Monday, January 30, 2012

Urgent: New Animal Cruelty and Dog Tethering Bill Going to Session Today.

URGENT: This bill has already had a hearing and is scheduled for session TODAY, Jan 30.
This law would change the definitions of food, water, and shelter for all animals and put extreme restrictions on dog tethering.

House Bill 1755, AN ACT Relating to the humane treatment of dogs, scheduled for executive session in the House Committee on Judiciary at 1:30 PM January 30, 2012:

Companion senate bill 5649, AN ACT Relating to the humane treatment of dogs:

At this point, we recommend focusing on contacting the bill's sponsors, and the Jucidiary Committee members.

The bills' sponsors, and links to contact them, are on the above pages. The members of the House Juciciary Committee can be found here:

Their telephone numbers are provided, as well as links to email them.

When you contact lawmakers, be sure to mention the name of the bill as well as the number--they consider so many bills that a number is unlikely to stick in their mind. Try to be as concise and specific as possible.

Please be sure to read the bill in full, as the dog tethering portion is all new and is quite extensive. To briefly summarize, it puts such extreme restrictions on tethering (such as disallowing any possibility that the dog might ever become entangled in anything) that there is little likehood of any case (other than a few situations specifically exempted) in which it would actually *allow* tethering. It does specifically say that pulley and trolley systems are considered tethering.

It appears that this bill could even outlaw such activities as tying your dog to an object briefly while you use the restroom when out for a walk, as well as tying or chaining a dog to prevent its escape from a yard or enclosure.

The changes regarding food, water and shelter apply to all animals--not just dogs. Interestingly enough, in the bill digest and in the summary of the testimony for and against the bill at the January 10 hearing, the changes to these definitions are not mentioned at all.

Among other things, this bill would remove the phrases "at sufficient intervals" and "sufficient to provide a reasonable level of nutrition" from the definitions of adequate food, in conjunction with saying it must be "accessible." In counties with similar phrasing, this is being interpreted by law enforcement to mean that all animals must have food in front of them 24/7.

The words with a strike through them are being taken out, and the underlined words added

(h) "Necessary food and water" means ((the provision at suitable
21 intervals of wholesome foodstuff suitable for the animal's age and
22 species and sufficient to provide a reasonable level of nutrition for
23 the animal)) food or feed appropriate to the species for which it is
24 intended. Both food and water must be in sufficient quantity and
25 quality to sustain the animal and must be easily accessible to the
26 animal.
This is of concern because for many species of animals it is actually harmful to keep food accessible to them at all times. Even for species that benefit from or will not be harmed by having food available all day long, there are times such as walking, grooming, brief transport, etc. that the animal will not have food accessible to it in the course of routine daily activities. Reptiles are included in this law, and many snakes need to eat only once every few days.

The same goes for water. Even if you generally keep water available to animals, in many situations it is impossible to give access to water every moment of every day. Just picture trying to take your dog for a walk or your horse for a ride while keeping both food and water accessible to it every moment, and you'll start to understand the impracticality of such a law if interpreted to its logical extreme.

Also, many horse and livestock owners take their animals out to pasture during the day and only water the animals twice a day. Some species of animals rarely or never drink water, as they obtain all they need from their food or can store it in their bodies.

WSAW feels that appropriate levels and frequencies of food and water should be determined by the needs of the individual species and the health of the animal. Owners and their veterinarians need to have freedom to adjust feeding amounts and frequencies to the needs of the individual animals, rather than every animal having constant access to food and water dictated by state law.

We would like to ask that the phrase "at suitable intervals" or something similar, clarifying that this access need not be constant, be added back into the law.

The USDA has much more reasonable requirements for frequency of feeding and watering in their animal husbandry standards:

§ 3.129 Feeding.
. . . Animals shall be fed at least once a day except as dictated by hibernation, veterinary treatment, normal fasts, or other professionally accepted practices. . . .

§ 3.130 Watering.
If potable water is not accessible to the animals at all times, it must be provided as often as necessary for the health and comfort of the animal. Frequency of watering shall consider age, species, condition, size, and type of the animal. . .

The proposed new Washington State law also adds the following definition of necessary shelter:

27 (i) "Necessary shelter" means a structure that keeps the animal
28 clean, dry, and protected from the elements, allows the animal to turn
29 around freely, sit, stand, and lie without restriction, and does not
30 cause injury, disfigurement, or physical impairment to the animal.
While on the surface this sounds like a good thing, again this gives no exemption or wiggle room for standard practices or common everyday occurrences.

If interpreted strictly to the letter of the law, it could mean that if your cat gets its paws dirty while using the litterbox; your puppy poops on the floor, tips its water dish over, and rolls in the whole thing; or you want to give your pet duck a wading pool; you may be committing animal cruelty--no matter how quickly you clean it up, because the animal was not KEPT clean and dry at all times. A horse that defecates on the floor and then steps in it, or decides to roll in it, is not going to stay clean at all times even if the stall is cleaned daily.

Keeping any animal clean and dry at all times is an unattainable standard. Adding some qualifier such as "reasonably" to this section might go a log way toward helping make the standards more attainable. Or, better yet, just state that the shelter must be appropriate to the species of animal.

For some types of livestock, particularly in mild climates, a wind break or coat might be sufficient. For other animals, more protection is needed. Some types of animals may need shelters or roosts raised off the ground, while others do not. Some animals are much more tolerant of cold than others. Remember, reptiles and amphibians are defined in the WA cruelty statutes as animals. If you keep an amphibian dry, you kill it! Again, there is no one-size-fits-all standard.

Several states, including Michigan, state that "natural features such as trees or topography" can be adequate shelter for some species, or even that a windbreak alone is sufficient for some livestock. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture's website states, in their factsheet on horses,

"In areas with low annual rainfall, a windbreak may be all that is needed for outdoor housing. Windbreaks are essential for all animals housed outdoors to slow the wind speed and, therefore, the wind chill. Many different objects can be used as windbreaks: large bales stacked two or three high and stored adjacent to a paddock, solid board fences, cedar hedging, a bush lot or snow fences of at least six feet in height. In some areas, material such as shade cloth, as used in the ginseng industry, is attached to tall fence posts to act as a windbreak."

Please note that the requirements regarding freedom of movement would potentially outlaw typical straight or tie stalls for horses, even though horses do fine backing out of a stall and rarely lie down. As long as a horse has access to pasture or regular exercise, a standard stall is fine.

Also, the freedom of movement requirements might potentially cause a problem with transport crates for animals, since in order to keep the animal safe during transport they must for some species be small enough to restrict movement--much like a child's car seat or a seatbelt.

Animals recovering from something like a spinal injury may need to be kept still as much as possible, requiring restraint.

We would suggest asking legislators to consider putting a specific exemption in for animals that need to be transported or confined for health or safety reasons, if they choose to leave this part of the bill intact.

As for "protected from the elements" we weren't sure exactly how that would be defined legally, so we ran some searches for the phrase as relating to animal cruelty.

How throughly does it have to keep out the elements? Does an enclosure which has part of the area protected from the elements, but the animal has freedom to go out into the elements when it wants to (and get wet and dirty) qualify? Is a dog house or chicken coop good enough, or not?

Without this phrase being specifically defined, animal owners may be at the mercy of the personal opinion of whatever law enforcement officer they happen to get.

Apparently, it depends on who is interpreting it. In many areas, the typical 3-sided loafing shed is fine for some types of animals. In others, heavy tree cover or a wind break is all that's required for some types of livestock. Some municipalities require structures with 4 walls and closable/lockable doors, or weather barriers covering the doorways of shelters. Others require raised floors. Still others require insulated housing with climate control. At least one, the town of Taos, interprets this phrase as requiring that animals be brought indoors during cold weather. Not all requirements are equally necessary and practical for all types of animals.

Adding a phrase clarifying that the protection of the elements need only be sufficent for the type of animal might help keep law enforcement from going overboard in requiring things like completely insulated, climate-controlled enclosed barns for animals for which this would be overkill.

We do not need more vague or excessively restrictive laws. We need laws that require the minimum basic care necessary for the health and wellbeing of the animal, and allow the flexibility to adjust husbandry practices to be appropriate for the species and the individual animal.

A sample letter can be found at

Please feel free to leave a comment with any other thoughts or suggestions.

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