Defenders of Animals push to microchip all dogs, cats

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Driven by a passion for the safety and welfare of animals, a Rhode Island group is pushing for 22 animal protection bills currently in the General Assembly, including a proposal seeking the mandatory microchipping of dogs and cats.

Since 1978, Providence-based Defenders of Animals Inc. has worked with elected officials in hopes of passing legislation beneficial to both companion animals and wildlife.

Director Dennis Tabella, who co-founded the group with his wife, Patricia, would like to see Rhode Island become the top state for animal protection laws. Over the last two years, the state has ranked fifth and sixth, according to California’s Animal Defense Fund.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, but steady progress is being made,” Tabella said. “We have some of the most progressive legislators when it comes to animal protection measures, and that has made a tremendous difference for animals in our state.”

House Majority Leader Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi would also like to see Rhode Island become No. 1 in the country when it comes to animal rights. It may be difficult, though, due to competing animal rights groups failing to come to an agreement, he said in an interview.

Shekarchi suggests creating an animal rights council that would settle differences prior to legislation being brought to a committee hearing.

Throughout the years, Defenders of Animals has recognized several legislators for their contributions to animal advocacy. 

Rep. Patricia A. Serpa has been presented with an award for her legislative efforts, dedication and steadfast commitment to animal and environmental issues. Rep. Charlene Lima was also honored with an award for her dedication to the prevention of animal cruelty and suffering. Rep. Joseph J. Solomon and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio also received acknowledgment from Defenders of Animals, with each earning the Humane Heroes Award.

“In addition,” Tabella said, “there are elected officials that have introduced or cosponsored animal protection legislation that are very much appreciated by the pro-animal community,” including Reps. McNamara, Shekarchi, O’Brien, Fellela, Lombardi, Vella-Wilkinson and Bennett.

One of the most important bills to Defenders in this session, said Tabella, was introduced by Sen. Erin Lynch Prata. If it becomes law, it would be mandatory to microchip dogs and cats.

“There are dogs and cats getting lost every day in our state,” he says. “The cost of microchipping will come way down because, like the spaying/neutering law, we will have low-cost microchipping clinics set up,” thus easing the burden for pet owners.

Legislative proposals introduced this year range from prohibiting the rental of cats and dogs and mandatory microchipping to an animal abuser registry act and prohibited declawing. Other bills seek to address decisions on custody of pets and allow protective orders for the safety and well being of animals.

Tabella expects opposition to several bills, including those prohibiting the use of live animals to teach medical procedures; the renting/leasing/financing sales of dogs/cats; the sale of cats or dogs that are not obtained from an animal shelter, dog pound or animal rescue; and the prohibition of any person from selling, exchanging, trading, bartering or displaying any dog or cat in public.

Lastly, Tabella anticipates some hunters may be opposed to prohibiting the importing of wild animals for canned hunting. The following bills are before legislators:

Referred to the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare:

House Bill No. 5072 from Serpa, Lima, Shekarchi, McKiernan and Shanley, which would prohibit pet shops from offering for sale cats or dogs that are not obtained from an animal shelter, dog pound or animal rescue. It would further prohibit any person from selling, exchanging, trading, bartering or displaying any dog or cat in public.

House Bill No. 5267 from Solomon, Lima, Serpa, O’Brien and Johnston, which would prohibit medical schools in this state from using a live animal while teaching medical procedures if there is an alternate teaching method utilized by at least one accredited school in the state.

House Bill No. 5130 from McNamara, Ackerman, Kislak, Diaz and Edwards, which would prohibit the practice of importing a wild animal into the state for the purpose of conducting canned hunting.

House Bill No. 5073 from O’Brien, Marshall, Williams, Serpa and Lima, which would prohibit declawing on a cat or other animal unless a licensed veterinarian has determined that the procedure is necessary for a therapeutic purpose.

House Bill No. 5428 from Fellela, Ucci, Messier, Serpa and Lima, which would mandate that any person who is convicted of, or pleads nolo contendere to a charge of, cruelty to animals reimburse any adoptive owner for reasonable costs associated with treating the animals’ injuries.

House Bill No. 5062 from Edwards, Canario, Serpa, Lima and Shekarchi, which states that the trapping and subsequent release of any unowned feral or free roaming cat for the purpose of spaying or neutering of the cat shall not be considered abandonment.

House Bill No. 5433 from Ackerman, Serpa, Vella-Wilkinson, Morin and Casimiro, which would authorize certain state and municipal agents to take possession of animals found abandoned or neglected, and to proceed to provide all necessary care and treatment for the animal.

House Bill No. 5822 from Lima, Solomon, McLaughlin, O’Brien and Canario, which would create a custody procedure for pets in divorce and separation proceedings based on the best interests of the animal.

Passed by the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare:

House Bill No. 5246 from Lima, Solomon, Costantino, Marshall and Serpa, which would prohibit renting/leasing/financing sales of dogs/cats, set penalties for violations and provide certain exemptions.

Referred to the House Committee on Judiciary:

House Bill No. 5076 from Lombardi, Cassar, Hull, Nardone and Roberts, which would permit the Family Court to award custody of household pets to the plaintiff in a domestic abuse complaint.

House Bill No. 5768 from Lima, Serpa, Ackerman, Marshall and Bennett, which would prohibit the purchase, sale, offer for sale or possession with intent to sell covered animal parts or products and provide for penalties for violations ranging from misdemeanor to felony upon conviction.

House Bill No. 5113 from Corvese, Azzinaro, Edwards, Slater and O’Brien, which would require all persons convicted of crimes involving animal abuse to register with an online registry to be established and maintained by the attorney general’s office.

House Bill No. 5483 from O’Brien, Shekarchi, Lima, Vella-Wilkinson and Serpa, which would create a legal process by which formerly cohabitating parties could seek from the district court a determination as to ownership of any pet.

House Bill No. 5023 from O’Brien, Marshall, Williams, Hawkins and Mendez, which would expand Family Court jurisdiction to enter protective orders to provide for the safety and welfare of household pets in domestic abuse situations.

House Bill No. 5822 from Lima, Solomon, McLaughlin, O’Brien and Canario, which would create a custody procedure for pets in divorce and separation proceedings based on the best interests of the animal.

Referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary:

Senate Bill No. 160 from Lynch Prata, Coyne and Archambault, which would provide for the mandatory microchipping of all dogs and cats and set applicable penalties for the owner for failing to microchip the animal.

Senate Bill No. 167 from Lynch Prata and Coyne, which would prohibit the use of wild or exotic animals in traveling animal acts and set forth the penalties for violation of such prohibition.

Senate Bill No. 481 from Morgan, Paolino, de la Cruz and Rogers, which would ban persons convicted of animal cruelty from possessing companion animals.

Senate Bill No. 82 from Lombardi, McCaffrey, Felag, Ciccone and Lombardo, which would require all persons or entities caring for or having custody of an animal to report animal abuse, cruel neglect or abandonment to the police.

Senate Bill No. 83 from Crowley and Seveney, which would prohibit the use of a dog or cat as security for its purchase where the seller or lender can repossess the dog or cat for failure to make payments.  It also provides exceptions for certain agricultural activities.

Senate Bill No. 225 from Ruggerio, Ciccone, Goodwin, Archambault and McCaffrey, which would expand Family Court jurisdiction to enter protective orders to provide for the safety and welfare of household pets in domestic abuse situations.

Senate Bill No. 159 from Archambault, Ruggerio, Rogers, Euer and Raptakis, which would authorize law enforcement/animal control officers to hold animal confined in a motor vehicle up to 72 hours pending a district court hearing as to costs/fees/surrender of possession/ownership.

Senate Bill No. 465 from Lynch Prata, which would authorize certain state and municipal agents to take possession of animals found abandoned or neglected, and to proceed to provide all necessary care and treatment for the animal. Defenders of Animals is run by the Tabellas as well as a large number of volunteers. The group has several upcoming events to take part in.

On Saturday, March 23, they will host a bake sale/craft fair at the Warwick Mall from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. They also have three events to be held at Governor Sprague Mansion in Cranston. On Sunday, May 19, they will be hosting their annual May breakfast beginning at 10 a.m. On Saturday, May 25, from 3-6 p.m., there will be an Art Show with free food, wine, music, raffles and animal themed art by local artists. The Homeless Animals Day/Vigil Saturday will be held on Aug. 17 from 7-9 p.m. 

For more information call 461-1922 or visit defendersofanimals.org.

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