The Virginia Capitol in Richmond. (Photo: KJ Mushung)

By Christine Stoddard
Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia’s animal welfare groups have had both successes and setbacks this legislative session, and the past week reflected that mixed record for the fighters for the furry, the feathery and the leathery.

First, a House subcommittee tabled a top priority for the commonwealth’s animal advocates: a bill allowing humane societies and animal shelters to trap, vaccinate and sterilize feral cats before releasing them back into the wild.

Senate Bill 359, sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, had the support of animal welfare groups throughout Virginia. On its “Every Life is Precious” blog, the Richmond SPCA said the measure “would save the lives of countless feral cats.”

Patrick Cole, director of communications and outreach for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, also expressed enthusiasm for the bill. He said the league has been planning to start its own trap, neuter and release program.

“With time, we hope to effectively reduce the population of feral cats, including the number of kittens that are brought to the animal shelter,” Cole said. “The TNR program would also increase public safety, as we will vaccinate cats for rabies before releasing them.”

The Senate had passed Deeds’ bill, 31-8. But it was killed Feb. 27 by the agriculture subcommittee of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

The Virginia Federation of Humane Societies was disappointed by that action. Yet the next day the group howled with joy when the Senate joined the House in unanimously passing a resolution designating every Feb. 28 as Spay Day in Virginia.

House Joint Resolution 143, sponsored by Delegate David Englin, D-Alexandria, says the designation “will promote recognition of the importance of spaying or neutering dogs and cats to keep the pet population under control and prevent the unnecessary euthanization of animals.”

SB 359 and HJ 143 were among about a dozen legislative priorities that the VFHS had for the General Assembly’s 2012 session, which ends Saturday.

On the one hand, the federation successfully opposed such bills as:

? HB 311, allowing hunters to always use dogs during bear season. It was tabled by a subcommittee of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

? HB 342, allowing landowners to authorize other people to kill deer and bear that might damage their property. Consideration of this bill was postponed until 2013.

On the other hand, several bills supported by the VFHS never made it out of committee. They included:

? SB 477, making it a Class 1 misdemeanor to “privately possess, sell, transfer, or breed dangerous wild animals,” such as tigers, bears, elephants, monkeys, boa constrictors and alligators. The bill would allow only facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to keep these animals.

? HB 158, making it a Class 1 misdemeanor for anyone, including a veterinarian, to perform “a surgical devocalization on a cat or dog when such procedure is not necessary to treat or relieve an illness, disease, or injury or to correct a congenital abnormality.”

? HB 888, which would have authorized any local government to adopt ordinances regulating the “tethering of companion animals” – notably the chaining of dogs.

? HB 695, which would have outlawed erecting or maintaining a pen or other enclosure for the purpose of having dogs pursue, hunt or kill a fox or coyote.

Lawmakers agreed to consider HB 158 and SB 477 during the 2013 legislative session.

About the VFHS

The Virginia Federation of Humane Societies, which focuses on “issues of animal cruelty and pet overpopulation within the Commonwealth,” represents the official legislative views of most Virginia animal welfare groups.

VFHS claims nearly 50 active members, including the Animal Defense League of Washington County (Abingdon), Animal Rescue of Tidewater (Norfolk), Fauquier SPCA (Warrenton) and Golden Retriever Rescue Education & Training (Falls Church).

The federation also has about 20 associate members, like Giles County Animal Rescue (Pearisburg) and Pawsitive K9 Experience (Gloucester).

The VFHS will host its annual conference from March 29-31 at Williamsburg’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, a pet-friendly establishment. Agenda items include planning for the 2013 legislative session.