3.17.2017 – Crossover and Adequate Shelter for Dogs and Cats
Crossover is upon us and bills of all sorts are coming to the Floor of the House. Several bills from Government Operations were reported and passed with little debate, as was the Transportation Bill.
One bill that did require significant debate was S.79, and act relating to freedom from compulsory collection of personal information. This was sent to us after a unanimous vote in the Senate and with the blessing of Governor Scott.
The bill is essentially a reaction to the proposal made by President Trump during his election campaign when he suggested creating a national registry of people who are Muslims. State and local law enforcement would be restricted from enforcing federal immigration law. Participation by local law enforcement in such activities would require prior approval of the governor. Vermont agencies would also be barred from sharing information regarding a person’s national origin, sexual orientation, religion, and other details for the purpose of creating a registry. The bill had strong support and passed the House on a vote of 110 to 24
To be clear, this will not prevent law enforcement officers from doing their jobs. It just restricts them from enforcing federal immigration law without permission from the governor.
The House Agriculture and Forestry Committee finalized its work on H.218, a bill relating to the adequate shelter for dogs and cats. We worked on this bill last year as well but it became part of a sausage-making mess at the end of the year and didn’t make it through the process. That was unfortunate because it had received a very thorough review with a summer study task force of stakeholders before our committee even started work on it. All of the stakeholders, including the Vermont Traditions Coalition, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association, had given their approval.
The goal of the bill is to update and bring into conformance with national standards, the guidelines regarding cage size, living space, and conditions under which a dog or cat should be kept. The genesis of the bill was a situation several years ago in the Northeast Kingdom where non-purpose-bred dogs, like livestock guardian or sled dogs, were being kept outdoors in very cold, windy weather with little shelter to protect them. Neighbors who offered help were initially rebuffed and their frustration at watching these dogs suffer was palpable.
During our deliberations, one of the things we discovered is that current State standards for living space size was prescribed for a dog by weight, so a greyhound might get the same living space as a smaller-framed, heavy dog would. This didn’t make sense so we applied the current national formula.
We wanted to consider as many different situations as possible. We took testimony from a person who raises sheep and has a guardian dog to protect them from predators. Guardian dogs stay with the animals they are protecting. They will bed down with the animals but are always on-guard, watching their surroundings. They will not use a dog house except to, perhaps, lie on top of it to get a better view. For that reason, we provide a housing exemption while the guardian dogs are working, provided that they are acclimated to local weather conditions.
The standards we set in H.218 determine the parameters for what constitutes animal cruelty so we wanted to be careful to not catch people who are properly caring for their animals in an overly zealous web.
Part of the thoughtful conversation we had concerned the inconsistent level of enforcement in towns around the State. Some towns have very functional animal control programs and others don’t. The question was whether we should focus on enforcement before we set the standards or get the enforcement piece down before we enact new standards.
In an effort to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we opted to pass a bill with good, updated standards and work to improve the enforcement aspect of it next. Education is, perhaps, the most important thing we can do. One suggestion is to increase pet owners’ knowledge of what’s expected of them. Perhaps, Town Clerks would be willing to hand out copies of the standards to pet owners when they license their dogs in the spring.
The perfect solution to the inconsistency of enforcement practices around the State would be to mandate that every town have an Animal Control Officer (ACO) who had attended training sessions and knew the law. Our committee, however, was cognizant of the difficulty that would entail and was not likely to mandate such a requirement.
A provision did make it through the process last year was the creation of an Animal Cruelty Investigation Advisory Board. They have met several times and made a couple of recommendations including the redefinition of “human officer”. We are aware of the fact that the current definition has constitutional issues in that it allows non-law enforcement individuals to do searches and seizures of animals, which is objectionable and possibly dangerous for those people – law enforcement officers should always accompany them when a search and/or seizure is done. The other recommendation is to provide immunity from liability for animal shelter, rescue, and foster organizations that are assisting law enforcement in cruelty cases from the time they are asked to assist until the case is resolved.
It is hoped that by the end of this Session we will be able to get H.218 through the entire process as well as the recommendations made by the Animal Cruelty Investigation Advisory Board.