Dogs & the Law: End of Year Review

By The Bark, December 2018

Every year, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) uses compliance with more than 90 policy ideas to rank states on their humane treatment of animals; as a metric, the organization looks at successfully enacted legislation. The trend, overall, is positive, but major legal gaps remain. Following are a few of the gaps that were filled in 2018.

California

The Golden State leads the nation in its concern for animal welfare. In September of this year, Governor Jerry Brown signed three pieces of groundbreaking legislation. On the medical front, the state’s veterinarians can now discuss the use of medical cannabis for their animal patients without fear of losing their license; however, they may not prescribe or provide it. (We note that, according to a list on a CBD product website, veterinarians in roughly 10 states sell hemp-based CBD products; California is not among them.) The bill also requires the California Veterinary Medical Board to develop guidelines for these discussions.

Speaking of CBD, the big news at the federal level was the DEA’s classification of Epidiolex—a medication containing plant-derived cannabidiol (CBD), developed to treat two types of epileptic seizures—as a Schedule V drug. This clears the way for its use by humans and potentially, its off-label veterinary use as well.

In the first law of its kind in North America, the state has banned the sale of cosmetics tested on animals; it goes into effect in January 2020 (rabbits, guinea pigs and mice raise their paws in thanks!). Finally, while pets are still considered community property, judges may now legally weigh factors such as who feeds, walks, provides vet care and otherwise protects them when assigning custody.

Maryland

This year, Governor Larry Hogan put his signature on three notable animal-welfare bills: A ban on the retail sale of commercially bred puppies—aka puppy-mill puppies—and kittens. The “Beagle Bill,” which requires research facilities to find homes for healthy dogs and cats after their lab days are over. And House Bill 212, which allows judges to bar those convicted of animal cruelty offenses from owning or living with animals for a specified period, to be determined by the judge.

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Florida

On November 6, Florida residents voted overwhelmingly to end greyhound racing industry in their state. After the Florida legislature once again failed to pass legislation intended to shut down live Greyhound racing, Constitution Revision Commissioner Tom Lee placed a constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot. Approximately 5.4 million voters supported Amendment 13 which phases out commercial greyhound racing in Florida by 2020. The initiative easily passed with 69% of voters in favor.

Nationwide

The Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act was signed into law as part of the Farm Bill on December 20, with the aim of protecting “victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence from emotional and psychological trauma caused by acts of violence or threats of violence against their pets.”

The PAWS Act will expand existing federal protections for domestic violence victims to include their pets, and will establish a federal grant program to assist victims in finding safe shelter for their animals. The act will also create an amendment to the definition of stalking to include “conduct that causes a person to experience a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to his or her pet.”

“Victims of domestic violence should not have to choose between their safety and that of their beloved pets. Sadly, with only 3 percent of domestic violence shelters in the nation accepting pets, that’s the unbearable choice many of them face,” said Kitty Block, acting president and CEO of the HSUS, a supporter of the legislation. “By extending federal domestic violence protections to include pets and making funds available to help domestic violence shelters accommodate companion animals, we can support and empower victims and survivors before it’s too late.”

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