Thursday, January 31, 2013

Public Hearings on Proposed WA Animal Cruelty Laws, Jan 31st

Three animal cruelty-related bills proposed in WA state are scheduled for public hearings on Jan 31st, 2013 in the House Committee on Judiciary at 1:30 PM.

Please note that these bills HAVE NOT yet become law; currently they are in the public hearing stage of the process and could be withdrawn or changed as a result of public feedback.

HB 1201/SB 5203 would make animal sales/barters/etc. illegal in most public places or private property open to the public, with certain exceptions. It defines unathorized sales as animal cruelty crimes.

This law would, for instance, make exchanging money/animal on the street or sidewalk in front of a buyer's home after a home check; or a member of the public selling animals at a Saturday market, at a swap meet, in a parking lot, or inside a store an animal cruelty crime--even if, for instance, a feed store gave a non-employee permission to sell animals there.

It does include exemptions for shelters, rescues, bona-fide exhibitors at sanctioned shows, fairs, 4-H/FFA activities, pet store sales by the store owner/operator, and licensed livestock auctions, among other things.

HB 1202/SB 5204 makes numerous significant changes to the animal cruelty statutes, including the following:

adds a new civil infraction level of animal cruelty for issues that don't rise to the level of 2nd degree misdemeanor cruelty (2nd degree cruelty currently requires some negligence or knowing act/failure on the owner's part, and that the animal either has been abandoned or that it experience some sort of pain or suffering to rise to the level of cruelty ["mild discomfort" defined as sufficient pain for a conviction in precedent-setting rulings]); this new law does not appear to require any harm or risk to the animal (or negligence on the owner's part) for a law enforcement or animal control officer to issue an animal cruelty citation for care they consider inadequate;

adds the word "injury" to the 2nd degree cruelty statute so that allowing an animal to experience a minor injury that is not severe enough to cause pain or suffering could qualify as 2nd degree cruelty;

changes the animal fighting statutes to add "causing a minor" to the language and changes definitions to cover all animals rather than just dogs or roosters, but also removes the word "knowing" from the statute so that anyone involved in any way (such as a taxi or bus driver transporting someone to a location, or the owner of a building) could be guilty of felony animal cruelty even if they had no knowledge it had anything to do with fighting;

adds multiple new definitions to the animal cruelty statutes, and also adds several new terms to the animal cruelty laws that are left undefined and open to interpretation;

adds a requirement of "prompt and appropriate treatment of an animal's illness or injury," but leaves those definitions open to interpretation and does not clarify whether home treatment or monitoring for minor routine issues would be acceptable or not;

also adds a statute on leaving animals in vehicles, and makes a number of other changes.

It's a very long and involved bill, covering many different topics and editing many portions of existing animal cruelty law.

HB 1186/SB 5102 removes any civil or criminal liability for a veterinarian reporting suspected animal cruelty.

HB 1194, limiting a landowner's liability when their land is used for habitat projects on the official habitat project list, is also scheduled to be heard during this time slot.


You can see a more detailed post about HB 1201 and HB 1202 on the Washington Animal Watch Blog here:


House committee hearings are generally held in the John L. O'Brien next to the Legislative Building in Olympia, WA. You can call the legislative hotline at 1.800.562.6000 to verify when and where the hearings are.

The page on how to testify at these hearings is at:

It also says, "If you cannot appear before a committee, contact your legislator making your position on a bill known. You can do so by writing a letter, sending an e-mail, calling the legislator's Olympia office, or by calling the Legislative Hotline at 800.562.6000."

It is important to make your voice heard. Public feedback could have a huge influence on the final wording of these laws.

A summary of the various arguments and points of view on both sides is generally compiled from the public hearing process and posted on the bill's page of the legislative website, so this is a particularly good opportunity to make your input count.

~~ Washington Animal Watch ~~

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

WA Animal Cruelty Legislation for 2013: HB 1201 and HB 1202

As we begin the 2013 legislative session, there are several animal-related laws that have already begun the legislative process, and several more that are in working groups and committee meetings at present.

You can go to the Washington State Legislature website at and click on "bills by topic" to keep abreast of the latest legislation on any topic.

As of this writing, a number of laws have been introduced and are listed under the categories of "animals" and "livestock." Please be sure to check out the WA Legislature site to see all the proposed legislation for yourself. There are others besides these listed already, and new bills can be added at any time.

The links go to the home page for each bill--click on the links on that page to see the original text of each proposed law and any revisions and additional information as the law progresses through the legislative process. Each house bill will also gain a companion bill in the senate as it proceeds through the process, with additional sponsors for the companion bill. A link to the companion bill is added to the bill's home page on the legislature's website and to the search results as it reaches that point.

Only laws that have officially been introduced and have started the process of becoming law are listed on the WA Legislature site; laws that are still in the formation and discussion stage will not be posted yet. For instance, a new law about humane restraint is in the works, but has not yet been introduced for this session.

As a quick review, RCW 16.52, the section of the law on animal cruelty, defines animal this way for purposes of animal cruelty in RCW 16.52.011:

 (2)(b) "Animal" means any nonhuman mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian.
This definition applies when the term "animal" is used in all of the RCW 16.52 animal cruelty laws unless there are specific changes to the definition within a given statute.

Also, remember that WA law imposes certain mandatory penalties for animal cruelty convictions, including a prohibition on "owning, caring for, or residing with any similar animals" for a period of two years for a first conviction of 2nd degree animal cruelty, or permanently for a first conviction of 1st degree animal cruelty or a second conviction of any degree of animal cruelty (in some circumstances, with the option to petition for reinstatement of the right to own animals after 5 years), as well as making anyone convicted responsible for all costs involved in the legal proceedings and the seizure and care of the animals in addition to any other fines or penalties imposed.

Some of the consequences for conviction under animal cruelty laws can be found in RCW 16.52.200 at as well as in the various sections outlining specific crimes and penalties under each statute.

It would be helpful to keep the possible penalties in mind as you consider whether these are reasonable consequences for any newly proposed laws falling under the category of animal cruelty. Keep in mind, also, that there has been a repeated push for measures such as mandatory registration on an offender list, including public publication of personal information, for anyone convicted of an animal cruelty offense.

Here are summaries of two proposed laws that we found to be of particular concern.

*** HB 1201, Preventing Animal Cruelty. This bill would make it a crime to "sell, offer for sale, barter, or auction an animal upon any public property or upon private property open to the public," with certain exceptions (please read the entire text of the bill for more details).

This law calls for this new section to be added under RCW 16.52, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This would define the unauthorized selling of animals as animal cruelty, even if no actual harm or risk came to any animal in the process.

The link to the HB 1201 homepage is

*** HB 1202, Preventing Animal Cruelty. This bill covers a number of different topics, adds several entire new sections to the animal cruelty laws, and revises several others. 

Section 1 creates a new crime that people can be charged with, a "civil infraction," adding several new categories and milder severities of neglect to the law. Any law enforcement or animal control officer is empowered to issue the infraction.

"An owner who, under circumstances not amounting to animal cruelty in the first or second degree, fails to provide an animal with necessary food, water, shelter, ventilation, rest, sanitation, space, or medical attention has committed the civil infraction of failure to provide care."
Note that this law does not require that the animal suffer any ill effect, injury, discomfort or risk from this failure in order for the owner to be convicted of animal cruelty under this statute, since it specifies conditions not rising to the level of 1st or 2nd degree animal cruelty. There is also no requirement of intent, knowledge or recklessness on the owner's part.

Many of the definitions about what qualifies as adequate or necessary care are left open to interpretation, with no real guidelines about what constitutes appropriate care, or whether ideal vs. adequate practices are being judged.

A person can attempt to contest the infraction as outlined in RCW 7.80.080, but with the law so vague and not requiring any actual risk or injury to the animal for an infraction to take place, it could be difficult to contest a difference of opinion regarding animal husbandry practices.

Section 2 is about leaving animals in vehicles, and says, in part:

"A person may not leave or confine any animal unattended in a motor vehicle or enclosed space in such a manner that places the animal in a life or health-threatening situation by exposure to excessive heat or cold or deprivation of ventilation.

It also authorizes "an animal control officer, law enforcement officer, or employee of a fire and rescue organization . . . to enter a vehicle or enclosed space to remove an animal by any means reasonable under the circumstances" and holds them free of liability in such circumstances.

It does not require that the animal be harmed by such confinement in order for a person to be charged with a civil infraction, and also clarifies that:

"In the event that an animal suffers physical pain, injury, or death from unsafe confinement in a vehicle or enclosed space, nothing in this section prevents the person who has confined the animal in the vehicle or enclosed space from being convicted of separate offenses for animal cruelty under RCW 16.52.205 or 16.52.207."

Section 3 revises the definitions in the animal cruelty statute under RCW 16.52.011.

It adds the phrase, "or as directed by a veterinarian for medical reasons" to the definitions of "necessary food" and "necessary water" in sections (j) and (k).

Then it adds sections (p) through (s) as follows:

(p) "Necessary medical attention" means prompt and appropriate treatment of an animal's illness or injury.
(q) "Necessary rest" means the provision of regular rest intervals sufficient to maintain an animal's health.
(r) "Necessary shelter" means a constructed or natural structure that provides adequate space, light, ventilation, protection from the elements and protection from heat and cold, suitable to the species, age, condition, size, and type of the animal, and that is sufficiently clean and safe to minimize the risk of injury, physical suffering, or impairment of the animal's health.

(s) "Necessary space" means space sufficient to allow an animal to move in a manner that does not cause injury, disfigurement, or impairment of the animal's health, suitable to the species, age, condition, size and type of animal, and that allows normal movements of the animal, such as sitting, standing, lying down, and turning around, except when confinement of an animal is necessary for medical treatment or transportation. "Necessary space" includes space sufficient to allow an animal to reasonably avoid injury by other animals in the same space.
Notice that it does not define several of the terms added in section 1, including ventilation, rest or sanitation. Many terns are left open to interpretation, such as what constitutes "adequate light" and how broadly or narrowly things like "prompt and appropriate treatment of an animal's illness or injury" could be defined.

For example, does prompt mean within minutes, hours, days? Is home treatment of routine injuries and illnesses considered to be appropriate, or not? Could the mere presence of even a minor issue such as a scratch, a missing chunk of fur, or evidence of a flea or tick be prosecuted as cruelty if the owner could not prove it had already been treated by a veterinarian, even if the injury or condition had just taken place or wasn't of a severity to require being seen by a veterinarian?

Since husbandry practices vary widely, not all law enforcement officers are thoroughly trained and knowledgeable in the appropriate care of every species, and the law does not establish specific standards in every aspect; this could leave the definition of appropriate care open to broadly varying opinions and standards.

Section 4 amends the animal fighting statutes to make it a crime to cause a minor to do any of the things listed in the law, but also makes several other quite major changes.

For example, it removes the word "knowingly" from the law, removing the requirement that a person's actions must be knowing or purposeful in order to be convicted of being involved in animal fighting.

It also removes all the clarifications and definitions as to type of animal (making it no longer apply to just dogs and roosters) and whether the animal is a stray or a pet or not.

This makes it a class D felony for any person, knowingly or not, who is involved or present in any way with any sort of animal fight, whether it be owning the property, transporting a person or animal, holding money, preparing the facility, or being present.

This proposed change to the law could make any transporter, carrier or person who cared for or handled an animal at any step in the process guilty of a felony even if they did not know the animal was intended to be used for animal fighting, training or baiting--for instance, making an airline and its employees guilty of a felony even if they had no idea the animal was being shipped to a location for the purpose of fighting. It also makes transporting any person to or being present at an animal fight a felony whether the person is aware of the situation or not--making a taxicab driver delivering a passenger or a pedestrian walking through the area guilty of a felony, even if they did not know about the fight. It could make the owner of a facility and anyone helping clean, prepare or maintain the facility guilty even if they do not know what the facility is being used for.

This law also makes the mere possession or handling of any animal with the apparent intent or purpose of animal fighting to be a felony, even if an actual fight never takes place.

Section 5 revises the definitions of animal cruelty in the first and second degree to add the word "injury" to the definitions as follows:
A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the second degree if, under circumstances not amounting to first degree animal cruelty, the person knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence inflicts unnecessary injury, suffering, or pain upon an animal.
This could potentially make it a crime to allow an animal to become injured even if the injury is so mild that it does not cause suffering or pain, such as a minor scratch or broken toenail.

It also makes the abandoning of any animal to be 2nd degree animal cruelty, cleaning up the language in 2 (b) and removing the clause saying that the animal must suffer or be at risk of suffering substantial harm from being abandoned in order for the crime to rise to the level of 2nd degree cruelty.

Finally, this section removes the possibility of taking the person's financial situation into consideration in convicting them of 2nd degree cruelty, deleting the following paragraph:
(((4) In any prosecution of animal cruelty in the second degree under subsection (1) or (2)(a) of this section, it shall be an affirmative defense, if established by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's failure was due to economic distress beyond the defendant's control.))
Section 6 changes the wording to refer to animals instead of livestock in making it a crime to harm or kill someone else's animals.

Section 7 changes the amount from two to seven hundred dollars in the threshold below which stealing an animal qualifies as a misdemeanor under RCW 9.08.070 and 2003 c 53 s 9 ., and adds "or under chapter 16.52 RCW for animal cruelty" to the section starting, "Nothing in this section shall prohibit a person from also being convicted of separate offenses under" a list of various laws.

The link to HB 1202 is

You can take action on anything that concerns you in these proposed laws by contacting the sponsors initially. As they progress through the lawmaking process, you may contact committee members as the bills go through various committees, and then the lawmakers who will be voting on them at different stages.

Particularly in the early stages, there is still time and opportunity to push for changes and revisions to the law, or even for the sponsors to withdraw them.

Each law's home page on the WA Legislature website will have information about things like sponsors and committees that are working on the law.