Virginia lawmakers battle over dog tethering bills

Credit: ASPCA
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT, WHSV) — The battle over whether dogs should be tethered outside is heating up again in the General Assembly.

After years of defeat, opponents to tethering are again trying to limit it statewide. But on Tuesday, the House of Delegates passed a bill that requires animals to have longer and lighter tethers, but keeps the practice legal.

Tying up a dog outside on a tether or chain is a controversial practice to many people. Just last year, the city of Richmond banned tethering in harsh weather, when pet owners leave the house, and for more than an hour.

The City of Harrisonburg also restricted tethering in recent years.

But state legislators are at odds over limiting it statewide. It’s a debate over whether a long tether is better than penning a dog in a small space, or whether tethering leaves an animal vulnerable to harsh weather, neglect, or choking on the tether.

The debate has many dog lovers and animal rights activists up in arms.

“All animals, when it’s this temperature or severely hot, need to be taken care of,” said Richmond area dog owner Pierre Picardat.

Last year, Sen. Lionell Spruill’s (D - Chesapeake) bill to limit tethering in harsh weather passed the Senate, but was left in a House committee. Now he’s back at this year, working to ban tethering in temperatures below freezing or above 85.

Similar bills also died in committee in 2017.

“When it’s a cold day like today, and they’re tethered with a chain, the water bowl, it’s going to be frozen ice,” said Spruill, as temperatures on Tuesday remained in the 30s. “If you leave them outside like this, the animal is going to die.”

But Del. Bobby Orrock and hunting groups say the bill is not needed because state laws already ban animal neglect.

“Through all these past years when we’ve seen pictures of these poor animals, dying on a chain, the actions that led to that death were already illegal," said Orrock. "I have never understood why putting on temperature parameters that frankly make it more difficult for animal control to enforce.”

Instead, he’s proposed HB 1827, which just passed the House on a 76-22 vote. It requires tethers be four times the animal’s length and weigh no more than one-tenth the animal’s weight. Orrock says the bill would also give animal control officers more leeway to intervene.

“Right now, animal control cannot intervene in weather events, heat or cold, unless they see the animal actually suffering,” said Orrock. “What my bill, in that context, would do, if they see the animal is exposed to, i.e. they’re in a dog house and there’s no protection from the front of the house where the snow is blowing in ... they can go and intervene with the owner and tell them they need to make some improvements.”

But Spruill says it doesn’t go far enough and still leaves dogs out in the cold.

“You really need to care about the animal. Whether it’s hot, cold, they really care about animals,” said Spruill.

Under current law, if an animal is tethered outside, the rope or chain must be at least three times the length of the animal as measured from nose to tail. Currently, adequate shelter is defined as a space that protects animals from “the adverse effects” of heat or cold. The new bill also changes the definition to specify protection “from exposure to” heat or cold.