By Katrina Tilbury
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — A bill specifying when an animal can be tethered outside passed the Senate on Wednesday with changes aimed at increasing its chances of winning approval in the House.
The bill, SB 872, is the companion legislation to HB 646, which was killed in a House subcommittee.
Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, the bill's sponsor, noted that changes had been made in the bill and that he hoped a measure would emerge that could protect animals, especially dogs.
Feedback from animal control officers led to the removal of requirements that prohibited tethering between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., or when the owners aren't home. A ban on using metal-link chains was also removed. Critics of the legislation won exemptions for animals while they are working on farms and dogs actively being used in hunting.
Matthew Gray, Virginia state director of The Humane Society of the United States, said earlier the changes were needed for the bill to emerge from the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.
But Alice Harrington, legislative liaison for the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders, said after the committee vote that the animal neglect laws currently in place are sufficient.
"If the aim is to just get something passed, then how legitimate is what they're trying to pass? If it's really about the animals, it's really about their welfare, then how can you negotiate all that away? Then it becomes just about a win," she said. "They're not in bad shape because they're tethered. They're in bad shape because they're being neglected."
Kimberly Hawk, a volunteer for the Houses Of Wood and Straw Project, said the legislation would help save the lives of animals, like one dog who she said froze to death two weeks ago after he became tangled in his chain and wasn't able to reach his shelter. Hawk's group is a non-profit serving nine counties in central Virginia. The organization provides wooden dog housing as well as straw and bedding.
"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.
The version of the bill that passed the Senate 33-7 is focused on preventing tethering animals in certain weather conditions, including, when the temperature is below 32 degrees or above 85 degrees, and when severe weather warnings are issued by the National Weather Service. The restrictions in the bill do not apply to animals loose in a yard or in a pen. The bill does not specify the type of animal, instead referring to animals and companion animals generally.
SB 872 states tethers must be at least 15 feet long, or four times the length of the animal, and limits the weight to less than one-tenth of the animal's body weight.