A statewide lobbying campaign by Virginia animal lovers was enough today to kill a controversial bill that would have sanctioned the shooting of wild dogs and cats.
The bill's sponsor, Del. David G. Brickley (D-Prince William) had steered the bill through the House last week, presenting it in part as an antirabies measure. But opponents quickly spread the word that its passage would mean "open season" on dogs and cats.
"Our legislative hot line has worked," boasted Walt Lane, president of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies, after the Senate Agriculture Committee voted 12 to 2 to reject the measure. "We have 53 member organizations throughout the state . . . and we advised them to bombard the chairman of the committee and their own senators with phone calls not to vote for this bill . . . . Our howl was heard."
The bill had been backed by the Virginia Farm Bureau and the Prince William Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, both of which dispatched representatives to today's committee hearing. The groups--along with a Prince William pheasant grower--argued the bill was needed because of packs of wild and sometimes rabid dogs that have wandered the countryside, chasing and often attacking sheep, cattle and other livestock.
Under Virginia law, however, landowners and farmers are forbidden to shoot such animals until they actually attack--when it is often too late. It is a crime to kill a "companion animal," defined as "dogs, both domestic and feral i.e. wild , cats both domestic and feral, monkeys and all members of the monkey family, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, exotic animals and exotic and native birds."
Brickley's bill would have removed "feral" dogs and cats from the code as legally protected animals.
Opponents argued it would be impossible to tell, especially from a distance, if a wandering dog was wild or not. "It could be anybody's pet," said Sen. William A. Truban (R-Shenandoah) and the Senate's only veterinarian. "Especially, if there's a female dog in estrus--then you're going to have wild male dogs from all walks of life . . . . If you're old coon dog is lost, and he's looking for a way home, he's feral, isn't he?"
For most members, it was simply a matter of politics. An aide to Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria) noted that his office had received an unusually high half-dozen phone calls against the bill in the last few days.
"It boils down to a matter of mathematics," said Sen. Madison E. Marye (D-Montgomery). "The number of farmers in the state has dwindled to three percent. There are a lot more dog owners than there are farmers nowadays."