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Advocating for animals in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly session

Posted on Thursday, January 16, 2020
Grid of four photos: elephant, Virginia General Assembly building, tiger, puppy behind kennel bars

As the new Virginia state director for the Humane Society of the United States, I am so excited to continue the wonderful working relationship the HSUS and the Richmond SPCA have forged to create a more humane Virginia. I hope you’ll work with us, too, to advocate for animals during the upcoming legislative session here in Richmond.

Over the past decade, significant improvements have been made for animals here in the Commonwealth, including phasing out fox penning, strengthening Virginia’s felony cruelty statute, reducing animal testing and increasing protections for chained dogs. But there is so much more we can do to create lasting change and improve the lives of all animals. Here are just some of the issues that we need your support on this year:

Giving local governments the authority to place reasonable restrictions on problematic pet stores

The Virginia General Assembly has demonstrated a commitment to cracking down on cruel puppy mills by enacting laws that regulate both commercial breeding operations and pet stores, a key puppy mill sales outlet. While these laws are an important step in the right direction, they have left animals and consumers vulnerable.

In April 2019, an HSUS undercover investigation and subsequent investigation by local law enforcement of a Petland store in Fairfax revealed extensive mistreatment of the animals being sold at the store. Two former managers have been charged with animal cruelty for allegedly failing to provide veterinary care, and the store itself has closed. This example demonstrates a dire need for change—without the HSUS’ intervention, the store would still be operating and mistreating animals, as local officials have little authority over the store.

HB 1480, sponsored by Delegate Wendy Gooditis, will give local governments the ability to place additional restrictions on pet stores when deemed necessary. This could include special licensing, inspections, reporting requirements or even restrictions on the sale of certain animals. It is crucial that local government officials have this authority in order to protect consumers as well as puppies and other young animals.

Prohibiting public contact with dangerous exotic animals

Some Virginia roadside zoos and traveling shows that tour in the Commonwealth have offered public interactions with dangerous exotic animals. The truth is, there is simply no safe or humane way to allow for public handling of elephants, big cats, bears or primates of any age. With 11 cities and counties in Virginia already banning public contact with wild animals, it’s time for a statewide ban.

Animals subjected to public contact exhibitions are often forcibly separated from their mothers too early, physically abused to make handling easier, disposed of at substandard facilities when they are too big to be handled safely and are no longer commercially useful, and irresponsibly bred with no regard for genetic integrity. These harmful practices also undermine legitimate conservation efforts — studies have shown that seeing humans interact with endangered animals leads people to falsely believe that these animals are not endangered in the wild. People are also more likely to believe that these animals are easy to handle and therefore make suitable pets.

This legislation will prohibit public contact with elephants, bears, big cats and primates. This prohibition will apply to both permanent facilities in Virginia as well as traveling exhibitions.

There are several other important animal welfare bills this year: restricting the tethering of dogs, limiting the breeding of cats and dogs for research purposes and a resolution designating December as Puppy Mill Awareness Month in Virginia.

Attending Humane Lobby Day on January 23

We have a strong grassroots network of animal advocates here in Virginia, and I hope you’ll consider joining us on January 23 for Humane Lobby Day. It’s an amazing opportunity to talk directly to your legislators about the animal welfare issues that are important to you. You can register at this link. If you can’t attend, that’s okay too! You can follow the Humane Society of the United States – Virginia and the Richmond SPCA on Facebook, and we’ll provide regular updates for actions you can take to advocate for animals.

I hope you’ll join us—in any way that you can—as we work to protect Virginia’s animals.


Molly Armus has been the Virginia/D.C. State Director for the Humane Society of the United States since October 2019. She shares her home in Richmond with two rescue cats, Hamilton & Robin.

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