The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 7, 2013

Animal legislation getting attention in Senate chamber

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Animals are getting their fair share of attention in this legislative session.

Measures to crack down on “puppy mills” to ensure humane treatment of dogs raised by commercial breeders, register exotic animals and to provide a registry for animal abusers are moving in the Senate.

Cost concerns prompted Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to veto last year’s exotic animal proposal, so a fresh one has been offered, by Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette.

“This requires the registration of certain categories of what are considered to be exotic animals so we have information as to their location within the state,” Laird explained Wednesday.

“West Virginia is one of the few states in the nation that has no laws regulating exotic animals. This involves a collaboration between the Division of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture and the West Virginia Department of Public Health.”

Generally speaking, the proposal would cover any animal not indigenous to the Mountain State.

Backed by the Humane Society of the United States, the measure was inspired by the escape of animals a few years ago in Zanesville, Ohio, in which authorities were compelled to shoot wild beasts, the senator said.

“I think there is a public interest in wanting to know the location of these animals and to ensure that they’re properly secured,” Laird said.

The intent isn’t to forbid ownership, but merely to keep a record of where the animals are kept.

“The concern is for public safety in addition to the balance of our environment as far as the potential for invasive species being introduced into our eco-system,” Laird said.

In sponsoring puppy mill legislation, Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said West Virginia is becoming a target for commercial dog breeders in other states, since regulations are being imposed there.

“They’re now coming across the border,” he said.

“In essence, what we’re trying to do is make sure we protect what we have. Other states are cracking down on the puppy mills that are operating illegally. We want to make sure we strengthen our laws so that they’re not just finding this as a haven for that type of operation. That’s why this bill is critical. We need to step up and provide stronger laws to protect our animals as well.”

Regulation of dog breeders has been a major thrust of the Humane Society of the United States in recent sessions, in a legislative effort led by the West Virginia director, Summer Wyatt.

Unger added a new wrinkle to animal legislation with a bill that would create a registry of convicted animal abusers, similar to one maintained on child sex offenders.

Thus, he explained, when someone came by an animal shelter to either adopt or purchase an animal, officials could see if the person had ever been convicted of abuse.

“This is to ensure that people are not selling or allow for adoption these pets that are going to be later abused,” the majority leader said.

“It’s really to try to strengthen our laws to make sure we protect animals.”

Unger said research has shown a direct link between animal abuse and other forms of abuse within a home.

“This sends up a red flag if someone’s convicted of animal abuse, there are probably other things going on in the home that maybe we need to be looking at,” he said.

“People who start off abusing animals graduate to domestic violence and adult abuse.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com