this section shall not require an owner to provide feed or water (i) when such is customarily withheld, restricted, or apportioned pursuant to a farming activity; (ii) if otherwise prescribed by a veterinarian; or (iii) if the owner is unable to do so due to an act of God.

C. The provisions of this section shall not apply to agricultural animals used for bona fide medical or scientific experimentation.

D. A violation of this section is a Class 4 misdemeanor.

I would have liked to have seen more aggressive standards of care, and harsher penalties.  A Class 4 misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of only $250.  But this is a much-needed start.  And it will hopefully serve as a launching pad for stricter laws in the future.

So what is an “agricultural animal”?  Virginia Code Section 3.2-6500 defines “agricultural animals” to include “all livestock and poultry.”  “Livestock” includes “all domestic or domesticated:  bovine animals; equine animals; ovine animals; porcine animals; cervidae animals; capridae animals; animals of the genus Lama; ratites; fish or shellfish in aquaculture facilities…; enclosed domesticated rabbits or hares raised for human food or fiber; or any other individual animal specifically raised for food or fiber, except companion animals.”  “Poultry” includes “all domestic fowl and game birds raised in captivity.”

For comparisons of the definitions of “agricultural animal” and “companion animal,” and the competing minimum standards of care, take a look at Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503 and my previous post, So What Are My Responsibilities As a Pet Owner?

I have heard through the grapevine that HB 1541 has very wide support, and I certainly hope this is the case.  If the General Assembly passes HB 1541, law enforcement will have a new tool to aid agricultural animals before conditions reach critical levels. 

UPDATED:  After many thoughtful comments and more thinking particularly of the relationship between this bill and the current animal cruelty statute, please refer to my later post for my current thoughts on this bill.