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Pets scratched from animal cruelty legislation

February 13, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Pets scratched from animal cruelty legislation

ANNAPOLIS - Legislation in the Maryland General Assembly designed to protect Washington County farmers involved in animal cruelty cases is drawing criticism from the county Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, which fears the bill could endanger pets.

"What essentially this does is prevent us from helping dogs and cats in Washington County," said Shelly Moore, executive director of the county SPCA.

Supporters of the legislation said the inclusion of household pets in a bill intended only for livestock was merely a misunderstanding that can be corrected.

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"We certainly intended all livestock, not dogs and cats," said Gerald Ditto, president of the county Farm Bureau.

Lawmakers said the bill can be amended to exclude pets.

The Farm Bureau had requested legislation that would require the state veterinarian to review cases of alleged animal cruelty in Washington County before animals could be removed from a farmer's property.

Ditto said the existing law has problems because any veterinarian could remove an animal before criminal charges could be filed against the farmer. There have been such cases in the county, he said.

But neither the written request from the Farm Bureau nor the bill filed in the legislature by the county delegation specified farm animals.

If the bill is approved as written, that would mean the state veterinarian would have to travel to Washington County from Annapolis to investigate each suspected abuse case, be it pets or livestock, Moore said.

Last year the SPCA investigated 659 animal abuse and neglect cases in the county, and only about 25 involved livestock, she said. Of the total cases, the animals were removed 141 times and only a handful were not returned, she said.

By the time the veterinarian gets to the county, the abused animal could be further harmed or dead, Moore said.

Moore said she would like the bill to be amended to exclude pets. She also would like the bill to permit a designee of the state veterinarian to review livestock abuse cases.

"We can live with that," Ditto said.

A hearing on the bill (H.B. 52) is scheduled for Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. before the House Environmental Matters Committee.

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