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Legislation could affect dog hunting

A bill under consideration by the Virginia General Assembly is being criticized by hunters and proponents of the sport.

If adopted, House Bill (HB) 1900, proposed by House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, will establish new laws against dogs that trespass.

Though the bill does not clearly state “hunting dogs” in reference to animals trespassing, hunters have said the proposed change would strongly affect those who hunt with dogs.

The bill states dogs are not permitted to run on property where the landowner has indicated no trespassing is permitted, by verbal notice, written word, through signs prohibiting dogs in a reasonable location or by painting blue marks on trees or posts at each road entrance.

In the case that a dog violates the proposed law during a 24-hour period, there would be a civil penalty against the owner of $100 per dog.

“Any civil penalty assessed pursuant to this article shall be paid into the treasury of the city or county where such civil action is brought and used for the purpose of defraying the costs of local animal control,” states the bill.

HB 1900 is still under consideration by the House Rules Committee, of which Howell is the chairman.

As the law currently stands, intentionally releasing dogs onto someone’s land to hunt, without that landowner’s permission, is a misdemeanor offense.

Existing laws stipulate if a dog wanders on another person’s property, the hunter has the “right to retrieve” the animal. This still applies, even in situations where the hunter has previously been asked not to trespass.

Lee Walker, outreach director for Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), said 493 dog/hound related complaints were received statewide from Jan. 3, 2016-Jan 7, 2017.

The year prior there were 463 complaints, and in 2014 there were 237 complaints, Walker said.

Each year represents the data from the first Sunday in January to the close of deer season the following January, Walker said.

“Please note that in many of these situations, there is actually no violation of law, but callers wanting the department to document their encounters with dogs,” Walker said.

According to Walker, 192,392 annual and lifetime hunting licenses were purchased in Virginia between July 1, 2016-Jan. 12, 2017.

Derrick Toombs, who serves as president of the United Eastern Virginia Dog Association, said he is against the bill for several reasons.

“I think it would be detrimental to Southside Virginia,” he said. “It’s not going to end hound hunting, but it’s going to put so many stipulations on it that you can’t do hound hunting.”

He said hunting with dogs is a tool he employs to teach his son respect, responsibility and social skills.

“Everyone’s friends in our community, and we don’t have any problem with dogs trespassing,” Toombs said. “If we think there’s a landowner that has a problem with hound hunting, we’ll go to them. We’ll explain to them what we’re doing … That’s how we keep the peace amongst our neighbors.”

At the same time, Toombs said, “A dog is a dog, he can’t write and he can’t talk. He’s doing what he’s bred to do.”

Farmville native Michael Albrecht said the bill “will render dog hunting to a standard that will be extremely hard to abide by,” calling it an “ugly bill.”

“There is simply no way to effectively enforce this bill,” Albrecht said. “Police do not have the resources to answer a call every time a hunting dog strays onto a piece of property that it isn’t wanted on. This is a bill that is nearly impossible to enforce and will inevitably be violated all over the state.”

He said public safety and fighting crime should be prioritized over enforcing dog trespassing.

“On the economical standpoint of it, it’s detrimental to our county because that’s revenue that’s not going to be spent anymore,” Toombs said.

According to the 2011 U.S Fish and Wildlife Service National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife, published once every five years, $877 million was spent on hunting in Virginia in 2011.

Toombs said if the bill passes he won’t be able to hunt with dogs anymore.

“The penalty would be so severe that I can’t afford it,” he said. “With the way it is written, I can’t run a hound because I can’t tell that hound, ‘Hey hound, please don’t go on such-and-such’s land here.’”

“This is not just something for sporting dogs, this is something for all dogs,” Toombs said. “This doesn’t just branch out to the swamps of Saxe, this goes right (through) the suburbs of Farmville (to) the subdivisions of Richmond.”