It was a fairly quiet legislative session for the Federation this year. Most of the action was on shelter bills and ranged from which organizations can call themselves private animal shelters to whether shelters should make their intake policies public. The argument beneath all this is the no-kill community versus the shelters who have to euthanize some animals due to overcrowding. An interesting fact we learned that that often the shelters with the lowest euthanasia rates are able to keep their rates low by referring all unadoptable animals to the “kill” shelters, where they are added to that shelter’s euthanasia rate. So, as in so many areas, things are not always what they seem!
Breaking into a car to assist dog at risk
The Federation did stay busy with a few bills though. There were three House bills and two Senate bills which would have granted civil immunity to any person breaking into a car in which an animal was (in the opinion of this person) in distress. We had problems with this on a number of levels:
- The average citizen is not necessarily qualified to judge whether an animal is in distress. I’ve seen many dogs panting and yapping away in cars in parking lots. You’d think the dog was in a major panic. Nope. Just guarding the car or being a brat.
- If one of these bills passed into law, it would give a free pass to someone out to steal a dog or an animal rights zealot up to no good. Who would question a person breaking a window and bringing out an animal he claimed was in distress?
- The dog would need immunity too! Suppose he were to bite the person breaking into his master’s car? In that instance, the car owner would be unable to sue the person breaking in, but that person would be able to sue the car/dog owner and the dog would be deemed a dangerous dog by Virginia law.
- There was no requirement that the person breaking into the car stay with the dog until the owner returned. Many if not most dogs in situations like this (window breaking, being pulled from the car by a stranger) would react by running the minute their feet touched the ground.
The efforts of the Federation, AKC, and a number of concerned dog owners who called their representatives were successful in having all three House bills–HB 38, 155, and 1233–tabled, which means they are dead. Senate bill 9 was amended to allow only law enforcement, firefighters, emergency services personnel, and animal control officers to remove an animal showing signs of distress from a car. Anyone else who is concerned should contact law enforcement or an ACO.
Here is a press release AKC sent out:
February 23, 2016
The American Kennel Club cares deeply about the welfare of all dogs and supports the ability of law enforcement or public safety officers to remove dogs from vehicles when they are in distress due to heat or other environmental conditions that present an immediate danger to the dog.
However, a number of bills were introduced in the Virginia General Assembly this year would have allowed private citizens to break into vehicles if they felt a companion animal was at risk, and would have exempted them from liability for damages due to loss of the animal or any injury caused by the animal. There also would have been no recourse for owners if the animal was not in danger, if the animal was lost or disappeared after being released from the vehicle, or for damage to the vehicle or other personal property.
AKC is pleased to report that problematic House Bills 38 1155 and 1323 have been tabled for the year. Senate Bill 9 has been amended in a reasonable manner to exempt only law enforcement, firefighters, emergency services personnel and animal control officers from liability for property damage to vehicles or injury to an animal if the unattended animal is removed from a vehicle because of risk of serious bodily injury or death. The bill no longer allows private citizens to remove animals from vehicles.
AKC thanks the many dog owners, fanciers, breeders, and exhibitors who took the time to contact the committees about these bills. We also thank the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders for their excellent work in communicating concerns to the legislators on these bills.
Another bill we were able to derail, HB 37, would have made it illegal for a tow truck to pull a vehicle with a companion animal inside. The idea was to prevent a person leaving a pet in a car illegally parked from returning to find not only her car but her dog gone! What the legislators had not considered was that many of us travel with several dogs at a time. In the event of car trouble, we would have to ask the driver to tow the car or van with the animals inside. We will work with the sponsor of this bill to come up with something that will prevent the first instance but allow for towing of a disabled vehicle with animals inside. In the meantime, if you decide to park illegally, don’t do it when your dog is along!