VA Bill To Weaken Protections for Animals Is Tabled

dog and catUpdate Jan. 28, 2011: H.B. 2482 which would have weakened protections for animals in VA has been tabled by the Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources. Advocates as well as the Richmond SPCA strongly opposed the bill.

For more on this bill, read Animal Law Coalition’s report below.  

Original report: Another Virginia bill has been offered to water down protections against animal cruelty. The first bill targeted farm animals. Now it’s H.B. 2482 introduced by Delegate R. Lee Ware, Jr.

Under H.B. 2482 it would be more difficult to seize animals trapped in inhumane conditions by breeders, dealers or pet stores. Under the bill animals could only be seized if they are "(i) under a direct and immediate threat or (ii) the owner or custodian is unable to or does not provide adequate impoundment." Otherwise, the breeder, dealer or pet shop could be ordered to impound animals under a directive or order. Yes, the abuser would "impound" their own abused or neglected animals. Regardless, upon conviction, the breeder, dealer or pet shop could obtain return of the animals "at the discretion of the court."

Emergency veterinary care requirements for all owners and keepers would be limited under the bill. Emergency veterinary treatment would no longer include treatment to prevent further progression of a disease but only that necessary "to stabilize a life-threatening condition, alleviate suffering, or prevent further transmission of a serious disease".

Oddly, the bill also provides that "[n]o animal control officer, humane investigator, humane society or custodian of any pound or animal shelter shall…obtain the release or transfer of an animal by the animal’s owner to a humane society, animal shelter, or other releasing agency of which he is an officer unless such organization is the sole provider of pound services under a contract with the locality".  So an animal control officer, humane investigator or agent of a humane society, for example, cannot take an animal which they have obtained or seized from an owner to their own facilities unless it’s the only pound in town? Even if the animal was being kept in violation of the law or otherwise at risk, or even if the animal has been forfeited.

The bill would repeal provisions requiring owners to pay the costs associated with seizure of animals. Even if the animal is found to have been abandoned, cruelly treated, or deprived of adequate care, the court would not be obligated to require the owner to pay for costs of caring for the animal following seizure. 

The bill would also allow courts to return animals to owners who are convicted of depriving them of adequate care and even if the animals were abandoned or cruelly treated. 

The bill would limit the time a court can prohibit or restrict access to companion animals by convicted abusers. The period would be limited to two years following the first misdemeanor conviction and ten years following a subsequent misdemeanor or a felony conviction.  "Any owner required by the court to dispose of animals in his care shall be permitted no less than 90 days to transfer the ownership and possession of such animals."

Then any prohibition or restriction on access to animals must be repealed if after two years, the abuser petitions the court for repeal "unless there is reason to believe the cause for the prohibition or restriction continues to exist."

The bill gives accused abusers help with their defense: An accused abuser whose animal is seized and then humanely euthanized because of the animal’s condition, would have a right to have a veterinarian of his choice examine the deceased animal. There would be no restrictions on the right such as allowing the law enforcement authorities to witness the examination or requiring a report signed by the veterinarian chosen by the owner.