Bill in General Assembly takes aim at PETA

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — There’s a big push in Richmond to further protect shelter pets, and it has the backing of a statewide animal rights group, and some of our local lawmakers.

“We want to close this loophole,” said Debra Griggs with the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies. Last Thursday, Griggs testified before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources.

A member of the committee, Senator William Stanley, a Republican from the 20th district, introduced Senate Bill 1381. It’s cosponsored by Democratic Senator Kenneth Alexander from Norfolk. The bill aims to redefine the role of a private animal shelter in the state of Virginia. It proposes new wording for state code that would read:

Private animal shelter means a facility operated for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes and facilitating other lifesaving outcomes for animals that is used to house or contain animals that is owned or operated by an incorporated, nonprofit, and nongovernmental entity, including a humane society, animal welfare organization, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, or other similar organization.

The definition, if clarified, does not forbid euthanasia at private shelters. It is not a “No Kill” initiative.  Rather, it makes it clear that all private animal shelters, PETA included, must have as one of its purposes to find permanent adoptive homes for animals.”

On Feb. 4, the bill was passed in the Senate, 33 to 5. On Feb. 23, the legislation was approved by the House, 95 to 2.

Photos: Possible new rules for private shelters

Debra Griggs said the bill takes aim at PETA, after the incident on the Eastern Shore from October 2014. PETA workers were seen in residential surveillance video taking a chihuahua from a front porch. Though PETA has refused to comment on the incident, the family who owned the dog said PETA claims to have euthanized their pet.

“The name People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals certainly suggests that they are in the business of saving the lives of animals, but their reports to the state vet do not reflect that,” Griggs said.

Related Link: VDACS records on PETA euthanasia

According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) most recent records, in 2013 PETA took in 894 dogs. Almost all were surrendered to PETA by their owners. Seventy percent — 629 dogs — were euthanized. More than 200 dogs were transferred to another Virginia releasing agency. One dog was transferred to an approved out-of-state facility, and four were considered “miscellaneous.”

Of the 1,281 cats taken in by PETA in 2013, almost all were surrendered by owners, and nearly 91 percent were euthanized.

“They have the highest euthanasia rate of any shelter in Hampton Roads,” Griggs said. “We believe that when citizens turn their animals over to private shelters, they do think of them as a safe haven for animals. In so far as our local area, PETA is deemed a private animal shelter, and as such, they have access to euthanasia drugs. But it does not appear that PETA has as one of its purposes to find permanent homes for animals,” Griggs told WAVY.com.

10 On Your Side caught up with Senator Lynwood Lewis by phone from Richmond Tuesday. Lewis said he voted “yes” in committee, in part because of the PETA incident that happened in his district back in October. WAVY.com first reported on that in November.

“I think senator Stanley’s bill, which clarifies the proper role of the private animal shelter, particularly in the wake of the incident which garnered so much attention in the district that occurred in Accomack County, I think that his bill was very timely and was on the mark for a clarification, or a redefinition, whichever you choose, that probably needed to be made,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he expects the bill will move quickly through the Senate, but calls the bill controversial because it could dramatically change the way PETA runs its shelter. He’s concerned for the bill’s fate in the House of Delegates.

“Things move quick here. It gives the opposition time to mobilize and begin lobbying against it, which I anticipate is already happening on the house side for this particular bill,” he said.

In December, Senator Lewis wrote to the VDACS, asking them to open an investigation into PETA’s practices involving Maya the chihuahua. He wants to know if PETA violated any existing state codes. That investigation is ongoing. Lewis said if VDACS finds wrongdoing, it has the authority to ask Attorney General Mark Herring to impose an injunction on PETA.

You can watch Reporter Deanna LeBlanc’s original story on this bill (Feb. 3, 2015) in the video player below:

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