RICHMOND — Citing unpredictable and sometimes extreme weather conditions throughout the year in Virginia, Del. John J. Bell, D-Chantilly, has filed a bill that would prohibit the outdoor tethering of companion animals.
Tethering would be allowed only if the owner of the animal is outside and within sight of the pet, the bill says.
Bell said his wife's work to rescue and foster mistreated dogs motivated him to introduce House Bill 1802.
"My wife does animal rescue," Bell said. "She's fostered over 50 dogs over the last seven or eight years.
"We've seen many instances where animals were tethered for long periods of time in either extreme hot and cold weather. They were unattended and no one was around.
"In fact, we fostered one this year that the authorities had to take, where it was part of a court case. The animal was almost at death's door. I feel that tethering for extended periods of time, particularly in harsh weather conditions, is cruel to the animal and should not be done," Bell said.
An owner who violates the measure could be found guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $250. A second offense would be a Class 3 misdemeanor, with a fine up to $500.
The state code now says owners must provide adequate feed, water, properly cleaned shelter, adequate space for the type of animal and veterinary care when needed.
The provisions of HB 1802 also would apply to public or private animal shelters, dealers, pet shops, exhibitors, kennels, groomers and boarding establishments.
Most localities in Virginia — including Williamsburg as well as James City and York counties — do not have restrictions on the tethering of animals. The cities of Richmond, Hampton and Newport News have adopted tethering bans in the past five years.
Robin Robertson Starr, CEO of the Richmond SPCA, said the tethering of dogs is a big problem in Virginia.
"It is a terrible thing for the dog and it causes dogs to become aggressive and territorial and thereby to become a risk to human safety," Starr said.
"Leaving dogs outside is a tragedy. Dogs are highly social animals with an affinity for quality time to interact with and love their human family members. They should not be exposed for long periods of time to the elements outside, either in the cold of winter or the heat of summer.
"They should be living with us in the house and should go outside for limited periods of time in the company of their humans to get exercise and to relieve themselves, but otherwise should be kept indoors."
HB 1802 has been assigned to the Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee. The subcommittee is scheduled to hear the bill when it meets at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 30 in the seventh-floor west conference room of the General Assembly Building, 201 N. Ninth St., Richmond.