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The Virginia Attorney General’s Animal Law Unit has sent a letter to animal control officers around Virginia highlighting the new animal cruelty laws that went into effect on July 1 and providing guidelines for enforcement.   It emphasizes that “Compliance is what you should be striving for at every call and the welfare of the animal should always be your first concern”.

Below are highlights of this letter.  Virginia dog owners are encouraged to read the letter in its entirety to understand how the law will be enforced.

Highlights of the Letter:

Tethering/Outdoor Temperature Enforcement:

The letter outlines the new tethering and extreme weather provisions found in SB 272/HB1552 which states that an animal cannot be tethered:

  •  unless the animal is safe from predators and well suited and well equipped to tolerate its environment;
  • during the effective period for a hurricane warning or tropical storm warning issued for the area by the National Weather Service;
  • during a heat advisory issued by a local or state authority, when the actual or effective outdoor temperature is 85 degrees Fahrenheit or higher or 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, or during the effective period for a severe weather warning issued for the area by the National Weather Service, including a winter storm, tornado, or severe thunderstorm warning.

The letter states that if two of these three provisions are met, then it should be assumed the animal is in distress.

Exceptions by animal control officers:

The new law allows for individual exceptions (“certifications”) to be made by an animal control officer in enforcing the tethering provisions, but the Attorney General’s office cautions that this certification should be used sparingly, and recommends that the certification only be made for the time in which the officer was on the property.

In addition, while current law requires that a tether be at least 15 feet in length or four times the length of the dog, whichever is greater (except when the animal is being walked or attached to a lead line). Again, an animal control officer may use discretion in enforcing this provision but must ensure that the tether is at least 10 feet or three times the length of the animal, and according to the letter should only certify this for the time the officer is on the property.

AKC Government Relations and the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders (VFDCB) will continue to monitor the application and enforcement of the new laws.  For questions or more information,