By Mario Sequeira Quesada
The saying goes “a dog is man’s best friend” — and that’s exactly what Sen. Lionell Spruill said he wanted when he was a boy. When he couldn’t have a pet, he began to notice how some dogs in his neighborhood were mistreated — left out overnight and in extreme weather.
The Democratic senator from Chesapeake said those memories prompted his bill to regulate the tethering of animals and improve their shelter conditions. SB 1025 passed the Senate, 29-11.
On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee heard the bill and referred it to the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources for consideration.
Under the bill, companion animals could not be tied up during a heat advisory or if a severe weather warning has been issued, including hurricanes, tropical storms or tornado warnings. Spruill proposed specific temperature regulations — under 32 degrees and over 85 degrees — but they were removed when the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources amended the bill.
Under existing state law, the rope, chain or other tether restraining an animal outside can be as short as 3 feet. Spruill’s bill would change the minimum tethering length to 15 feet or four times the length of the animal — whichever is greater. The measure would prohibit attaching weights or other heavy objects to the tether.
“It is the wrong thing to do to keep an animal and don’t treat it properly,” Spruill said. “If you have an animal, treat it as you would treat a person.”
Calls from people concerned about animals left outside usually spike at Richmond Animal Care and Control during extreme temperatures. Animal control supervisor Robert Leinberger said the bill would be a step toward protecting animals, but he is uncertain how well it would work across the state.
“Localities count, with different needs and possibilities. They should have the right to decide their own tethering rules,” Leinberger said.
The main problem is that each locality would have different resources to deal with these issues, he said.
The bill would authorize local governments to adopt ordinances that parallel or are tougher than state law. It also exempts animals involved in agriculture or hunting from the rules on tethering and extreme weather.
Many pet owners support efforts to ensure that animals are treated humanely.
“There should be rules to keep the animals inside and in well-conditioned shelters,” said Jonathan Winebrenner, a Falls Church resident who owns two dogs. He said protection from severe winter elements is key, but people don’t consider how harsh summer can also be.
“I am more worried about when it’s hot,” Winebrenner said. “The pavement can ruin their paws, and the dogs can dehydrate.”
Spruill says people should follow the Golden Rule in treating a pet. “Treat it as how you treat yourself. If you are cold, you come inside. Do the same for the animal.”
He said getting the bill through the Senate was a difficult journey.
“You would be surprised by the amount of challenges I’ve faced to get this bill passed,” he said. “I ask them [delegates] to have compassion and don’t vote the bill down.”
The House of Delegates has indicated that it may support legislation to require a longer tether for animals.
Like Spruill’s bill, HB 1827, proposed by Del. Robert Orrock, R-Caroline, sought to mandate that tethers be 15 feet long or four times the length of the animal. Orrock’s bill won approval from the House but was killed last week in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.