Editor's Note: This post, which first published on Jan. 21 was updated on Jan. 23, as one of the bills outlined below has recently been modified, and the Richmond SPCA is now supportive of that edited bill.
The General Assembly’s 2015 session has opened and it offers, as usual, a wild cascade of bills both for and against the interests of animals. Let me tell you about the ones related to community cats.
There are currently three bills regarding the topic of trap-neuter-return programs for feral or community cats, depending on your preferred wording. One of them is introduced in the Senate by Senator Stanley (SB699). Sen. Stanley has a record of caring about the well being of animals, and I know that he would never want to do anything that would harm community cats or their prospects for life. Nonetheless, his bill presents great risks to community cats and to TNR programs and volunteers that are currently doing great good around the state. The bill would require both that a local ordinance be adopted in order to ensure that caring people doing the trapping and returning would not be considered to have committed a crime and also that the local government ordinance would be at least as or more stringent than a set of regulations promulgated by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), which regulations currently do not exist.
Having worked on the Comprehensive Animal Laws Committee for the past several years under the auspices of VDACS, I can attest personally to the fact that the adoption of such regulations would be a long and difficult process since there is a great deal of intractable disagreement around the state about TNR programs and the state agency representatives are loath to cross anyone. Thus, this bill would set up a cumbersome set of hurdles that would make it less, not more, likely that TNR programs and kind TNR volunteers would operate unhampered and unthreatened in our state. We oppose this bill and would be most grateful if you would contact the patron and your own Senator and Delegate and ask them to take all necessary steps to see that this bill is pulled.
Another bill regarding TNR for community cats is patronned by Senator Martin, and we are very supportive of it. The Martin bill (SB693) would simply permit a person or organization to trap and sterilize a feral cat before returning it to the site where it was trapped without fear of prosecution for abandonment. It would represent an excellent step forward for the interests of community cats and those who work to help them through TNR because it would remove all doubt that people and organizations may trap, spay and neuter, vaccinate and return cats without fear or threat. It would not require that any person, organization or locality engage in TNR, however. The former Attorney General Cuccinelli issued an opinion that indicated that it was his view that local governments could not engage in the return portion of TNR programs, and this very limited opinion is now being wrongly interpreted by TNR opponents in a much more expansive fashion. SB693, were it to become law, would make clear that TNR is an acceptable, but not required, approach to caring for feral cats in our communities.
We are also supportive of a recently modified (as of Jan. 23) bill introduced in the House by Delegate Kory (HB1586). Del. Kory's bill is now quite similar to Sen. Stanley's bill in that it ensures that caretakers of community cats are not at risk of being charged with abandonment. Her bill does allow for the adoption of an ordinance by a locality to permit TNR programs, however, an ordinance would not be required, and TNR could continue in the absence of such an ordinance.
Update, Jan. 27: HB1586 came before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Jan. 26, and though many advocates were present to speak for the merits of this bill, the subcommittee members killed the bill, recommending laying it on the table, with no comment or explanation of their decision.
Please contact (by phone or e-mail) your own Senator and Delegate and ask for their support of SB693 and HB1586. They represent a great step forward for the humane treatment of animals in Virginia.
There are more bills that have impact (both good and bad) on animals in Virginia, and I will provide you with more information about those other bills very soon. Thank you so much for your concern for the animals we love.
Robin Robertson Starr is the chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA. To read her biography or that of our other bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires both your first and last name to be used as your screen name.