Legislation could affect dog hunting

Published 12:54 pm Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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, would establish new laws against owners of 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.

According to the bill, dogs wouldn’t be 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 a dog violates the proposed law during a 24-hour period, there would be a civil penalty against the owner of $100 per dog per owner.

“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 crime.

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.

“I am definitely against it,” said C.H Hall, a Lunenburg native and hunter who uses dogs.

He said he doesn’t understand how hunters can prevent their dogs from ever crossing property boundaries.

“We haven’t had anybody that said anything about the dogs. We park like we’re supposed to.

We walk on the people’s land where the land is posted when we go to retrieve the dog. We haven’t had any complaints about that,” Hall said.

Hall has been actively calling his legislators to encourage them against passing this bill.

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.

Charlotte County resident Derrick Toombs, who serves as president of the United Eastern Virginia Dog Association, said he opposes 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.”

“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 the suburbs of Farmville, the subdivisions of Richmond.”

“You’ve got hunting season, which lasts six weeks, and you’ve got people that own the dogs that run around 365 days a year,” said Hall, noting the proposed law would affect those who have dogs as pets more so than those who hunt with dogs.