Today we are sharing a guest post from the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies, the Commonwealth's leading statewide membership organization for animal shelters. Last week, Delegate Bobby Orrock, the patron of HB 340, published a short description of HB 340. Many of our supporters who have contacted their delegates to urge opposition of HB 340 have received replies that quote Delegate Orrock's statements about this legislation. We would like to give the VFHS the opportunity to convey crucial facts regarding each assertion in that description. The Richmond SPCA joins the VFHS in opposing HB 340 and asks that you contact your delegate to the General Assembly to urge him or her to vote NO on this bill.
Because HB 340 was passed by for second reading on Friday, Feb. 5, the second reading and debate on the House floor may occur today, Monday, Feb. 8. The bill's third reading and floor vote could happen as soon as Tuesday, Feb. 9. If you have not yet called or emailed your delegate, please do not delay in doing so. A sample message is available here.
“Prior action in 2015 did not truly change the definition of a private animal shelter it simply rearranged the words in the previous definition."
SB 1381 placed the phrase “for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes for animals” at the beginning of the definition of “private animal shelter,” making clear that ALL private animal shelters must have the purpose to adopt. It most certainly did change the definition such that PETA could no longer kill nearly 90% of the dogs and cats it “shelters,” while all other private shelters in Virginia euthanize LESS THAN 10% of the dogs and cats they take in.
“However, an attempt by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (oversees animal shelters) this past year to define 'purpose' did not allow public input or comment.
Regarding VDACS's draft guidance document that was disseminated in June of 2015, Dr. Richard Wilkes, the State Veterinarian with VDACS, sent an email to stakeholders saying:
“While SB 1381 will be enacted July 1 of this year, the final guidance document will not be implemented for some time. The delay in its implementation is due to the extensive review process and consideration of stakeholder feedback. VDACS has started the process of developing a draft guidance document and is soliciting stakeholder feedback on proposed inspection criteria. The final guidance document will be the product of internal review, stakeholder feedback, and OAG recommendations. VDACS will not take any action to enforce the change made by SB1381 until an appropriate time after a final guidance document is released.”
“The amendment in the nature of a substitute for HB 340 directs the VDACS to enter into the regulatory process to determine ‘purpose’.”
The General Assembly has established by statute what the purpose of a private animal shelter is, and it does not rest with a regulatory agency to do so. The job of VDACS is to develop regulations in order to enforce the statutory purpose adopted by the General Assembly last year.
“This process will allow for full public comment and participation, thereby ensuring transparency.”
The current amendment forces VDACS to consider a list of stipulations imposed by proponents of HB340 prior to seeking public comment and participation. VDACS was already allowing for full public comment and participation while working on the Draft Guidance Document. Current annual reporting and inspection requirements already ensure plenty of transparency on behalf of all releasing agencies, including private animal shelters. If VDACS needs more transparency and data, VDACS – with the benefit of public comment and participation – can have the flexibility to ask for additional information on a case-by-case basis.
The current bill makes no change to the previous definition of “private animal shelter.”
The current bill threatens the current definition in two significant ways.
- “The Board of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs shall adopt regulations that establish “the purposes of private animal shelters.”
There is but one purpose of a private animal shelter and that purpose – adoption – was clearly established in 2015 by SB 1381.
Regulations to be adopted by the Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall ensure that no private animal shelter shall be prohibited from operating as a private animal shelter solely on the basis of disposition outcomes in § 3.2-6548 of the Code of Virginia.”
This statement alone allows for an entity to be a private animal shelter and euthanize 100% of the animals it takes in. It benefits only one organization – PETA. VDACS should have the autonomy to determine what weight to give an organization’s self-reported disposition figures, and whether that is sufficient to determine if the organization operates with the purpose of adopting animals.
Major stakeholders support HB340.
HB340 impacts Virginia’s private animal shelters. VFHS is the longest-standing organization that represents shelters, including shelters, rescues, animal control agencies, individuals – and the majority of Virginia’s private animal shelters – and we OPPOSE HB340. You can see our membership list on our website www.vfhs.org. VAAS, the proponent of this bill, does not speak for private animal shelters and does not publish a list of members. VVMA and VACA have signed a statement supporting HB340 purportedly due to a commitment to transparency; however, many individual veterinarians and animal control officers oppose HB340.
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