I am the Virginia State Director for The Humane Society of the United States (The HSUS); I’m a Richmond native and I’ve been privileged to enjoy a long friendship with—and great admiration for—the Richmond SPCA. There is so much to value about the Richmond SPCA and its incredible team of professionals and volunteers: their life-saving work to transfer thousands of animals from municipal shelters each year; their dedication to providing necessary veterinary care and basic pet necessities to people of limited means; the work they do to educate children, pet owners, law enforcement and others about animals and how we should interact with them; their impressive humane training center, which helps so many people struggling with the challenges pets can bring; and—with enormous consequences for animals of all kinds in every Virginia community—their commitment to pursuing government action and legislative progress for animals. It’s this last commitment that I write about today, as we prepare for the Virginia General Assembly to convene downtown.
Supporting laws and regulations that protect animals should be a priority of every animal welfare organization, including shelters, rescue groups, and others; it is one for the Richmond SPCA and The HSUS because we understand that on both ends of the shelter experience, animals need additional protection. We can rescue them from danger, give them medical attention and care, and find for them a loving home, but we must also have a foundation of laws that protect the animals we’ve done so much to aid and that leads shelters to improve their outcomes and save more lives.
Consider just this one item, an illustration of the impact of our collaboration: in 2015, The HSUS and Richmond SPCA worked together to pursue a local ordinance in the City of Richmond to prohibit the use of the bull-hook, a cruel device resembling a fireplace poker that is used to manipulate elephants into performing tricks in the circus. Before the ordinance was considered for a vote, Ringling Bros. announced that it would phase-out the use of elephants in its traveling shows, attributing the decision to the barrage of local ordinances popping-up across the nation to protect elephants. Richmond’s historic bull-hook ordinance is only one example of a partnership that has shut down Virginia’s puppy mill industry, made dog fighting a felony, banned the sale of dogs and cats in parking lots and on roadsides, and prohibited cruel hunting practices.
This year, like every year, we will stand up to be the voices for Virginia’s animals at the General Assembly. I want to share with you some issues that are important to us.
We support Senate Bill (SB) 852 to stop the sale of puppy mill dogs in Virginia pet stores. Having shut down puppy mills in this state a decade ago, we have since been engaged in an ongoing campaign to stay one step ahead of pet stores that responded to the lack of local mills by shipping puppies half-way across the country from states with lax breeding laws. Puppy mills, which are horrible, large-scale breeding facilities, produce thousands of dogs to be sold to unsuspecting customers in pet stores. While fewer than 15 pet stores in Virginia sell puppies, almost all of those stores are acquiring dogs from the Midwest, where puppy mills are prevalent. This bill, sponsored by Senator Bill Stanley, will prohibit pet stores from acquiring puppy mill dogs through unlicensed dealers and will forbid them from purchasing puppies from breeders who have been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, a basic standard of care.
We support Senate Joint Resolution 234 to establish a working group to study Virginia’s spay-neuter programs, their effectiveness, and the need for a statewide spay-neuter fund. Virginia has some established programs to support spay-neuter services, which we know are critical to controlling the pet population and the demands it places on local shelters. You can acquire an animal friendly license plate, the fee for which is intended to support spay-neuter programs, but where is that money going? The Richmond SPCA, for example, doesn’t benefit from those funds despite the large number of pets it serves at its Susan M. Markel Veterinary Hospital. We hope that the spay-neuter working group will follow the money, so to speak, as well as determine if additional sources of funds are necessary to meet the need for spay-neuter services in Virginia’s communities.
There are several other important issues this year: strengthening Virginia’s felony cruelty statute, restricting the tethering of dogs, protecting people with disabilities and the assistance animals they rely on, and ensuring that localities have the freedom to make decisions that best protect animals in their community. Like the Facebook pages for The Humane Society of the United States - Virginia and the Richmond SPCA to get updates throughout the session as these pieces of legislation progress.
These bills will only become law if you join us and make your voice heard. I hope that you will contact your state senator and delegate to say that you support these bills. Your opinion matters to them. You can be assured that opponents of this legislation will be calling to voice their opposition. You might also consider joining us for Humane Lobby Day on Thursday, January 19; you’ll get to meet animal welfare advocates from across Virginia and speak to your legislators in person about the issues important to you. You can register here.
Each year, The HSUS ranks states based on their animal welfare laws and regulations; this year, Virginia ranks fourth in the nation. This incredible framework of laws, developed over many years, has been made possible in part by the wonderful partnership of The HSUS and Richmond SPCA. But this is a rapidly growing movement to protect animals and its landscape is shifting; our status as a leader in this movement is never secure as other states catch-up to us in enthusiasm and progress. I hope you’ll join The HSUS and Richmond SPCA this year as we work to protect Virginia’s animals.
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