Posted: July 31, 2020 | 10:00 a.m.
As of July 1, the state of Virginia has new tethering and adequate care laws to enhance the safety and well-being of dogs. Last weekend, Sussex County’s Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Seward, who was actively involved in the formation of the legislation, and Surry County Animal Control Officer Lisa Moseley offered guidance on what the new laws mean.
Seward, who has represented the Virginia Veterinary Medicine Association as a lobbyist for 18 years at the Virginia General Assembly, was a participant on their behalf in the Conference Committee with the delegates and senators who patroned the bill to determine its final language.
“The General Assembly has debated tethering laws off and on for about 10 years,” Seward explained. “We finally got a bill this year that was a good compromise on this issue. One of the things that was important to the Veterinary Association was the ability of the Animal Control Officers to assess individual situations before a dog owner was cited for inadequate shelter. For example, several breeds such as Alaskan huskies or malamutes may be very happy on a suitable tether when it’s below freezing. Conversely, the same dog, if it’s over 60 or 65 degrees, could be in great danger of overheating. So, while the legislation has temperature markers in it, this legislation also gives ACOs discretion to deal with specific situations.”
“I think this bill is a good compromise,” she continued, “in that it will protect dogs who were tethered, and also gives animal control some discretion and flexibility. I think it’s a win-win for the dogs and for animal control.”
In Surry County, Moseley elaborated on how the laws will be enforced.
“It’s important that the public know that not only are we here to help the animals, but also to educate and help pet owners,” Moseley began. “We want to help everyone understand that one of the most important parts of the new law is ‘adequate care.’ It is no longer just food, water, and shelter. For example, it is not legal to leave hunting dogs tethered outside indefinitely, and barrels and old chemical containers are not adequate shelter. Boat chains are not adequate or suitable restraints.”
“Everyone needs to be thinking about what is adequate,” she continued. “If dogs are covered in fleas and ticks or losing hair and are not taken to the vet, we can seize all of their animals, and they will be charged and will have to pay the vet bills. That’s something no one wants to have happen. The first time this occurs, we can try to work with them to fix the situation, but if we have to come back, we will have to seize the dogs.”
“We are not unreasonable,” Moseley added. “We want to help. If you are not sure of anything, if you need help getting new doghouses, call us. We’ll make calls, do whatever we have to do to help you keep your dogs. By the same token, if you witness animals being inadequately taken care of, call us. We all need to work together to help these animals and create a chain reaction of good for the community, which also includes fewer upset neighbors and strays running at large and overbreeding.”
“If we can help people with whatever is needed to make animals healthier,” she finished, “we want to give the benefit of the doubt. We will be enforcing these laws, and if everyone knows about them and acts according to these new laws, enforcement won’t be needed.”
Some enhancements to the adequate shelter definition now include the following:
- Minimum tethers must be 15 feet or four times the length of the animal whichever is greater
- Housing must be moisture proof, windproof, and accommodate the dog with freedom of movement including the ability to stand, turn around, and lie down with limbs outstretched.
- Housing must be of durable material with a solid moisture proof floor and protect the dog from precipitation.
- Housing cannot be made of constructive material that readily conducts heat or cold and must have a windbreak at the entrance and contain suitable clean bedding to provide insulation and protection during cold weather as well as natural or artificial shade to protect the entire dog from direct sunlight in warm weather. For questions, call 757-294-0158