Animal Cruelty Law Takes Shape in DC

WASHINGTON — The fate of the D.C. pit bull that prompted emergency legislation covering outdoor pets is unclear, but “Mamma’s Law” is being shaped into a permanent law to help protect District pets from extreme weather.

The incident that prompted the effort occurred during the weekend of Jan. 7, when Mamma the pit bull was kept outside in freezing temperatures. No one appeared to be around to take care of her, and she could not lawfully be removed from the Petworth property in Northwest.

“Current law does not have adequate safeguards for extreme weather conditions,” D.C. Council member Brandon Todd said.

At a D.C. Council committee public hearing Monday, resident Sarah Yacoub testified that Mamma’s whereabouts now are unknown.

“But, thanks to the efforts of a small group of caring neighbors and the efforts of many involved in this process, [her] miserable pen has been empty since January.”

Public hearing suggestions for a permanent version of Mamma’s Law include:

  • Define extreme weather to include hot as well as cold situations.
  • Offer immunity to citizens who intervene to remove dogs from hot or cold cars.
  • Increase the number of humane law enforcement officers who can respond to calls.
  • Define adequate food and water as including water that is clean and not frozen.
  • Supply definitions for what constitutes proper shelter.
  • Do not specify action-triggering temperatures; instead, let officers assess the situation, which can be influenced by factors such as size and breed.
  • Expand enforcement authority to include not just police officers. (D.C. is one of the only major cities in the nation that doesn’t allow animal control and humane law enforcement officers to issue citations.)

Several people also brought up the issue of tethering and chaining dogs, which already is illegal in D.C.

“Let me state for the record, the Humane Rescue Alliance does not believe any dog should be left outside unattended, let alone in extreme weather conditions,” said Raymond Noll, vice president of field services for the Humane Rescue Alliance.

Major changes to D.C. animal laws are coming

During Monday’s meeting, Council member Vincent Gray expressed dismay that a multiyear review of companion animal laws has not yet produced suggestions from D.C.’s Health Department for modernization and revisions.

“I’m happy to announce that that review has been for the most part completed,” said Dr. Vito DelVento, animal services program manager for the department.

DelVento expects suggested revisions and additions to current law will be submitted to the council in “the very near future.”

One complicating issue, he said, is that rules covering different situations are under the jurisdiction of different district agencies and listed under various types of district code.

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