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Legislative Update for Maryland

Natural Ears
Natural Ears

The Governor has signed new laws that impact dogs and their keepers. Over 60 proposed bills had some effect on recreation that might involve dogs so it was a busy session for animal welfare.

The first and most widely celebrated was House Bill 73/Senate Bill 247 to correct the Tracey v. Solesky Court of Special Appeals ruling that declared all big headed dogs inherently dangerous. We covered that two weeks ago and basically it means that insurance companies need not exclude dogs from homeowner's policies, landlords can go back to judging tenants rather than their dogs' brain case and dog owners should assume that all dogs need control to prevent mishaps.

The two other dog related laws involve veterinary services. One makes it illegal for anyone other than a veterinarian to provide ear cropping, tail docking and dewclaw removal procedures to dogs. Ear cropping is painful and anesthesia should absolutely be used and therefore provided by a veterinarian. However, tail docking and dewclaw removal, said to prevent future injury to working dogs, can be performed on newborn puppies too young for anesthesia. Though this could increase the price of puppies requiring this procedure to meet breed standards, it's easy to see why many people prefer medical professionals be involved in such procedures. It's also hard to justify removing body parts because they might be injured in the future, even if you justify it by removing only "unimportant" parts. One unintended consequence of this law may be to pressure breed clubs to leave room in their standards for intact dogs at dog shows. The UK already allows for this.

There are many rumors about the reasons that hunting and working dogs have their dewclaws or tails removed but he best explanation I've heard was a 15th Century Tax law that assessed taxes by counting the tails of a man's stock. Men began cutting the tails of dogs, sheep and cattle to avoid the tax so the tradition changed to taxing based on counting heads, thus we say "how many heads of cattle". This could just be fable, too.

The second, requires veterinarians to medically justify disabling the vocal chords of cats and dogs. I have not heard this procedure being performed or requested in decades and know many veterinarians who would not offer it but this law suggests it is misused.

The Maryland Dog Federation and the American Kennel Club were opposed to these measures on principle. The idea that any law would supersede the relationship between a veterinarian and client is always aversive to these groups. This is a basic platform on which their memberships depend because legal restrictions on animal care and keeping are a very real threat to dog ownership. In the end, leaving medical decisions to veterinarians and ensuring they are medically based does not seem to be dangerous or fraught with issues. Other than the basic belief that government need only provide for public utilities and national defense always becomes gray when we ask lawmakers to intervene in commerce. Pretty much everything these days has a price attached to it.

Permission for Sunday hunting was passed in parts of Western Maryland and defeated in Southern Maryland. This came down to pro or anti hunting issues rather than the actual issue of safe trail use for horses, dogs and people at least one day per week from October to January. Several groups including the Maryland Horse Council have asked the Governor to postpone signing the Sunday hunting bill until a Department of Natural Resources report on the Whitetail Deer population comes in.

All in all the legal session for animals did not result in banning dogs (although another law almost banned the zoo!) or making them wards of the state so I think we're good.

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