By Sindya N. Bhanoo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Before D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh was elected, the George Washington University law professor challenged her students with an assignment: Write legislation to protect animals in the District.
On July 15, Cheh won passage of that legislation to protect the city's animal population, and yesterday she picked up a national award for her efforts. The Humane Society of the United States presented Cheh with their Humane Legislator Award. The animal welfare legislation will take effect after a 60-day congressional approval period and after Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) signs it.
"Council member Cheh was persistent . . . in ensuring the passage of this comprehensive animal welfare bill," said Lisa LaFontaine, executive director of the Washington Humane Society.
Mr. Pibb, the society's resident black cat, squeaked as LaFontaine placed the award in Cheh's hands.
Among the legislation's major points are making it a felony to be a spectator at animal fights and allowing courts to order forfeiture of animal possession because of cruelty.
"We don't stand above animals, we live among them," Cheh (D-Ward 3) said during the ceremony at the Washington Humane Society in Northwest.
She said that cases similar to the one involving pro football player Michael Vick must be curbed at the local level.
Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison last year after pleading guilty to conspiracy in connection with a dogfighting operation on his property in Virginia.
"We need to dry up the market for these types of events," Cheh said.
The new legislation is the culmination of the effort Cheh began in 2004 at George Washington.
She and her students presented their proposal to the D.C. Council, but it was never called to a vote. When Cheh was elected, she began to push the plan herself.
The council member, who has three cats, is the District's first politician to receive the award from the Humane Society.
Last year, the group awarded 61 Humane Legislator awards to state senators and delegates across the country for their dedication to animal welfare.
"If dogs and cats could vote, I'd be in great shape," Cheh joked.