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Panel OKs bill to restrict tethering animals

RICHMOND — A House committee Wednesday advanced a bill requiring Virginians who tether dogs outside to give the animals more room to move.

It was one of three animal welfare bills the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources sent to the full House of Delegates for consideration.

All three measures were sponsored by Del. Robert Orrock, R-Caroline. Last year, Orrock unsuccessfully sponsored legislation authorizing local governments to restrict how long animals can be tethered outside and to prohibit tethering during freezing weather.

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. HB 1827 would make the requirement four times the length of the animal or 15 feet, whichever is longer. Moreover, the tether could not weigh more than one-tenth of the animal’s body weight.

The measure would not apply to a leash used in taking an animal on a walk.

The committee voted 19-2 in favor of the bill.

Also, the panel unanimously approved a proposal to change the legal definition of “adequate shelter for animals” in the Code of Virginia.

Currently, adequate shelter is defined as a space that protects animals from “the adverse effects” of heat or cold. HB 1625 would change the definition to specify protection “from exposure to” heat or cold.

“A very simple, three-word change,” Orrock said. “But I think it gives significant additional powers to animal control to intervene before the suffering of an animal occurs.”

At the suggestion of the state attorney general’s office, Orrock is also sponsoring HB 1626, which takes aim at cockfighting. The bill says that when animal control officers find domesticated birds, such as roosters, tethered, they can presume that the birds are being used for animal fighting.

Del. Debra H. Rodman, D-Henrico, raised concerns about farmers who may tether fowl.

“Are we sure tethering is when people are cockfighting?” Rodman asked when the bill was discussed during a subcommittee meeting Monday. “I had chickens in Guatemala … and you tether your chickens on the way to market.”

The bill would allow Animal Control to investigate at their discretion, said Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach. A court hearing would take place within 10 days, and the animal would be released to its owner if no evidence of animal fighting was found. This may help protect the rights of farmers while giving animal control officers more authority in animal fighting investigations, legislators said.

The committee approved the bill, 16-2.

By Caitlin Morris/Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.

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