Wednesday, September 11, 2013

APHIS Retail Pet Store Final Rule to be Published

The finalized USDA APHIS rule redefining retail pet stores has been released and will be officially published later this week, going into effect 60 days after publication. This is a federal rule that will affect the entire USA.

A few highlights:

Food, fiber and breeding stock sales, and the sale of certain types of working dogs, are exempt if the animals are not being sold/marketed/raised for the purpose of being pets.

The rule change will affect breeders, rescues and others who sell animals as pets in situations where the seller does not personally meet the buyer face to face when selling or delivering the animal, whether the internet is involved or not.

Other situations, such as selling to laboratories, at wholesale or for exhibition will still be covered as before under AWA/APHIS regulations.

The exemption on number of breeding females for cats, dogs, small exotics, and wild animals has been raised from 3 to 4, and APHIS has clarified that this is calculated as a per-household number of animals capable of breeding, not per species (in other words, one dog, one cat, and one hedgehog, and one spiny mouse female capable of breeding would meet the threshold, even if they were not all actually being used for breeding). This exemption only applies if all the cats, dogs, small exotics or wild animals being sold were born and raised by the seller on their premises.

The $500 threshold for other types of animals remains the same, but APHIS is removing the "limits on the source of gross income" to include retail sales under that umbrella. The under-$500 exemption applies to "any person who does not sell or negotiate the purchase or sale of any wild or exotic animal, dog, or cat and who derives no more than $500 gross income from the sale of the animals other than wild or exotic animals, dogs, or cats during any calendar year.”

APHIS clarified that shelters, rescues and other nonprofits are subject to the same standards as breeders in determining whether they need to be licensed; adoption fees and donations are considered the same as sales for their purposes.

The requirements for facilities, paperwork, etc. in order for a seller to be licensed remain the same. Nothing has been changed in that respect to make it possible for small breeders, foster homes, etc. to be USDA licensed and raise animals in a typical home/family type setting. The AWA rules still require that licensed facilities must keep animals only in a sterile commercial/laboratory-type setting with staff present at all times during business hours, and other elements discussed in our previous post about what USDA licensing entails:

Some relevant links:

USDA/APHIS News Release:

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has revised the definition of “retail pet store” under the Animal Welfare Act to restore an important check and balance that helps ensure the health and humane treatment of pet animals sold sight unseen."

FAQs on the Retail Pet Store Final Rule:

PDF of the Final Rule:

Recording of the APHIS-Retail Pet Rule Conference Call 9/10/13, courtesy of The Cavalry Group:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Stopping Breeders is Not the Way to End Shelter Overpopulation

Let's try explaining one more time in a different way why eliminating breeders is not the way to solve the "shelter overpopulation problem."

First, a quick look at some animal population statistics. No two sources seem to agree completely, so these are rough--consider them for illustration purposes here. They are largely drawn from various shelter and rescue websites such as the ASPCA, as well as from several published surveys and research papers.

Approximately 57% of American households will obtain a dog or cat, for a pool of 17 million available homes. Of that 17 million, approximately 20% will adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue. Another 15% or so will get animals from breeders or pet stores, while the remaining 65% obtain their cats or dogs from other sources, mostly cheap or free such as finding a stray, having a friend or aquaintance give them one, having a litter of babies, etc.

Somewhere between 5 and 8 million dogs and cats enter shelters, with about half being owner surrenders and half coming in through animal control as strays, confiscated animals, etc. Approximately 10% of those are unadoptable, with some being animals that were brought in by their owners to be euthanized for health/age/behavior issues. Another 10% or so are lost animals that are reunited with their owners. About 20% of them are actually animals that previously came from a shelter and are being returned to the shelter system. At most 25% are estimated to possibly be purebreds, based on their appearance--but this number is probably overinflated, since many animals that look like a given breed are not actually purebred. Even of the ones that are, not all of them will come from actual breeders and intentional breedings. The vast majority of animals that enter the rescue and shelter system are feral animals and/or the result of unplanned breedings.

About half of animals that enter shelters are euthanized, for a total of 3 to 4 million that leave alive and 3 to 4 million that are euthanized. That 3 to 4 million, minus the unadoptable ones, are what is generally referred to as shelter overpopulation.

OK, now for our illustration.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Updates on WA Animal Legislation

A few quick updates on several items of WA animal-related legislation:

There is a hearing on HB 5102, the veterinarian immunity law, scheduled on Wednesday, March 13th at 8am in the House Committee on Judiciary in Olympia.

You may see the previous WA Animal Watch post about veterinary immunity laws here:

HB 1202, "Animal Cruelty Prevention," has been placed on the House floor calendar, which makes it eligible for a vote by all members of the State House of Representatives. If it passes that, the next step would be the Senate.

SB 5202, the spay/neuter assistance bill, was moved on March 8th from the Senate Rules Committee to the Senate floor calendar. The next step would be a vote by all members of the Washington State Senate. An amendment and the substitute bill change the funding mechanism to donations rather than a tax on pet food or pet licensing.

Two new animal-related laws were introduced in the WA state legislature on Feb. 8th:

HB 1786 would require registration of animal abusers (defined as anyone convicted of 1st or 2nd degree cruelty, animal fighting, or poisoning animals).

See our previous post about animal abuser registry bills here:

HB 1787 would ban the tail docking of dairy cows, outlawing both the act of docking and also essentially banning ownership of already-docked cows, in addition to forbidding bringing them into the state.

Rep. Derek Stanford is the prime sponsor of HB 1786 and 1787.

A few more animal-related pieces of legislation in WA:

HB 1830 would change the crime of causing harm to a service animal or search and rescue animal from a gross misdemeanor to a Class C felony if done "with reckless disregard". In previously existing law, a Class C felony under this statute required intent to harm the animal. As of today, it has received a first reading and been referred to the Judiciary committee.
HB 1024 and SB 5645 revise the language in WA statutes regarding service animals to more closely align with federal law.

HB 1024:

HB 1886 adds data entry and processing expenses to the costs that can be recovered by the Dept. of Agriculture in disease control and traceability actions. 

SHB 1010 expands the requirement to add an aversive agent to antifreeze/coolant to include wholesale containers of 55 gallons or more, and exempts spent antifreeze/coolant being stored/transported for disposal.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Update on HB 1201, 1202. Judiciary committe executive session on 1202

The WA House Judiciary Committee did not take action on HB 1201 (the bill on selling animals) today.  They did take action on 1202, the bill making a number of changes to the animal cruelty statutes.

Rep. Roberts proposed a substitute bill for HB 1202 making fairly significant changes to the proposed bill, and this was passed out of committee with a vote of 8 yeas and 5 nays for a "do pass" recommendation.

The new version of the bill no longer creates a new infraction for animal cruelty, and takes out several of the proposed changes to the definitions section.

It does retain the addition of a section on leaving animals in vehicles, and the changes to add "injury" and "food and water" to the 2nd degree cruelty statutes, as well as the changes to the animal fighting statutes which would make it apply to all types and species of animals. It removes the word "knowingly" from section 3(1)(b) on animal fighting, but retains the word "knowingly" in section 3(1), which would cover 3(1)(b) as well, making the second instance of the word redundant.

The substitute bill adds "and condition" to the definition of necessary food, along with retaining the language "or as directed by a veterinarian for medical reasons" in the definitions of necessary food and necessary water, as follows:

(j) "Necessary food" means the provision at suitable intervals of wholesome foodstuff suitable for the animal's age ((and)), species, and condition, and that is sufficient to provide a reasonable level of nutrition for the animal and is easily accessible to the animal or as directed by a veterinarian for medical reasons.

The substitute bill leaves out the other suggested changes to the definitions section that were in in the original bill. It does still remove economic distress as an affirmative defense for 2nd degree animal cruelty, and retains several of the other changes to the wording of the laws as well.

The substitute bill is not yet available on the bill's homepage as of this writing, but you can read it from the committee meeting documents here:

Click on Amd/Proposed Subs and then on 01 - PSHB 1202 With Effect Adopted (91k), and a PDF file of the substitute bill should open. Remember, in general the existing law is in regular font. Crossed-out portions in double parenthesis ((like this)) are the parts the current bill is proposing to remove, and underlined portions would be added in the proposed bill.

Here is the video of today's Judiciary Committee executive session, 1/14/2013 at 10AM.

And here is a rough transcript of the executive session from the video. The initial discussion is from near the beginning of the video, and the recommendations and voting are from about 28 minutes in. Again, this is not an official transcript; just notes taken by one of our volunteers.

Monday, February 11, 2013

WA Animal cruelty bills scheduled for executive session Feb 12th

The Washington House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to have an executive session on HB 1201 and HB 1202 on Feb 12, 2013, at 10:00AM. This is where they will be voting on whether to pass the bills out of committee to go on to the next step in the process of becoming a law or not.

Again, HB 1201 (companion bill SB 5203) would make selling animals in public places or private places open to the public, with certain exceptions, an animal cruelty crime.

HB 1202 (companion bill SB 5204) adds a new animal cruelty infraction for issues not rising to the level of 2nd or 1st degree cruelty, and makes several other changes to the animal cruelty laws.

If you would like to make your opinion known and hopefully influence the way the committee members vote, please contact the judiciary committee members ASAP.

Contact Information for the WA House Judiciary Committee:

See the following posts for more information:

Washington Animal Cruelty Legislation for 2013: HB 1201 and HB 1202 (This post contains a summary of the two bills and the changes they would be making to existing law):

Unofficial Transcript of Public Hearings on HB 1201 and HB 1202, including a link to video of the hearing:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Why Veterinarians Should Not be Immune from Responsibility

The veterinary immunity bill passed out of committee in the Washington State Senate as well as the House, and is up for debate and discussion among those lawmakers who will be voting on it next. In the WA house it is HB 1186, where it was placed on 2nd reading Feb 7th, and in the senate it is SB 5102, where it passed the 3rd reading with unanimous yes votes. Links to the pages for these bills are at the bottom of this post.

This bill would hold veterinarians immune from all civil and criminal liability for "good-faith" reporting of animal cruelty in the course of their practice. It ignores the fact that someone can "in good faith" still be negligent or commit malpractice, and leaves owners with no recourse in these situations.

The WA legislative website is trialing a new option to allow people to leave comments directly on the bill's page. Look for the "comment on this bill" link at the top of the page.

You should also contact the bill's sponsors and your representatives and let them know that animal owners need to be able to take appropriate measures if veterinarians knowingly, maliciously or negligently make false reports of animal abuse; or make a diagnosis of abuse so careless and wrong that it would be equivalent to medical malpractice.

Washington laws about false and malicious reporting, slander, etc. already require that such actions be negligent, malicious, knowingly false, etc. in order to successfully pursue action against the person. We believe there are already adequate protections in place to protect veterinarians or anyone else who makes a good-faith report of animal cruelty with legitimate reason to believe cruelty is taking place, even if the accused is not convicted of cruelty.

If it becomes commonplace for people to be unfairly prosecuted for animal cruelty when they take an animal to the vet, this will only discourage people from seeking veterinary treatment for their animals.

We know of several cases in which veterinarians reported people for animal cruelty for not purchasing a product or service they were trying to sell, or for wanting to wait or get a second opinion instead of immediately euthanizing an animal or doing an invasive and unnecessary procedure the vet recommended.

Here is one example:

The family adopted an FIV-positive cat. When veterinarian Holly Cheever recommended euthanizing it, they decided that since the cat did not seem to be suffering they would like to try to keep it comfortable at home a little longer. They might have sought a second opinion, but the veterinarian immediately called authorities who seized the cat and brought it back to Cheevers, who euthanized it that same day (removing the owners' right to get a second opinion, and the evidence they needed to defend themselves) and insisted that they (including a family member who did not even live with the cat, but helped transport it to the vet) be charged with animal cruelty for their refusal to immediately euthanize the cat based on her recommendation.

Several of our team have personally experienced veterinarians prescribing medications or procedures contraindicated for the condition or species of animal they were treating, making severe misdiagnoses, or doing things like prescribing blacklisted medications (unsafe for use in meat animals) for livestock that were being raised for human consumption.

Animal owners should not be prosecuted because they refused the recommended treatment or went for a second opinion when the vet made a mistake like that.

No type of malpractice should be immune from consequences. If a veterinarian makes a significantly negligent diagnosis of animal cruelty, the owner should have recourse to pursue appropriate civil or criminal remedies. A veterinarian who has a pattern of reporting people in retaliation for refusing something the veterinarian was trying to sell, or for seeking a second opinion from another vet, should be disciplined. Veterinarians should have no more freedom than anyone else to make an allegation of animal cruelty without good reason to believe cruelty is actually taking place.

In fact, veterinarians should know even better than the general public how to evaluate animals' health, and so should not be excused when they make a significantly stupid diagnosis that could rise to the level of malpractice. If they do not know how to evaluate and diagnose a species, they should refer the case to a vet who can instead of making a wild, uninformed guess that could lead to someone's conviction for a crime they did not commit.

A few potential examples of this sort of thing:

* Reporting an owner for starving an animal, in the absence of reason to believe they were withholding food and without considering or checking for any medical conditions that could be causing the animal to lose weight.

* Diagnosing neglect or abuse in a healthy animal because the vet did not know how to properly evaluate the species and were diagnosing a type of animal they did not normally treat or examine. For instance, using a horse-specific body scoring system to score a dairy cow and declaring it to be starving because it had normal bone structure visibility for a dairy cow but did not fit the normal ranges for the horse scoring system, misidentifying a healthy alpaca as a severely underweight llama, or diagnosing a common and harmless anomaly normal for a given type of animal as being caused by neglect or abuse.

* Reporting an owner for animal cruelty because they refused to do immediate exploratory surgery on a dog that had a routine issue normally handled far less invasively. Since the owners were visiting family in another town and this wasn't their regular vet, they decided to instead immediately take the dog home to their regular vet for a second opinion. If the dog did need surgery, they would rather have their regular vet that they knew and trusted perform it. The first vet (who had never seen them before) tried to talk them out of this, saying that they were just trying to "save money" and that seeing another vet "wouldn't help."

Their normal vet treated it in the standard way, and the issue resolved just fine without surgery.

In making a report of animal cruelty on these clients, the vet reportedly stated that people should not be allowed to own any animals at all if they could not afford or were not willing to do any treatment recommended by this vet. Again, this was a routine issue very common to the breed, and exploratory surgery as a first resort would have been an inappropriate and unnecessarily dangerous and invasive treatment option. The owners didn't just refuse treatment and let the dog suffer; they were essentially reported for seeking a second opinion.

We love our veterinarians, and know that many are extremely competent and would not lightly or inappropriately report people for animal abuse. But veterinarians, just like anyone else, are not infallible, and there are situations where negligence or malpractice happen, or even where veterinarians commit crimes.

Do you have any stories of veterinarians making significantly negligent errors in diagnosis or treatment, or making clearly inappropriate reports of animal cruelty? We'd like to hear them, and we think our lawmakers should hear them too.

It is important to realize that these are not just situations where a person is making a report that is then going to be checked out and verified by experts--the vet IS the expert, and in multiple cases people have been convicted of cruelty based on a vet's word, when the veterinarian was not knowledgeable about the species and testified in court that something actually normal for a healthy animal of that type was proof of neglect or abuse.

Again, you can comment both by contacting your own representatives, the bill's sponsors and the committee members individually, by calling the legslative hotline, and by leaving a comment on the bill's homepage (links below).

We tried using the widget for leaving a comment on the bill's homepage, but kept getting an error message. Please let us know if you get it to work.

If you call the hotline or use the "contact" widget on the legislative hotline for individual legislators, they will request your home address to verify what district you are in and who your representatives are, but you can request that your message be sent to the bill's sponsors and the committee members working on it as well. You can tell the operator whether you oppose or support the bill, and they will also write down your comments to forward to the lawmakers.

On the actual homepage for each representative, you can generally email them directly without going through the legislative website widget.

Legislative Toll-free Hotline:
1-800-635-9993 (TTY)

Here is the link to HB 1186:

And here is the page for SB 5102:

(If you are not from Washington, check to see if your own state is trying to pass or already has similar legislation, and contact your own legislators. Many states have or are trying to pass these types of laws.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Unofficial Transcript of Public Hearings on Animal Cruelty Bills, Jan 31, 2013

Please note, this is not an official transcript of the 1/31 House Judiciary Committee Public Hearings. This is just notes taken by one of our volunteers, for those who need (or prefer) to read rather than listen to it. Please let us know if you notice any major errors and what the timestamp on the video was so we can double check it.

This post is extraordinarily long, so only the first several paragraphs will appear on the main blog page. Click on the "read more" link for the rest of the post.
HB 1186 (27:55 on video)

Omeara Harrington, Counsel (staff):"House Bill 1186 provides legal immunity for licensed veterinarians who report animal cruelty. The animal cruelty statutes outlaw killing or harming animals or engaging in a number of practices that are hazardous to animals, including unsafe confinement, animal fighting and poisoning animals.

Veterinarians can be involved in animal cruelty investigations in a number of ways. The animal cruelty statutes specifically permit law enforcement officers to solicit the help of veterinarians in determining whether animal abuse or neglect has occurred to such a degree that would justify the law enforcement officer in removing the animal for care. Veterinarians may also be called on to advise and assist the law enforcement officers in the euthanasia of an animal that has been seriously injured and is suffering, and there is statutory immunity provided to veterinarians participating in these activities as long as they are carried out with reasonable prudence. Veterinarians may also encounter evidence of animal cruelty in the course of their practices.

State law does not require that animal cruelty is reported, and veterinarians are not provided with immunity from liability in statute if they do decide to voluntarily report.

House Bill 1186 would provide licensed veterinarians with immunity from criminal and civil liability for reporting suspected animal cruelty in good faith and in the normal course of business.

And I can answer questions.

Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D): Thank you, do you have any questions for staff? OK. Our resident veterinarian, the lady from the 35th, is not with us at this point. We'll give her a chance to testify if she comes a little bit later. In the mean time, Mr. Vice Chair, let's bring up the witnesses.

May we please hear from Mr. Greg Hanon and Dr. Mike Anderson?