How Arizona ranchers won a partial exemption from cruelty laws
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2012:
How Arizona ranchers won a partial exemption from cruelty laws
by Debra J. White
Under the headline “Legislation in the cowboy states,” the May 2012 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE reported that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in mid-April endorsed into law a bill by state representative Peggy Judd (R-Wilcox), HB 2780, which exempts dogs used in ranching and herding from anti-cruelty laws. Judd introduced the bill after one of her constituents, a Cochise County rancher, was charged for leaving two dogs in a horse trailer for two days without food or water. Three others were left tied without clean water.
There was much more involved in the passage of HB 2780. Judd pushed HB 2780 specifically to overturn the Pima County anti-tethering ordinance. Within Arizona, only Pima County and Tucson have anti-tethering ordinances. The rancher told Judd that he just wanted to be able to tie his dogs up while herding cattle without risk of being cited. Judd, who grew up on a ranch, said she wanted to protect the rights of farmers and ranchers. The Judd bill was promptly endorsed by the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, a powerful lobbying group. Patrick Bray, the association president, said there had been numerous complaints from ranchers about burdens posed by the Pima County anti-tethering ordinance.
However, the Pima County anti-tethering ordinance has been in effect since 1997. Public records, which I accessed under the Arizona freedom of information act, reveal no complaints to public officials about the Pima County anti-tethering ordinance–ever. Why the rush now to pursue legislation? And if there was a problem with the Pima County ordinance, why address it at the state level and not just with Pima County?
As it happened, the rancher omitted salient facts when he approached Judd. The rancher had been cited on June 2, 2011 for animal neglect. A neighbor called Pima County animal control because no one had been seen at the ranch since at least May 31, 2011. Animal control officers arrived when the outside temperature registered 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Three dogs were on tie-outs in the sun. They had water but according to the animal control report, it was “green with algae and you could not see into it as the water was so viscous with dirt.” One dog had shelter of sorts in a blue plastic drum, situated without shade. The other two dogs left outdoors shared partial shade from a tree. Another two dogs were inside the horse trailer, which–besides the dogs–contained only manure, the animal control report said. The charges were supported by evidentiary photographs, which have by now been widely distributed by both electronic and print media.
Animal control officers impounded the five dogs. The rancher subsequently displayed abusive behavior toward animal control staff, according to public records, which mention that on June 7, 2011 he “got angry” at least twice, and at one point threw a telephone “through the licensing window.”
Judd and Bray in promoting HB 2780 claimed that Pima County “killed” one of the rancher’s dogs. According to public records obtained from the Pima County Animal Care Center, the rancher reclaimed four dogs, but declined return of the fifth dog. Shelter officials euthanized the dog due to aggressive behavior, after performing behavioral assessment.
Even after all of this was exposed by major Arizona news media, HB 2780 proceeded through the legislature. Promoted mostly by Republicans, HB 2780 as originally written would have pre-empted all cruelty laws, thus depriving farm dogs of any legal protection in Arizona. At least six hearings and/or committee meetings were held in the Arizona legislature to hash out the details, at unknown cost to taxpayers.
HB 2780 received an inadvertent boost on March 2, 2012 from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, when an ALDF web posting urged support of an amendment to HB 2780 offered by Arizona legislator Steve Farley which would have created a statewide registry of convicted animal abusers. The Farley amendment failed later on March 2, 2012. The ALDF posting was taken down that same day, at request of ADLA, but third party postings soliciting support of HB 2780 and/or the Farley amendment to it, were still online on March 8, 2012, when ANIMAL PEOPLE noticed that some animal advocates were mistakenly urging passage of HB 2780 and began making inquiries as to why. Some of those postings were still online toward the end of June 2012.
HB 2780 was vigorously opposed by Animal Defense League of Arizona, the Humane Society of the U.S., the national anti-chaining organization Dogs Deserve Better, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, the editorial board of the Arizona Republic, the Arizona League of Cities & Towns, Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, animal shelters statewide, many ordinary citizens, and some state legislators. Op-ed articles opposing the bill appeared in newspapers in Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma. Said state senator Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, “I think we’re sending a really bad message when we exempt a certain category of dog. Cruelty is cruelty.”
Finally, there was a compromise. Of sorts. Arizona senator Ron Gould (R-Lake Havasu) offered an amendment that caused the Arizona League of Cities and Towns and Arpaio to withdraw their opposition. The new language says that “any ordinance adopted shall not prohibit or restrict any activity involving a dog, whether the dog is restrained or not, if the activity is directly related to the business of shepherding or herding livestock, and the activity is necessary for the safety of a human, the dog, or livestock or is permitted by or pursuant to Title 3.” Title 3 is Arizona’s Agricultural Code, governing all farm and ranch activity. It already includes a wide range of exemptions for ranches from the state animal cruelty laws.
How did HB 2780 pass a legislative body with 90 members? Didn’t anyone who voted “yes” even check the facts about it? Why did no legislator demand from the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association and others supporting HB 2780 that they produce verification of their claim that the Pima County anti-tethering ordinance had generated complaints?
Apparently a disgruntled rancher convinced almost the entire Arizona Legislature to pass HB 2780–but the rancher did not escape prosecution. The neglect case against him is still pending.