Animal cruelty bill sparks controversy

Tracy Kennedy

Capital News Service

A subcommittee of the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee has dropped a controversial bill that would redefine animal cruelty standards and enforcement procedures.

The controversy over House Bill 2482 got so heated that the sponsor, Delegate Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, agreed last week to hold off on the legislation for a year so people can study it.

HB 2482 would repeal the state’s ban on those convicted of animal cruelty from selling animals.

Under the measure, breeders and pet stores that fail to adequately care for their animals would be subject to seizure of their animals, but a court could return the animals to the owner upon conviction.

“My bill’s original intention is simply to ensure that the civil and property rights of honorable animal owners are protected against what could be construed as an over-zealous application, perhaps even a misapplication, of the powers of the state,” Ware stated in an e-mail.

But the Richmond SPCA has dubbed the bill “The Animal Abusers Protection Act,” arguing that it “it will eviscerate our 20-year progress on laws for the protection of companion animals in Virginia.”

On the bill’s page at RichmondSunlight.com, the measure’s proponents, including dog breeder Charlotte Jean Payne-Cyhanick of Staunton, got into a bitter argument with the proposal’s detractors, including the site’s founder, Waldo Jaquith.

“The laws in Va. are so vague and so easily manipulated that it is very easy for anyone with any agenda to persecute an individual simply because they don’t like them or disagree with their lifestyle,” Payne-Cyhanick wrote.

Payne-Cyhanick has first-hand experience with such laws: In December, a Staunton jury convicted her of mistreatment of animals and failure to maintain proper records. She was found guilty of two counts of selling immature puppies and one count of owning more than 50 dogs. The jury recommended that Payne-Cyhanick pay a $4,950 fine and give up some of her dogs.

Out-of-state residents joined the discussion on Richmond Sunlight.

“Folks in Maine are watching this bill very closely,” one man wrote. “We have similar laws. Congratulations to everyone involved for getting this important bill to this point. Good luck in your efforts. We are with you in spirit!”

Opponents of the bill were equally vocal.

“The more I look at this, the more I suspect that this is a bill that’s designed to create a larger gray area for the mistreatment of animals,” Jaquith wrote after noting the removal of disease progression as a cause for seizing an animal.

“I don’t know that’s the case, but it sure looks like it.”

Because of the controversy, Ware asked the subcommittee to table his bill for the year and study the implications it might have.

He said the study should examine “those instances in which it appears, on the surface at least, that some individuals were targeted for improper reasons and suffered financially and legally.”

1 Comment

  1. This story from the Capitol News Service is the best of several about the controversy surrounding this bill. It gives all the viewpoints AND it gives a couple more facts than the others.

    The reason for the controversy is interesting. The groups opposing the bill — The Humane Society of the U.S. working through sock puppets at the Richmond SPCA (aka ‘Robin Starr’), the Virginia Animal Control Association, (and others) doesn’t like the idea that animal owners accused of ‘whatever’ should have a fighting chance to defend themselves. They were out early and often, with views as given here. HSUS managed to call in fire from the governor, no less.

    The bill’s defenders were mostly dog breeders including a few who (like myself) have been following VAs animal laws and animal law enforcement for most of ten years, watching as a new bad idea got passed into law every year or two. There’s no longer a single dog owner in the state who can say with confidence that her keeping of her animals is good enough that if inspected by someone who wants to make trouble, she would have nothing to fear. The reason more people don’t know that is that the use of the bad laws now is primarily in a terror campaign against dog breeding: If you don’t breed, you have nothing much to worry about — for now.

    Next to the fact that HSUS owns Governor McDonnell, the most surprising thing about this is that no Virginian who didn’t have an anti-breeding agenda bothered to read the bill to see what it actually says. Even the best of the articles are strictly ‘he said — she said’ stories.

    Over the last twenty years and at a steadily faster rate in the last five, the animal rights movement (for which HSUS is flagship) has so trashed Virginia’s animal laws that an owner who is targeted WILL BE convicted and ruined, regardless of how well she keeps her animals. The standards implied by recent cases are so high and so vague that NOBODY can meet them. It’s just a question of when you’re targeted.

    Because our law doesn’t define ‘abuse’ or properly define ‘cruelty,’ a person convicted of one of these offenses may have done something horrific or she may simply have made the wrong person mad by breeding dogs. Or anything in between.

    HB 2482 would have been a first step toward fixing that. Far from allowing ‘abusers’ a free pass, it would have reduced the ability of enforcement authorities to coerce plea bargains from innocent people and profit by selling healthy animals they had seized, made it possible for targeted persons to preserve evidence in order to defend themselves, and allowed courts more leeway in sentencing to deal with the wide range of offenses (and non-offenses) that result in convictions. And because seizure isn’t good for animals unless they’re actually in danger where they are, it would have helped protect them. One out-of-state attorney who reads a whole lot of animal law (but had nothing to do with this one) thought it good enough that it should be a model bill.

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