By Katrina Tilbury and DeForrest Ballou
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – On a 9-5 bipartisan vote, a Senate committee Thursday endorsed a bill specifying when an animal can be tethered outside. The bill, SB 872, is the companion to HB 646, which was killed in a House subcommittee Monday.
The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee voted in favor of SB 872, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.
Matthew Gray, Virginia state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said changes had to be made to the Senate version for the legislation to pass. The Senate bill removed previous requirements that prohibited tethering between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. or when the owners aren’t home. Additionally, exemptions were added for animals actively working in the agricultural field and dogs actively engaged in hunting activities.
Now the bill focuses on preventing tethering animals in certain weather conditions – namely, when the temperature is below 32 degrees or above 85 degrees.
“My wife and I foster rescue dogs, and have seen time and time again how tethering [in cold weather] hurts and sometimes kills perfectly innocent animals,” Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun, who introduced HB 646, said after his bill was killed Monday. A subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources voted 5-3 to shelve the measure for this legislative session.
“I carried HB 646 because I believe that the voiceless animals need a voice in the Virginia General Assembly, and I will continue this fight until animals are protected.”
Kimberly Hawk, who attended both hearings on the issue, is a volunteer for the Houses of Wood and Straw Project, a nonprofit serving nine counties in central Virginia. The group provides wooden housing to outside dogs in the region, as well as straw and bedding.
Hawk said she was relieved that the committee approved the Senate bill. She said the legislation would help save the lives of animals, like one dog that she said froze to death last week after it got tangled in its chain and wasn’t able to reach its shelter.
However, organizations like the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders are wary of new pet laws. Alice Harrington, their legislative liaison, said the animal neglect laws in place are sufficient.
Harrington said one problem with more laws is that animal control officers can’t effectively enforce them because they receive insufficient training. Officers in Virginia are required to meet 80 hours of training, including 24 hours are basic law enforcement unrelated to animal care. Harrington said more training would be necessary for officers to learn the complexities surrounding what type of shelter is considered adequate for different breeds in various weather conditions.
“I’ve been doing this work for over 10 years; I haven’t seen a whole lot accomplished by law,” Harrington said.
But Hawk said she thinks the added limitations on tethering in weather below 32 degrees and above 85 degrees would be easier to enforce than existing animal cruelty laws that can be vague.
“We believe that it’s going to help the animal control officers be able to enforce the law better because it’s very tangible,” Hawk said.
Harrington disagreed. She said organizations like the HOWS Project have already figured out the solution by helping pets without separating them from their owners. She said she fears the enforcement of new laws would flood animal shelters.
Next, SB 872 will be heard by the full Senate. If it passes, the bill will be sent to the House subcommittee that killed HB 646.