By Jessi Gower
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — A bill giving animal control officers flexibility in dealing with livestock-injuring dogs is heading to the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe for signature, after passing the Senate unanimously this week.
Under current law if a dog is found chasing, injuring or killing poultry and livestock, animal control and police officers have a duty to kill the dog, whether it has tags or not.
Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, proposed House Bill 740 this session to not only give officers more flexibility, but also to give pet owners peace of mind about their dogs.
McClellan says that this bill is particularly necessary in the city because of recent ordinances that allow up to four hens to be kept in people’s backyards.
“A woman in Hanover, whose dog was killed by her neighbor for allegedly chasing her chickens, contacted me and [Richmond City] councilman Charles Samuels about this issue,” McClellan said. “She said ‘Hey, you probably didn’t know about this law when you passed the chicken ordinance, but you should know now.’ So I met with the city council and we all agreed that if someone’s dog was shot in the city because of chasing chickens, there would probably be a lot of problems.”
When enacted, the bill will give responding officers the choice to seize the dog, instead of automatically killing it. Although the bill states that officers can still legally kill the dog on site, McClellan says that most of animal control officers will opt to seize them and take them to the pound, depending on the severity of the situation.
Dog owner and former VCU student Ellen Pedersen said this bill would alleviate some of her stress dealing with her dog and neighbors.
“My neighbors across the street just moved three chickens into their backyard,” Pedersen said. “I was really worried about what would happen if [her yellow Labrador mix] Bacardi got out of the house and went to investigate the new fluffy neighbors. He’d never chase or hurt the chickens — just show some curiosity, so I’m relieved to know that he won’t have to be shot down if that ever happens.”
If an officer does in fact kill the dog on site, there are laws that provide monetary compensation to the owner. McClellan says that one of these laws actually increased the amount of compensation that the dog owner would get in such a situation.
Earlier this month, HB 740 passed in the house with a 96-2 vote and crossed over to the Senate. The bill passed the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee with a 15-0 vote and was sent to the Senate floor, where it passed 40-0.
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.