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Legislative Update
Posted on 04/10/2013 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

New legislative sessions are underway across the country, and a lot of legislation that affects dog owners has cropped up pretty fast. I’m keeping tabs on them all, but the majority will hopefully end up going nowhere. This month I’ll give you some highlights of what’s going on and trends around the country.

Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)
While there seems to be a public shift away from it, the fight over breed specific legislation just goes on. There’s been both good and bad news on this front. Ohio has been the only state thus far to have statewide BSL, but repealed it this time last year, and cities throughout that state continue to follow suit.

Rhode Island has gone the opposite direction, and a completely insane piece of BSL has been introduced. It includes some ludicrous “facts” in the legislative findings, such as “pit bulls” have a “unique insensitivity to pain that causes pit bulls to be exceedingly tenacious in attack.” Basing legislation on such ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims with no scientific basis whatsoever is beyond wrong. However, I have it on good word that there has been such an uproar from dog owners in RI that the bill is not going to get any legs.

There has also been talk in Lansing, Michigan of including BSL in a new vicious dog ordinance. Hopefully that will be quickly shut down by dog owners - it has already begun to get a large response on social media.

On a more positive note, Broward County in Florida was considering a pit bull ban but had such an overwhelming (but civil!) response from dog owners opposed to it, they voted to table the ban. Connecticut, New Mexico and Nevada all have current bills that would prohibit BSL. A bill in Maryland would undo the damage created by the Tracey v Solesky case that I’ve discussed in previous columns. The court in that case declared that “pit bull” dogs are inherently dangerous and that landlords are liable for any “pit bulls” their tenants might have, regardless of their prior history. The bill in Maryland would essentially override that case.

Hunting Issues
A lot of legislation that both directly and indirectly affect hunting with dogs is coming into play. The Senate in Virginia has passed a ban that would ban fox field trials in enclosures. While the word “enclosure” sounds bad, the reality is that Virginia already requires the size of the enclosure to be at least 100 acres and provides means of escape for the fox. The bill is currently in the hands of Representatives.

In Nevada, anti-hunting groups filed a petition with the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissions to ban bear hunting with hounds. After that was shut down, they are now attempting to stop all bear hunting through Senate Bill 82. Nevada has only allowed bear hunting since 2011.

New Mexico had a horribly written bill introduced that would have banned “animal killing contests” where more than one animal can be killed. This would essentially stop all field trials and hunt tests in New Mexico. The bill has been amended to ban only “coyote killing contests”, which would still ban any coyote field trials or incentives for management of overpopulated coyotes.

The wolf debate in the Great Lakes region, particularly in Michigan, is really heating up. Since wolves were delisted in January 2012 due to population goals being vastly exceeded, the animal rights groups have been fighting like crazy to try to stop hunting them any way they can. Some controlled hunting may be necessary to managing the exploding populations. Wisconsin opened a wolf season last fall that permitted many forms of hunting wolves, including using dogs. Many animal rights groups came together and sued to stop hunting with dogs, but the judge ruled last month that the use of dogs is permissible.

The AR groups have moved on to Michigan, where a bill was passed at the end of the 2012 session that names wolves as a game species. It does not create a hunting season or even mandate that wolves be hunted; rather it hands management of wolves to the Natural Resources Commission of the DNR. The anti’s have brought out the big guns: HSUS has come to Michigan to fight this. Wayne Pacelle himself came and, along with several other local groups (including the Kalamazoo Humane Society) created “Keep Michigan Wolves Protected”. The group is diligently gathering signatures to attempt a ballot initiative, which would ask voters to decide. HSUS ballot initiatives are bad. They have done these in several states on agricultural issues and won.

They give the public very skewed and twisted “facts” and spend millions on commercial campaigns. The fact sheet that is floating around with this campaign is already quite twisted. It leads Michiganders to believe that there is already an open bounty on wolves across the state that would allow aerial gunning, poisoning, and dogs - which is so far from the truth!

In reality, a Wolf Management Plan was drafted in 2008 by a wide array of individuals - DNR employees, wildlife biologists and animal welfare advocates - who used data and science to create a comprehensive plan and tools to deal with wolves in the event they would be delisted. The Wolf Management Plan is very cautious about any hunting season, and would only create regulated hunts where a statistical correlation between a high wolf population in an area and issues with livestock and/or pets could be demonstrated, and other control means were not effective.

A lot of hunting dogs have been killed by wolves throughout the Great Lakes, including one at a UKC licensed nite hunt in Minnesota in 2010, and getting the population back to what the original goals were would decrease the likelihood of these attacks. The Michigan NRC is attempting to deliberate and come up with a cautiously thought-out, very limited and controlled wolf hunting program, but the HSUS and friends would rather misinform citizens and stop any kind of management. And just in case that doesn’t work for them, HSUS has filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to overturn the delisting of wolves in the Great Lakes region
Breeders’ bills, which are becoming more popular every year, are making appearances all over, and I’m sure more will be coming. Right now there are “commercial breeder” bills in Hawaii, Minnesota, Montana and Michigan. As always, these bills sound good to the general public, but contain provisions that would affect responsible hobby breeders and most authorize a state department to make specific rules and regulations for inspections, standards of care, etc. Most states have cruelty and neglect laws that would more than suffice for the conduct that these bills are intended to target. In fact, in Michigan, the breeder bill would provide for less punishment than current the neglect law does!

Connecticut has introduced a real doozy. House Bill 5024, “An Act Concerning Humane Education in Schools”, would “permit local or regional boards of education to offer humane education courses and use curriculums developed by the Humane Society, ASPCA or other animal welfare organizations.” It would basically allow taxpayer-funded education of easily molded minds of school children against hunting, dog breeding, and eating meat. Fantastic.

All of these issues are just the tip of the iceberg, seeing as how it’s only February. Please remain vigilant on what’s going on in your town, county and state. If you hear of something that could affect you and your dogs, don’t ever hesitate to contact us for advice and to let us know what’s happening.