Va. bill will target dogs left outside in harsh weather

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The recent cold snap has drawn attention to dogs being left outside when the thermometer dips below freezing.

But it’s something Gary Sweeney has been focused on since April.

The Ashland man launched a petition several months ago to garner support for a Virginia law that would protect dogs in harsh weather.

Today, that petition has more than 60,000 signatures.

“We want to make sure that dogs aren’t left outside with nothing,” said Sweeney.

Gary Sweeney. WRIC Photo/Evanne Armour

Sweeney said there are current laws on the books, like requiring adequate shelter for companion animals in the heat and the cold. While he believes they are well intentioned, he said they can also be open to interpretation.

“So what we’re looking to do is kind of take the guesswork out of it and say, look, these are conditions that are considered extreme. These are conditions that you should not be leaving your dog outside in,” he said.

Del. John Bell (D-Chantilly) is drafting a bill what would target tethering. Sweeney is one of its supporters.

Last year, Bell’s bill to ban tethering companion animals outside unless the owner was also outside died in committee.

This go round, Sweeney said the aim is to ban tethering when the temperature is above 85 degrees and below 32 degrees.

Bell’s team said the bill is still being drafted and will be introduced soon.

While there has been an outpouring of support, there are also people who have raised concerns.

“Some people like to say, ‘But my dog likes the cold. I have a husky,’” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of people don’t have huskies though.”

Another concern Sweeney said will be addressed is what to do with working animals.

“The bill we are introducing does have language in it for working animals,” he said. “We’re not trying to work against the farmers. We’re not trying to work against the hunters. We would actually like to have a solution that works for everybody.”

While Sweeney aims to make change at the Capitol, another advocate is doing what he can to help dogs right now around the capital city.

Will Lowrey is a volunteer for Gracie’s Guardians.

Gracie’s Guardians teamed up with another local group, Ring Dog Rescue, to deliver straw and shelter to dogs in the Richmond area that would be out in the frigid temperatures.

“The temperatures that we’ve had here recently are very uncommon for Virginia,” said Lowrey. “So we thought there was a need to be proactive and get out in the community and give people straw for any outdoor dogs and to educate them about bringing their dogs inside.”

Lowrey said, between the two groups, they made more than 60 stops over the last three days.

“It’s very easy for some people to forget about their dogs in the backyard because dogs, to many people, are property. We want to help change that perception,” he said.

He has heard about the effort to get tethering legislation passed this upcoming General Assembly session and suspects the success of the bill will come down to the wording. Overall, he supports a push to keep dogs out of extreme weather.

“I think we need to consider all the other factors that go with it — who’s going to enforce it, are the funds available to do that, what are the other implications, but in general the premise is a good one and anything to bring the dogs in and prevent tethering is a positive effort,” said Lowrey.