Greetings Richmond SPCA advocates! As the Virginia state director for The Humane Society of the United States, I’d like to share an update on the animal protection legislation that was considered during the 2012 legislative session. When looking back on this session, it’s important to also keep in mind that policy reform takes time and perseverance. It took nearly a decade to pass effective puppy mill legislation, and now Virginia has the top ranked commercial breeding regulations in the country.
We must celebrate our achievements, and not lose heart over battles not yet won. I look forward to working with you all as we continue to be tenacious advocates for animals.
- H.J. 143 – Spay Day Virginia. Patroned by Del. David Englin, D-Alexandria, and passed by the Senate on Feb. 28, this bill designates every Feb. 28 as Spay Day in Virginia. Four million cats and dogs—about one every eight seconds—are put down in U.S. shelters each year. Spay Day will create a wave of spay/neuter awareness and activities across the Commonwealth by linking together hundreds of events organized by local animal welfare organizations and veterinary professionals.
- S.B. 610 - Regulation of care and handling of agricultural animals. Patroned by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudon, this bill would have exempted hunting dogs, working dogs and show dogs from our strong companion animal care standards and redefined them as “agricultural animals.” It also stated no locality or humane society would have authority to regulate the care and handling of agricultural animals. Such a ludicrous bill incited outrage among animal advocates and was thankfully tabled.
Your advocacy is needed on these measures that didn’t pass in 2012:
- H.B. 363 – Pet Protective Orders. Patroned by Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, this bill sought to extend protective orders being sought by survivors of domestic violence to include animals. Although successfully reported from the House courts of justice committee, this bill stalled in appropriations. More than 20 states now have such legislation and Virginia should enact this measure to protect pets and people.
- H.B. 695/S.B. 202 - Fox and coyote penning; Class 1 misdemeanor for purpose of pursuing foxes and coyotes with dog within an enclosure. Patroned by Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax and Del. Kenneth Plum, D-Reston, this bill proposed to outlaw fox and coyote pens, which are fenced enclosures where dogs are released to chase wild-caught foxes, often in staged competitions to judge how long the dogs will pursue the captive wildlife. In just three years, Virginia pens took nearly 4,000 live foxes from the wild to fuel this fenced bloodsport. The Senate agriculture committee carried over Senate Bill 202 and requested the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries study the issue. This is a great beginning in a widely-supported campaign to end this cruelty.
- H.B. 1242 - Dangerous Wild Animals. Patroned by Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, this bill would have restricted the possession of certain dangerous wild and exotic animals to licensed and qualified facilities. In the wrong hands, these animals threaten public health and safety and their welfare suffers. This bill was crafted with a wide array of stakeholders at the table, and much momentum was gained, however time ran out in Virginia’s short legislative session and the patron requested the bill be carried over to next year.
- H.B. 1159 - Shark Fins. Patroned by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, this bill sought to make the sale, possession and trade of shark fins illegal. Tens of millions of sharks have their fins cut off for use in shark fin soup and are then discarded back in the ocean to die. Sharks have roamed the oceans for millions of years but many species are now threatened with extinction due to this cruel industry. Watch Dan Rather’s investigation of shark finning here. Unfortunately, this bill was voted down in committee due to opposition from the VA Seafood Council.
- H.B. 888 – Tethering; companion animals. Patroned by Del. Ken Alexander, D-Norfolk, this bill simply clarified that localities may regulate tethering laws at the local level. Some localities in Virginia already have done so, such as Richmond and Danville, but other localities don’t feel the General Assembly has given them regulatory authority over such a policy. This bill was opposed by the VA Farm Bureau — which is baffling given this bill only applies to companion animals. Dogs (like people) are social animals, yet more than 200,000 dogs live empty lives chained or tethered outdoors. Tied-up outside, dogs become lonely, bored, and anxious, and they can develop aggressive behaviors. Bring a dog inside (or help a chained dog in your neighborhood) and you’ll keep everyone safer.
- S.B. 359 - Trap, Neuter, and Return programs. Patroned by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, SB 359 proposed to improve cat overpopulation control efforts by allowing TNR programs and exempting citizens who engage in TNR from the definition of companion animal abandonment found in §3.2-6503. The bill passed the Senate but failed in the agriculture subcommittee in the House. It is anticipated that the Department of Agriculture will convene a work group on this issue.
Next year’s legislative success depends on our continued dedication to being a voice for animals in Virginia. Now that the General Assembly session is over, it’s the perfect time to let your representatives know that you are an advocate for animals. You can find who represents you here. For tips on speaking with your legislators check out our advocate toolkit or contact me. I would be delighted to join you in a meeting with your Virginia legislator.
Laura Donahue is the Virginia State Director for the Humane Society of the United States.
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