Proposed Virginia Bill Amends Animal Welfare Code

Proposed legislation in Virginia would amend that state's animal welfare code to include care practices for horses and other livestock, but some equine rescue operators say the bill's language is confusing.

Introduced on Jan. 12, HB 1541 would require owners of agricultural animals to provide their livestock with feed to prevent malnutrition, water to prevent dehydration, and veterinary care to prevent impairment of health or physical function. Under the bill, owners would not be required to provide feed or water when it would be customarily withheld or when a veterinarian prescribes that provisions be eliminated or restricted.

Bill sponsor State Representative Bobby Orrock said the legislation is intended to define normal appropriate horse keeping practices. It is also designed to insulate owners from unfounded animal neglect complaints lodged by individuals unfamiliar with customary horse keeping procedures.

But Patricia Muncy, operator of the Roanoke Valley Horse Rescue Inc. in Hardy, Va., believes the bill's language is confusing because it does not adequately differentiate between specific horse care practices and appropriate care for other livestock such as cattle.

"People have a lot of questions about how this pertains to horses," Muncy said. "If a visitor comes in who thinks one of our horses needs its teeth floated, can they call the authorities? Are we in violation of the law?"

Muncy also worries language regarding food and water restrictions are too vague.

R. Scott Pleasant, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's department of large animal clinical sciences, said the section refers to specific situations when veterinarians would order that horses be deprived of food and water, such as during treatment for colic, before surgery, or during diagnostic procedures, for example.

The section also pertains to times when horses may not normally have access to food and water, such as when being ridden or while in short distance transit.

"Some people put hay in their trailers, some don't, and most people don't put water in the trailers; they stop along the way to let horses drink and stretch their legs," Pleasant said. "This (language) would prevent someone from accusing the owner of neglect if the horse did not have access to food and water, for example, during the two and a half hour trip to the equine center."

Pleasant said the Virginia Farm Bureau, the state veterinarian's office, and the Virginia Horse Council have reviewed language contained in HB 1541. Cheryl Rogers, vice president of the Equine Rescue League in Leesburg, Va., believes legislators should have consulted other parties about the bill's contents.

"Why didn't anybody ask us? We're the ones that are working the welfare cases," Rogers said.

The measure is currently under review by the State House of Representatives' Agriculture Committee.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.