One of the Humane Rescue Alliance’s priorities for the remainder of this year is ensuring the DC Council advances legislation to address deficiencies in the District’s current animal laws. The Animal Care and Control Omnibus Act, which the DC Council is currently reviewing, presents a historic opportunity to strengthen protections for the District’s most vulnerable animals and support HRA’s ability to provide the best service and care for the animals and people we serve.
The horrific cases of animal sexual abuse committed against two young animals in the District in August shines a light on DC’s unfortunate distinction of having no law on the books prohibiting sexual contact between people and animals. All animal sexual abuse is predatory, cruel and nonconsensual. The Animal Care and Control Omnibus Act would rectify this deficiency in DC law by making all forms of sexual contact with an animal and distribution of any materials depicting sexual contact between people and animals illegal, and prohibiting anyone convicted of this abuse from having future contact with animals.
The Animal Care and Control Omnibus Act also includes a provision designed to defray the oftentimes substantial costs an animal rescue incurs by caring for animals rescued from cruelty and reduce the time these animals remain in legal limbo, unable to be placed in adoptive homes.
In January, HRA’s Humane Law Enforcement officers arrived at a SE DC property, where they observed a makeshift shelter beneath a tarp and detected a prominent odor of animal waste emanating from it. Inside the structure, officers found 11 dogs cramped in a small cage living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions with no access to food or water. Many of the dogs, which ranged in age from puppy to adult and varied in breed from French and English bulldog-type to pit bull-type dogs. had severe untreated medical conditions and required behavioral rehabilitation.
HRA has been caring for these animals since their rescue in early January, and anticipates caring for these animals for several months, or even years, until the final outcome of the owner’s criminal trial. During this extended time, the animals are still legally owned by the alleged abuser and must be housed, fed and provided with veterinary care—and it is HRA that will shoulder these expensive costs.
The bill establishes a separate legal process after the seizure of animals in which the court determines whether the seizure was lawful and if there is enough evidence of cruelty or evidence the owner is unfit to care for the animals. A judge can then order the owner to either pay for the ongoing care of their animals while they await the outcome of the criminal trial or to give up ownership and allow them to be rehomed.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented legislative session where the DC Council continues to face a truncated timeframe during which to complete its necessary work, HRA is working with the bill sponsor, Councilmember Mary Cheh, and the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety to move this important measure forward during this legislative year by scheduling a public hearing on the bill. We are hopeful that the bill will have a hearing scheduled for this winter.
DC residents can find out who represents their ward and ask for their support of the Animal Care and Control Omnibus bill by filling out their address on the DC Council website to be directed to their council member’s contact information. HRA will provide further updates on the status of the Animal Care and Control Omnibus Act and ways the community can support enactment of these important humane measures when the hearing date is secured.
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