Dogs and roosters will have an ally in state Sen. Gene Davis this upcoming legislative session as the Democrats’ newly chosen minority leader introduces bills aimed at toughening cockfighting laws and tightening restrictions on dog tethering and puppy sales.
The Humane Society of Utah asked Davis to sponsor the trio of measures after learning Utah is one of only 15 states that doesn’t prosecute cockfighting as a felony.
Humane Society Executive Director Gene Baierschmidt said surrounding states have already made it a felony and participants in cockfighting come to Utah because they know the penalties are more lax.
Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, and Baierschmidt said the practice of strapping razors to roosters’ legs so they can slash each other to death is "barbaric" and also said it encourages illegal gambling.
Davis said the bill to protect dogs from being tied up for long periods in yards stemmed from complaints that those animals often engage in excessive barking and suffer harmful physical effects.
Dogs sometimes arrive at the shelters with collar marks embedded deep in their necks and often have a hard time socializing after being tied up for long stretches.
"A life of being chained up isn’t good animal husbandry," Davis said. "If you have your animal and it’s a pet and is a part of your family, then make it a part of your family. You have to spend time with the animal and not keep it tied up all day."
The bill would restrict the amount of time a dog could be tethered outside to 10 hours. Currently, there is no restriction on tethering. A violation, under the proposal, would cost the owner $250 and be a misdemeanor.
Baierschmidt said the Humane Society would like to see the law closer to what California has on the books — an anti-tethering measure that allows dogs to be tied up only temporarily when the owner is engaged in an activity that requires it — such as painting a fence or performing other outdoor chores.
The other bill Davis will carry would restrict people from selling puppies in parking lots of big-box stores or in parks.
He said the proposal isn’t aimed at professional breeders or legitimate pet sellers who ensure the animals are spayed, get proper vaccinations and don’t have diseases. Baierschmidt said Utah shelters, which see more than 10,000 animals a year, often end up being the safety net after people who make spur-of-the-moment purchases decide they don’t really want animals and abandon them.
He also said puppies are sold in these unregulated areas with diseases that could be harmful — including parvovirus, which can lead to rashes and arthritis in humans.
Diseased dogs often end up at shelters and must be euthanized, Baierschmidt said. Approximately 150 dogs a year suffer that fate, Baierschmidt said.
Baierschmidt said he expects some controversy on the proposals — especially on the anti-tethering bill.
Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, is no stranger to controversial animal bills.
In 2011, he proposed a bill that would allow people in rural areas to shoot feral animals that were viewed as a threat to farmers. The bill covered a wide swath of feral animals, but it was the image of feral cats that caught fire in the session; the proposal eventually died.
Oda said he hasn’t seen the measures by Davis, but he was cautious about them when told about their broad outlines. He said the state already has "too many felonies on the books" and believed the regulations against chaining animals could lead to neighbors reporting neighbors without knowing the circumstance why a dog was chained up.
"Tethering is a natural part of owning an animal and, by definition, animals and pets are not considered human beings — they’re considered property," Oda said. "So if they want to change how animals are going to be treated overall, they’ll have to change the definition to say animals aren’t property."
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