Bailey’s Law, Pamela Anderson and me (A History of SB 228)

Today, my legislation “Bailey’s Law” (SB 228) passed the House of Delegates on a 99-0 vote.  It significantly rewrites Virginia law regarding the sale, and post-sale care, of companion animals.  Here’s how it happened.

A year ago, I was approached about filing legislation to increase oversight of retail pet shops that buy companion animals from mass breeders (“puppy mills”) and then resell them to the general public.  The idea was to require each shop to display the breeder’s USDA license number with each potential sale so there would be more accountability.

Although I’m not a pet owner, I agreed to carry the legislation.  The disclosure was consumer-friendly and addressed an ongoing issue with a local pet store in Fairfax City, which had sold numerous animals that were sick or diseased.

From that mustard seed, a tree grew.

Over the fall months, I met several times with representatives of the Humane Society, the Veterinary Association and various animal shelter groups.  We looked at model legislation for selling companion animals and remedies when the animals were neglected, sick or dying.  Gradually, a bill took shape that would do two distinct things:

1.  Strengthen the disclosure requirements by forcing pet shops to identify the source, i.e. licensed breeder, for each companion animal sold;

2.  Permit pet purchasers a remedy from  the sale of sick or diseased animal, either by (i) returning the animal and receiving back the purchase price, or (ii) having the seller  cover the cost of veterinary care  up to the purchase price.

That was the original bill, which soon attracted attention.  Grasping for gratuitous publicity, we even asked “Baywatch” actress and noted animal lover Pamela Anderson to speak at a rally at the State Capitol for SB 228.  Alas, Pamela couldn’t come to Richmond but did send a statement of support.

Undaunted, we instead relied on “Bailey,” a lovable mutt purchased in Fairfax City that was diagnosed post-sale with parvovirus and needed thousands of dollars in vet care, which the unsuspecting owner had to pay.   Bailey’s owner testified before the Senate committee, along with dozens of animal supporters who filled the room.

That testimony carried the day.  The bill passed the Senate unanimously on January 27.  That was the easy part.

In the House, we ran up against the farm-friendly House Ag committee which largely hails from rural counties (and is ostensibly less susceptible to tear-jerking narratives).  Things looked uphill, but pet lovers around Virginia got involved and flooded In Boxes with thousands of emails.  That kept us going.

Meanwhile, after countless meetings with breeder groups, we put in some important checks such as requiring “refund” notice within fourteen (14) days of purchase and exempting part-time breeders.  That softened some of the opposition.

After these amendments happened, the bill cleared Ag Subcommittee and then the full Committee on February 19, without a single “no” vote.

We were  in the clear, just an uncontested vote away from enacting the most significant legislation in Virginia regarding companion animals in many years.

Then fate intervened.

After cross-over, funny things happen.  The two bodies, House and Senate, are now dealing directly with each other.  Bills get killed, feelings get hurt, “hostages” get taken.  Partisan politics can take over.

Beginning on February 21, SB 228 sat on the floor of the House for four consecutive days on “Third Read.”  Each day, a different Republican Delegate asked to “take it by” so that it stood in legislative purgatory.  During that time, I had numerous discussions with skeptical Delegates.  One of my jobs was to convince them about the unusual remedy of allowing purchasers to keep the pet — while still getting their money back.

In reality, that provision was critical to the bill.  A sick pet can still form a bond with an owner, who wants to save it.  If the sick pet is returned to the seller, it is facing a forced euthanasia.  Therefore, animal-friendly consumers will keep the pet and just suck up the extra costs.  For that reason, it was critical to allow the alternative remedy — and keep the financial onus on pet shops who sell sick animals.

Today, politics was put aside.  Bailey’s Law, SB 228, was put to a vote and passed 99-0.  In other words, it did not get a single “no” vote in either body — and it did change the law in a major way and was on the radar screen of many people and organizations.

In summary, the bill’s passage is entirely due to the great support of the pet lovers in Virginia, as well as the dynamic duo of Susan Seward and Laura Donahue who guided the legislation, massaged the language, and personally lobbied the Senators and Delegates.  And Bailey.  And Pam.  (Ok, I’m reaching).

The law should be signed by the Governor without changes.  It will take effect on July 1.

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