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Helping Farm Dogs or a Loophole for Cruelty?
The story behind Arizona’s HB 2780
Photo from the June 6 ranch raid by Pima County animal control.

Early this month, legislation exempting ranch dogs from animal cruelty laws passed easily through the Arizona legislature. Despite opposition from the Arizona Defense League for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, county officials, media, animal shelters across the state and a large number of citizens, Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law almost as soon as it crossed her desk. The bill, known as HB 2780, has a history as sordid as its content.

On June 6, 2011 Pima County animal control officers responded to a cruelty investigation on a remote ranch. Neighbors hadn’t been seen the owner since May 31, 2011. Despite the county’s anti-tethering law, three dogs were restrained by tie-outs. Two others were inside a filthy horse trailer. Food was not available. Investigating officers described the water as “green with algae that you could not see into it.” The water smelled foul. Dogs had little or no protection from the sun. Officers recorded the outdoor temperature at 93 degrees.

More scenes for the raid: skinny dogs and slimy water.

Obviously irate about the citations, the rancher approached Rep. Peggy Judd (R-Wilcox) who represents the district and asked her to support a state law exempting farmers and ranchers from Pima County’s anti-tethering legislation. When he talked to Judd he failed to mention his citations for animal neglect.

Not satisfied with merely amending Pima County’s anti-tethering law, the unidentified rancher pushed for a statewide exemption, enlisting the Arizona Cattleman’s Association, a powerful lobbying group. Patrick Bray, the association’s president, wasted no time urging Judd to pass HB 2780. Bray says dozens of Pima County ranchers complained about the anti-tethering law because ranchers may have to tie their dogs for safety reasons when rounding up cattle. However, there are no records of such complaints. The anti-tethering law has been in effect since at least 1997 but neither Judd nor Bray could explain on why it is so urgent now to pass legislation that exempts farm dogs statewide from local anti-tethering ordinances.

While Judd admits there wasn’t full disclosure about the case, she says, “I would have still pursued this law because of the knowledge of the necessity of tying working dogs in some situations on ranches and farms.” Judd, who was HB 2780’s main sponsor, grew up on a ranch in Arizona.

HB 2780, which was later amended in the legislature, prohibits local government from enforcing anti-tethering legislation against farmers and ranchers if “the activity is directly related to the business of shepherding livestock and the activity is necessary for the safety of a human, the dog, or livestock or is permitted by or pursuant to Title 3.”  Title 3 is Arizona’s Agricultural Code that governs farm and ranch activity. The cattle industry already has numerous exemptions under state animal cruelty laws.

HB 2780 seems like it was misrepresented to lawmakers. Only Pima County has anti-tethering legislation. If there were no complaints about the law, then why change it other than to appease a disgruntled rancher? Judd, however, says she is proud of the bill. Ranchers she says “should be free of threat and that makes me as happy as anyone.”

Karen Michael of Arizona Defense League for Animals says HB 2780 is unnecessary, overly broad and preempts local animal cruelty laws. “It also sets a dangerous precedent by creating exemptions under local laws for special interest groups,” she says. Kathleen Mayer, legislative liaison for Barbara LaWall, Pima County Attorney, agrees that this bill was tailored for one person.

The case against the rancher is still pending in Pima County.

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Debra J. White is an award winning freelance writer in Tempe. She serves on the board of the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition, volunteers with the Arizona Animal Welfare League and the Sierra Club and at Sky Harbor Airport. She lives with two rescued dogs.

Photos by investigators for Pima County Animal Care Center.

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