RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WVIR/WHSV) — UPDATE:
Virginia lawmakers have passed legislation that would prohibit the tethering of dogs outside during extreme weather. The legislation would also increase the minimum length of a tether from 10 feet to 15 feet.
Virginia's House and Senate passed the bills on Sunday. Gov. Ralph Northam's spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said in an email Monday that he “supported these bills in the legislative process" and ”looks forward to reviewing them" when they reach his desk.
Animal advocacy groups say the legislation would save dogs' lives in a state that often experiences extreme temperatures and severe storms.
The legislation expands the definition of what it means to provide “adequate shelter." It prevents leaving tethered dogs outside when the temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below and 85 degrees or higher. The same applies during warnings for hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe weather.
The legislation was hailed by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which pushed for its passage for several years.
"Many dogs who are chained up like bicycles, alone and uncared for, will now be spared frostbite, baking to death during Virginia's stifling summers, and even drowning during severe weather — all circumstances that PETA has found,” PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch said in a statement.
Virginia’s House of Delegates and state Senate have passed their own versions of anti-tethering bills that animal activists say could make a life-or-death difference for outdoor dogs.
Animal advocates from PETA worked with legislators to come up with Senate Bill 272, which calls for stricter tethering restrictions for outdoor dogs in extreme temperatures and weather events. The bill also seeks to restrict the use of tethers during overnight hours, as well as when the dog’s owner is not home.
In all of these cases, the dog can still be outside in a pen with adequate shelter, but cannot be chained up. The House passed another version of this bill; however, advocates say it’s a more watered down version.
HB 1552 proposes dogs not be tethered between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when there is no owner on the property, when the temperature is below 32 degrees and above 85 degrees, and during a weather advisory.
“When they’re tethered, they can very easily get tangled up on debris, on trees, and then they can’t get in their dog house," Dogs Deserve Better Blue Ridge Founder Kimerbly Hawk said. "So they could freeze to death overnight during the winter. So if they are in a pen, they can still be outside, but at least they can defend themselves better.”
Legislators from the House and Senate will convene to go over each version of the bill to potentially come up with one version that Governor Ralph Northam could sign into law later this year.
A bill passed the House of Delegates last year to require animals to have longer and lighter tethers, but it ultimately died in the Senate. The year before that, a bill to limit tethering in harsh weather passed the Senate, but was left in a House committee.
While lawmakers like Sen. Lionell Spruill (D - Chesapeake) said such bills would help protect animals, others, like Del. Bobby Orrock, said state laws already ban animal neglect and cruelty, and laws establishing additional parameters could make enforcement harder.
In the past few years, there have been ongoing proposals in the General Assembly to limit or outlaw dog tethering, and yet another new bill has been proposed this year.
Virginia law doesn't prevent dogs from spending their lives at the end of a chain, and since they can't speak for themselves, Dogs Deserve Better Blue Ridge, a Charlottesville-based non-profit, made it their goal to raise awareness of inhumane dog tethering and show state legislators just how much they support the proposed bills.
Dogs Deserve Better Blue Ridge hosted a "Postcards and Pints" event at Skipping Rock Beer Co. in Staunton encouraging people to write to their state senator and delegate about their support in passing the tethering bills. Kimberly Hawk, a founding member of Dogs Deserve Better Blue Ridge, said they pre-printed 400 postcards, brought enough stamps, and planned to mail the postcards themselves.
"We advocate for more humane treatment and laws for chained dogs, because we see a lot of suffering out there," Hawk said. "We know that even little changes will make a big difference for the dogs that are chained up."
Dogs Deserve Better Blue Ridge is dedicated to freeing chained and penned dogs. They also serve as shelter to foster and later re-home rescued dogs, provide spay, neuter and medical services, and help provide adequate, insulated housing and pens for outdoor dogs.
Virginia SB 272 and Virginia HB 1552 propose dogs not be tethered between 10p.m. and 6a.m., when there is no owner on the property, when the temperature is below 32 degrees and above 85 degrees, and during a weather advisory.
"The House and the Senate have flipped and we do have some more animal friendly legislators now, so we're hoping this could be the year," Hawk said.
The postcard features Buddy, a dog who was kept outdoors 24/7 for three years by his previous owners. When Buddy was rescued by Dogs Deserve Better Blue Ridge, he had heart worms, Lyme disease and was antisocial.
"He wasn't mistreated, he just wasn't treated," Paul Hildebrand, Buddy's new owner, said. "The people that had him just looked at him like livestock, like goats and chickens."
Hildebrand calls himself a "failed foster" because after two days fostered Buddy, he decided to adopt him. After being trained, loved and socialized, Buddy is now a certified therapy dog.