by Christie Lagally
With our Washington legislative session underway in Olympia, several Seattle-based senators, as well as animal advocates, are working hard to improve laws that protect animals.
Recently, Sen. Joe Fain of the 47th Legislative District (covering south King County) introduced Senate Bill (SB) 5501, which is intended to strengthen current laws to protect animals and to ensure that animal suffering can be addressed by law enforcement and our courts. The bill must pass the Washington state Senate and House and be signed by the governor before it can take effect. This requires the support of additional legislators and the support of their constituents like us.
Year-round, animal welfare agencies remind us not to leave our pets in cars because of the risk of death from overheating. SB 5501 would make it a crime “to leave or confine any animal unattended in a motor vehicle or enclosed space if the animal could be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation or lack of necessary water.”
This statute also allows law enforcement or an animal control officer to free a distressed animal from a confined space. Currently, individual municipal laws in Washington dictate whether authorities can act if an animal is in danger. If enacted, SB 5501 would allow authorities statewide to enter a car (or a confined space) to rescue an animal without liability for necessary damage done to the car or structure.
Fain explains that California already has a similar law to allow authorities to rescue animals from vehicles, but Washington state does not. He adds that SB 5501 “clarifies the rights of first-responders,” who may need to act immediately to protect an animal’s life.
SB 5501 also broadens our laws against animal fighting in Washington, which currently states that staging fights between dogs or male chickens is a felony. This bill broadens the type of animals that could possibly be involved in fighting.
“The intent of this change to the law is to criminalize organized fights between any animals, not just between male chickens (cockfighting) and between dogs,” explained Rick Hall of the Washington Alliance for Humane Legislation, an advocacy group helping to pass SB 5501.
“Fights between dogs and wildlife have been staged in some areas of the country, such as so-called hog-dog fights,” Hall added. “This is a loophole in the law that needs to be addressed.”
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who represents the 36th District of Ballard, Fremont, Magnolia and Queen Anne, explained that she co-sponsored SB 5501 because she believes it is important to strengthen the laws against animal fights and to ensure that our law specifically prohibits bringing a minor to a fight; SB 5501 changes the law to make it a separate offense to bring a minor to an animal fight.
When animal cruelty does occur, it is important that courts can convict offenders, and SB 5501 aims to more clearly define the types of cruelty that are subject to prosecution. Currently, a person can be convicted of felony animal cruelty if he or she injures or kills an animal causing undue suffering.
However, a sad case of a dog killing in 2013, in which a man strapped explosives to his dog and detonated them, killing the dog instantly, created concerns about the law’s application to this case. The concern was that it may be difficult to prosecute because it was difficult to show that the dog suffered when it died so quickly. SB 5501 helps to better define this type of cruelty by including the statement that the perpetrator exhibited an “extreme indifference to life” — a statement taken from homicide laws.
Sen. Maralyn Chase, who represents the 32nd District of North Seattle (Broadview and Bitter Lake), has also co-sponsored SB 5501. She has a long history of working to protect animals, including her own rescue dogs, Ranger and Lucky.
She explained that she frequently works across the aisle on many of the bills she sponsors but adds that animal-related bills are often supported by both parties.
“People love animals,” Chase said. “We get a huge response when we have an animal-related bill.”
Sen. David Frockt of the 46th District (Lake City, Meadowbrook and Wedgwood) has also co-sponsored SB 5501.
Voice your support
It is empowering to see how our local senators are speaking up for animals. Before the legislative session ends in late April, we should let our senators and state representatives know that we support animal protection as well. You can email your state legislators or visit them in person by signing up for Humane Lobby Day on Feb. 24, a one-day event sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, and join other advocates to lobby for animal-related bills.
Finally, for those of us with legislators who share our ethos to actively protect animals, it is also important to contact them and thank them for their service.
To attend Humane Lobby Day, visit action.humanesociety.org.
CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a writer and the editor of Living Humane (livinghumane.com). To comment on this column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.