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Animal cruelty bill is shelved

February 18, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Animal cruelty bill is shelved

ANNAPOLIS - A dispute that pitted farmers against animal-rights advocates was resolved, at least temporarily, Tuesday when Washington County lawmakers removed the legislation that started the debate.

"I think the wisest thing would be to withdraw the bill," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, chairman of the county's delegation in the Maryland General Assembly.

With the bill gone, a hearing scheduled for today on the legislation has been canceled. But the debate isn't over.

At issue was legislation that would have required the state veterinarian to review allegations of animal cruelty in Washington County before animals could be removed from a farmer's property.

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The county Farm Bureau had requested the legislation to amend the existing law, which permits any veterinarian to remove an animal before criminal charges are filed against a farmer.

"My concern is there should be a level of review you take before that seriousness of an action," said Gerald Ditto, a Clear Spring hog farmer who is president of the Farm Bureau.

Although the legislation was aimed at livestock cases, it never specified such animals. That omission drew criticism from the county Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, which feared the bill could endanger dogs and cats.

SPCA Executive Director Shelly Moore has said it would take up too much of the state veterinarian's time to travel to the county from Annapolis to investigate each of the more than 600 abuse cases the agency investigates each year. The travel time could further endanger the animal, she said.

Moore was away on business Tuesday and unavailable for comment. But lawmakers said she and other SPCA officials should be pleased with the decision to withdraw the bill.

Ditto said his organization is willing to back off its request for the bill if the issue can be handled locally.

Lawmakers said an existing law gives the Washington County Commissioners authority to establish an animal control oversight board to review abuse issues.

"Let the county work it out with the SPCA and the Farm Bureau," Donoghue said.

Ditto said he would like to see the panel established to look into concerns his organization has raised.

"If they can address our concerns and everybody is satisfied on our end, then we can work with that," he said.

If the matter cannot be settled on the local level, the Farm Bureau likely will ask state lawmakers for assistance once again, Ditto said.

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