Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Animal Abuser Registry Bills

There are two bills in the WA State Legislature now, which if passed would create an animal abuser registry similar to the sex offender registries. The bills are HB 1800 (2011-2012 summary) and SB 5144 (2011-2012 summary). (The PDFs of the actual text of the bills can be found here: SB 5144 and HB 1800.

This animal abuse offender registry would be publicly available on the internet, and the information posted would include the person's:
"name, date of birth, residential address, all animal abuse offense convictions, conviction dates, county and state of convictions, the person's photograph and such other identifying data as the attorney general determines is necessary for the public to properly identify the person, but shall not include the person's social security number."

People from outside WA or who were convicted elsewhere of offenses that would be considered cruelty in WA would be included too, if they were residing or staying in WA.

Everyone who had been convicted of an animal abuse offense as an adult would be listed until their death or until 10 years after their last conviction.

Here are the offenses listed as animal abuse offenses that would require a person to be listed in the registry:

"(2) "Animal abuse offense" means the commission of any act that
21 constitutes the criminal offense of:
22 (a) Animal cruelty in the first degree (RCW 16.52.205);
23 (b) Animal cruelty in the second degree (RCW 16.52.207);
24 (c) Animal fighting (RCW 16.52.117); and
25 (d) Poisoning animals (RCW 16.52.190)."

Please note that animal cruelty in the second degree is a misdemeanor and requires no intent to injure, neglect or in any way harm an animal.

In Washington State, 2nd degree cruelty can be as simple as trying to treat an animal's illness yourself rather than calling a veterinarian (as in the case of Hola the Llama), coloring the fur or feathers of ducklings or chicks for sale, or transferring ownership of an animal on public property (defined as cruelty in CCC 8.11.070 (10) ).

Also, in some municipalities in Washington, the animal fighting statutes are so vague that having a fight break out spontaneously between two animals in a herd or flock could qualify. For instance, the City of Asotin, WA states in their city codes under the cruelty statute, 6.20.010, "No person shall cause or permit any dog fight, cock fight, or bull fight, or other combat between animals." [Emphasis added]

I have hotlinked the citations to the laws above so you can see exactly how each offense is defined in state law, but counties and cities within WA have their own definitions that are often more restrictive than state law.

The Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington has the laws of many counties and cities in Washington listed on their website's City and County Codes page.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hola the Llama

The case of Hola the llama in Washington State vs. Smith is an interesting one. It is a case in which an animal owner was convicted of 1st degree animal cruelty for attempting to treat an llama's illness at home instead of hiring a veterinarian to treat him.

Mr. Smith was convicted in spite of the fact that the llama did not improve even in animal control hands while receiving veterinary care, and the vet was unable to do anything to help him or ascertain the cause of his illness.

The story, in brief, is this: Hola the llama came to Mr. Smith in 2003 through a rescue, in very poor condition. Mr. Smith successfully nursed him back to health and the llama recovered very well.

Several years later, in 2007, the llama began to lose weight and appear ill. Mr. Smith was concerned and took steps to address the issue.

Mr. Smith moved Hola to where he could receive more personalized care, and was actively treating Hola's issues by giving him extra food, special weight-gain supplements, treating for parasites, etc. to help him gain weight. Feed store employees testified that he asked for advice in treating the llama and was quite concerned about him.

The llama at times seemed to be improving with treatment, and Mr. Smith apparently thought that since he had been able to nurse him back to health this way in the past, he would be able to do it again. Hola had times when he seemed to be improving, but then would get worse again.

When animal control was called by a neighbor, Hola was in a "downer" position. Animal Control confiscated both Hola and the other llama on the property, even though the other llama was perfectly healthy. By the time the veterinarian examined him after he was confiscated, Hola was up on his feet with normal responsiveness and vital signs.

Hola was confiscated on December 7th, 2007, and spent 6 and 1/2 weeks in animal control custody and under veterinary treatment, which still was unable to find a clear cause for the weight loss or illness and did essentially the same things Mr. Smith had been doing to treat him.

Hola had ups and downs, just as he had in Mr. Smith's care. He improved, became "downer" again in late December 2007, and them seemed to improve again. When he became "downer" yet again on January 20th, 2008, they finally decided to euthanize him.

Even though the llama did not improve with veterinary care and the
veterinarian was unable to treat the illness or find a cause of the illness, the veterinarian used essentially the same approach to treat the llama as what Mr. Smith had already been doing with the same results, and the llama did not die while in the owner's custody, Mr. Smith was still convicted of 1st degree animal cruelty in the death of Hola the llama.

Mr. Smith appealed on the basis of ineffective counsel. The court found that 2nd degree animal cruelty would have been a more appropriate conviction and reversed and remanded the case, based on a finding of ineffective counsel because the jury was not instructed about the possibility of finding Mr. Smith guilty of 2nd degree cruelty.

As summarized in the court's decision,
RCW 16.52.205(2) provides:

"A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the first degree when, except as authorized by law, he or she, with criminal negligence, starves, dehydrates, or suffocates an animal and as a result causes: (a) Substantial and unjustifiable physical pain that extends for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering; or (b) death."

RCW 16.52.207(2) provides in pertinent part:

"(2) An owner of an animal is guilty of animal cruelty in the second degree if, under circumstances not amounting to first degree animal cruelty, the owner knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence:
(a) Fails to provide the animal with necessary shelter, rest, sanitation, space, or medical attention and the animal suffers unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain as a result of the failure. "

Here are the documents I was able to find in the case:

The court's decision remanding and reversing the case: PDF format or plain text on a webpage.

Appellant Brief (Smith's side of the story, giving his appeal): PDF format

Respondent's Brief (Washington State's statement giving the reasons why they feel Mr. Smith should not win the appeal): PDF format.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bills Pertaining to Livestock and Water Quality

There are two bills going through the WA legislative process currently that pertain to livestock and water quality. One is in the state Senate, the other is in the House.

1. HB 1152: Providing technical assistance to achieve voluntary compliance with water pollution control statutes.

This bill would require that the State Department verify the livestock are actually causing a water quality problem and give the owner assistance and time to voluntarily resolve it before penalizing them for a water quality violation related to livestock.

The Bill Summary says, "For lands on which livestock graze or seek feed in pastures, fields, or rangeland, the Department must first make a determination that a water quality problem exists and a pollution violation has occurred due to the presence of livestock. This determination must be made before a notice of violation or a penalty may be assessed. When the Department determines that a pollution violation has occurred or is about to occur, it must first attempt to achieve voluntary compliance by offering information and technical assistance in writing. If education and technical assistance fail to remedy the problem, the Department may then issue a notice of violation."

2. SSB 5723: Addressing water quality issues associated with livestock operations.

This bill directs the Commission to examine the livestock and water quality issue, and requires that authorities do fecal coliform and DNA testing to verify that the water quality problems are actually coming from the livestock on the property and not from other sources such as wildlife before penalizing a livestock operation for a water quality violation.

The senate bill report has some interesting discussion on both sides of the issue, including one example given of a farm that was fined $6,000 for the "potential to pollute" the water, although he was taking significant voluntary steps to prevent a violation and there appears to have been no actual violation.

It is worth noting that current law allows for fines of $10,000 per individual violation per day on top of other penalties for water quality violations.

Both of these bills require the state to actually prove that a farmer's livestock is causing a water quality issue before penalizing them for a violation.

It looks like neither of these bills has made a lot of progress, but they have been "reintroduced and retained" several times so far. Neither has a companion bill yet. You can contact the relevant lawmakers and ask them to take action on these bills at this link.

I am no expert, but to me the first bill (HB1152) looks the most promising. It gives more leeway in how exactly a problem is determined (rather than limiting it to or requiring two specific tests), and also requires that the owner be given a chance to fix the problem. Either one seems like a potential step in the right direction, though.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tracking Animal Laws

There are many laws and events that animal owners in Washington need to be aware of. We need your help researching and writing articles about these. Please drop us a note if you would like to help.

Here are a couple of places to start with tracking animal-related laws:

The Washington State Legislature website has a list of legislation with different ways to search on their Bill Information page, as well as various resources such as committee reports. There is a link to search "Bills by Topic." Look under agriculture, livestock and animals, for a start. We need people to browse these regularly and help bring relevant bills to our attention.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) posts some information on their home page, and also has a page with links where you can track proposed laws and rules, view a calendar of events that lists things like hearings, and find other important information.

There are two major sets of laws and rules that animal owners need to be aware of. First, the RCW, or Revised Code of Washington, is made up of laws that have passed through the legislative process and been signed into law. Secondly, the WACs, or Washington Administrative Code, is the collection of rules that govern how any of those laws pertaining to agriculture, disease control, etc. are enforced. So, for instance, the legislature will pass a law (RCW) about health certificates, and then the Department of Agriculture will make a rule (WAC) about how to implement it, what the exceptions are, how and when it applies, etc.

The Department of Agriculture is not involved in making laws or enforcing them about things like animal cruelty; they deal with things like import regulations, disease control and such.

Of course, federal laws also impact people in Washington. So we need to monitor and inform people about animal-related legislative activity nationally. The USDA website page on laws and regulations is a good place to start for that. is another helpful resource.

Even some of the activist sites that seek to eliminate ownership of animals or give them equal status with humans can be helpful, as several of them provide information about pending legislation and petitions. If you see one of those groups asking people to call their legislators or sign a petition about something, that would be a good time to take a look and see if we need to get out the word so people can contact their legislators to let them know there is opposition to it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Report on WSDA Health Certificates Hearing

**Note: The deadline for written comments submitted to WSDA to be included in this hearing is 5PM Pacific Time today, Dec 12, 2011.**

One of our community members attended the hearing in Olympia today. Here is their report:

I appreciated the opportunity to attend the hearing today to ask questions, listen, learn, and give testimony. I shared the concerns laid out in the previous blog post, and was able to get answers to some of my questions from Dr. Eldridge, the state veterinarian with the WSDA.

First, regarding the question of what address should go on the health certificate if an animal is being sold at a show, farmer's market, or other location where the buyer and final destination may or may not be known. I was told that in this situation, the address of the show, market, etc would be what would be put on the health certificate.

More than one address can be put on a health certificate, so if you are attending several different shows or other events in a given month, you would have the veterinarian writing the health certificate put all the locations you intended to take the animal in the next 30 days on one health certificate. I am not sure how this would work for someone who had a pet being used for animal assisted therapy or going with them to visit family, when all the destinations were not known 30 days in advance.

There are some situations where animals such as large livestock require entry permits (different from a health certificate), especially if they are in a class that meets exemptions from some entry requirements.

I asked how long an animal has to remain at the destination on the health certificate, and was told that basically as long as the entry requirements (any required vaccines, inspections, etc) have been met, where the animal goes or what happens to it after it arrives at the destination on the health certificate is not of concern. It can immediately be sold or transferred elsewhere as long as it is healthy and has entered the state properly.

So theoretically an animal could be delivered to a temporary location on the health certificate, and then taken to a different location not on the health certificate that same day, as long as they have met entry requirements such as any required vaccines, testing, etc.

Regarding the concerns about giving one's home address to a stranger when purchasing, being given or rescuing an animal, Dr. Eldridge had an interesting suggestion for handling that. He said that if your veterinarian is willing, they might allow your veterinarian's address to be given as the destination address, as long as the veterinarian knows how to get hold of you. Or, if you have a specific situation or concern come up, you can contact the WSDA and they will help you figure out how to handle it, or may allow an exception to some rules depending on the situation.

He reiterated several times that their goal is to prevent people from circumventing entry requirements such as required vaccines and testing. As long as any applicable entry requirements have been met, they aren't as concerned about what happens to the animal after it has entered the state.

There was some conversation about how requiring destination addresses on health certificates would assist in quickly tracking down animals after it was discovered they had been exposed to a contagious disease. However, if they had been sold or given to someone else after entering Washington, or moved to another location, they may not be able to be tracked farther.

I asked what would be gained from having the buyer's physical address over simply having the contact information of the veterinarian issuing the health certificate, who would have the contact information for the seller and would likely be able to help track down the buyer if needed. I had a bit of a difficult time understanding the reply, but I think the gist of it was that in a disease outbreak, speed is of the essence, and having the destination address would facilitate faster location of animals that may have been exposed.

The state vet reiterated that the goal of these rules was to help ensure safe, healthy animals and not to make life difficult for people.

++ Of course they aren't sending out staff to stop every car and see if you are smuggling a mouse across state lines, and they are most concerned about livestock and other animals that require testing and vaccines. RCW 16:36:045 indicates that inspections are "with emphasis on livestock being brought in from outside the state." But they *do* legally have the right to stop your vehicle and check for animals that have inappropriately entered the state. The fines and consequences if you do get stopped and they verify that you have brought non-exempted animals into the state without a health certificate are outlined in the law. The animal can be quarantined and tested at your expense, can be euthanized under certain conditions, and you can be subject to fines or other penalties. ++

Basically, they said that this law was enacted to prevent situations like people circumventing entry requirements (i.e. required testing, vaccinations and health certificates) by saying the animals were going to slaughter or a feedlot, but then diverting the shipment so that the animals were not actually sent there. They don't want animals that were exempted from entry requirements because they were supposedly going to slaughter, ending up in production or in situations where they might come into contact with or infect other animals within the state without having gone through appropriate channels for entry into the state.

I sent in a comment suggesting that they focus their rule-making on requiring that animals couldn't be diverted from shipment to circumstances that would require a greater level of entry requirements than the destination on the health certificate, or something like that. Such an approach might effectively keep it limited in scope to what was necessary to achieve the goal of the law.

The deadline for written comments is 5PM today, Pacific Time.

(This post was updated Jan. 7th, 2012 to add/edit the paragraph surrounded by plus symbols ++.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hearing Regarding Addresses on Health Certificates

On Monday morning 12/12/2011 at 9AM, WSDA is holding a hearing at the Natural Resources Building in Olympia, WA regarding how, when, and for what species of animals to implement the new rules for having the exact destination address on health certificates for animals entering Washington.

Details here:

CR-102 has the address and details about the hearing, and also information about how to submit written comments.

It is worth noting that this particular law applies to anyone who may ever visit or sell an animal to anyone in Washington, even if you do not live in Washington State yourself.

WSDA's website says, about these hearings:

"Accepting public comments: Anyone may go to public hearings to testify about WSDA proposed permanent rules, offer written comments, or just listen. WSDA hearings are held around the state depending upon the rule's subject matter. For those who can't attend a hearing, sending written comments is just as effective."

The rule was made to prevent things like shipments of cattle being diverted to a different address than where they were supposed to be delivered. However, the law itself is much broader and applies to all animals with no exceptions. WSDA's role is to define when, in what situations and for what types of animals to apply this law.

    Here are some of our concerns with this new rule and its possible unintended consequences: 

  • Safety for the citizens of Washington. It is usually advised that when doing transactions via Craigslist, Freecycle, newspaper ads, or dealing with anyone not known and trusted, the transaction take place in a neutral public location. This is to avoid either the buyer or the seller having to give their personal information and home address to the other, as well as to keep the meeting in a place where other people are around in case one person turns out to be dangerous.

    If the exact destination address is required, this would mean that the Washington resident is required to give their home address to the person they are getting an animal from. This could be particularly uncomfortable and dangerous in cases such as a private party doing an unofficial rescue. Giving one's home address to someone who is surrendering a neglected or abused animal is not the wisest or safest thing to do. Neither would most people want to have to give their home address to everyone giving away free chickens or selling meat goats.

  • The potential impact on the showing community, and anyone who frequently visits the state with their animals. The cost of a veterinary exam and health certificate already exceeds the value of many small animals and poultry. If owners had to get a separate health certificate for each show or other event they attended, rather than getting one health certificate every 30 days as the law previously allowed, the cost would quickly become prohibitive to attend shows. While some animals (such as llamas, goats, cats and dogs) already have exemptions in the WAC 16-64 rules for brief round-trip visits, many species of animals--including several species of small animals that commonly compete in shows--are not currently covered by such exemptions.

  • The impact on buying and selling animals when the purchaser is not known in advance. It is very common for people to offer animals for sale at shows, fairs, auctions, livestock markets, farmer's markets and other events. If the final destination address is required on health certificates, how would that work when the animal is being transported to a temporary location and offered for sale? The potential buyer and the final location would be unknown at the time the health certificate was acquired.

  • Relocation ability. How long would an animal be required to stay at the location listed on the health certificate before moving to another location? What if the owner decides to sell or give away the animal, move the animal from their ranch to their home or vice versa, or the owner moves to a different location and wants to take the animal with them?

  • Rescues and shelters. Rescues and shelters often bring in animals to Washington and then distribute them to foster homes or adopters. How would this rule impact the ability to bring in a needy animal to a temporary location in the state while the needed homes or foster homes are found? 

While we can certainly understand the reasoning behind this new law, we do hope that the WSDA will make rules that accomplish that purpose while avoiding unintended consequences that could deter people from showing, buying and selling animals, or that could even place Washington residents in unnecessary danger.

Who We Are

The Washington Animal Watch team is a group of concerned citizens who love animals and want to keep our right to own them. We support animal welfare and good husbandry practices, and also the right of humans to own and use animals.

As animal rights activists and animal abolitionists gain influence, we are increasingly seeing laws passed that make it more difficult for people to own and use animals. If we do not work to remain aware and to fight these laws, our rights to have animals will continue to be eroded.

In our ideal world, all laws would be reasonable, and law enforcement and animal control would become involved only when they are truly needed. Cases of chronic and severe animal abuse and neglect would be adequately and quickly dealt with--first by the community offering help where possible, and then by law enforcement where needed. Breeders, farmers and animal owners who are not harming their animals would be left alone to run their hobbies or businesses and keep their pets; unmolested by activists who want to take their animals away.

We are always looking for tips, updates and information about laws and events affecting animals in Washington State and the USA. If you have a story or link to share, please drop us a note at

Our posts are based upon our own opinions and interpretations of laws and events, and should not be taken as legal or medical advice.