By Carol Vaughn — A Norfolk animal welfare organization has installed a billboard in Accomack County, hoping to influence residents to support legislation that would make it illegal to tie dogs outside in some circumstances.
The billboard, placed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is on Route 13 just south of State Route 620 near Painter, facing south.
PETA in a press release noted SB 272, sponsored by Sen. John J. Bell, is being considered in the Virginia General Assembly 2020 session.
Bell represents District 13 in Northern Virginia.
The bill would make it illegal to tie an animal outdoors at night, when the temperature is below 32 degrees or above 85 degrees, during a heat advisory, or during a severe weather advisory.
It also increases the minimum teth-er length requirement to at least 15 feet or four times the length of the animal, whichever is greater.
The legislation does not change exist-ing provisions governing shelters for pets.
The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources on Jan. 3.
“There is no crueler punishment for a dog than to be trapped at the end of a chain 24/7, unable to exercise, explore new smells, or even reach basic necessities like food and water,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA senior vice president, in a press release.
Nachminovitch said PETA’s members and supporters in Virginia “are eager to see SB 272 save lives by making it illegal to leave a dog chained up when owners aren’t home, overnight, and during extreme weather.”
Nachminovitch in a telephone interview said when she drove north on the Eastern Shore of Virginia years ago she “was so struck by the number of outdoor dogs I saw on the way up.”
“I know that this is an issue that is close to many citizens’ hearts on the Eastern Shore,” she said, citing others’ efforts in the past to change tethering laws in Accomack County.
The discussion about similar bills “has been going on for a few years” in the General Assembly, Nachminovitch said, noting Eastern Shore legislators have been split on the issue.
“For us, one of the most important things in placing these billboards is to raise the public’s awareness of this issue and the fact that (residents) can do something by calling on their elected officials to express their wishes to see this practice ended,” she said.
A second billboard was placed in Caroline County, according to the release.
“It’s just the cruelest thing for a social pack animal to be sentenced to a life at the end of a chain — and we know that these dogs suffer greatly, not just during weather extremes, but from loneliness and frustration and isolation, which is very unnatural for them,” Nachminovitch said.
According to PETA, 32 animals were reported to the organization as having died from causes related to cold weather since November 2018, and at least 50 were reported to PETA the previous winter — none of the cases listed on the PETA website were from the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
The animal welfare group has garnered criticism from Eastern Shore residents in the past — including after PETA sent a letter asking Chincoteague to reconsider holding its world-famous pony swim, and after two women affiliated with PETA allegedly took a family’s pet Chihuahua, Maya, from a porch in Accomack County and later euthanized the animal.
The family in 2017 settled a lawsuit against PETA — the organization agreed to pay the family $49,000 and to donate $2,000 to the local SPCA to honor Maya, according to an Associated Press article.