Herring outlines new animal cruelty laws

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Attorney General Mark R. Herring and his first-in-the-nation Animal Law Unit have sent a letter to animal control officers around Virginia highlighting the new animal cruelty laws that went into effect earlier this month.

The letter also reminds animal control officers that heat can be deadly to animals, and that there can be serious legal consequences for leaving animals outside without adequate shelter and water.

“Extreme temperatures, like what we are currently experiencing here in Virginia, pose a real threat to the health and safety of animals that are left outside without adequate shelter or water,” said Herring. “These new laws further protect animals, require owners to protect their animals from the elements with adequate shelter, and give law enforcement the tools they need to ensure the health and safety of animals. As we continue to deal with this oppressive heat wave, I would encourage all Virginians to take care of yourselves, your friends and your families and don’t forget about also taking care of your pets.”

Leaving an animal trapped in a car or exposed to the elements with no shelter or inadequate shelter can be considered animal cruelty, a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail.

The letter outlines the new, more stringent tethering provisions and explains that an animal cannot be tied up unless it is safe from predators and well suited and well equipped to tolerate its environment and may not be tied up under these conditions:

  • During the effective period for a hurricane warning or tropical storm warning issued for the area by the National Weather Service; or
  • During a heat advisory, freezing or below freezing temperatures, or during a severe weather warning

Herring and his Animal Law Unit advise animal control officers to ask owners to bring animals inside or into shelter, ask the owner to surrender the animal if they are unable to provide adequate shelter, or in certain circumstances take temporary custody of an animal to ensure its safety.

Herring has made it a priority to strengthen enforcement of animal cruelty and other animal related crimes. This year, Herring’s Senate Bill 114 (Sen. David Marsden) will put certain animal care statutes under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and give the Office of the Attorney General even more tools to protect animals.

In 2015, Herring created the nation’s first OAG Animal Law Unit to serve as a training and prosecution resource for state agencies, investigators, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys around the state dealing with matters involving animal fighting, cruelty, and welfare. Illegal animal fighting is closely tied to illegal gambling, drug and alcohol crimes, and violence against animals has been shown to be linked to violence towards other people.


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