Crowe: GA session’s first half is ‘paws-itive’ for pets


Cheryl Crowe is a humane policy advocate with The Humane Society of the United States, focusing on companion animal welfare and policy in Delaware and Washington, D.C.

The first leg of the 152nd General Assembly in Delaware produced many animal-related legislative proposals, garnering consistent, unanimous, bipartisan support. This support was especially strong for bills that incorporated special attention to additional protections for children, families, domestic violence survivors and companion animals.

In comparison to prior years, animal-related legislation seemed more welcome for discussion on the agenda this session. Whether that is a result of new members or more effective advocacy, time will tell, as the second half of the session resumes in January 2024.

National organizations continue to have significant interest in Delaware animal protection legislation, including The Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the National Link Coalition and the American Kennel Club. National organizations provide direct support for specific state legislation that falls within their organizational mission and references points for similar legislation enacted in other states.

Senate bills 70 and 71 and House Bill 95 were part of a package of bills focused on animals as part of the family unit, with consideration for the relationships between people and their pets in situations where domestic violence or abuse may be present. Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown; Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle; and Rep. Krista Griffith, D-Fairfax, combined their respective professional experience to provide leadership as prime sponsors.

SB 70 allows companion animals to be included in a protection-from-abuse order (passed).

SB 71 requires law enforcement agencies, the Department of Services for Children, Youth & Their Families and the Department of Justice to report suspected animal cruelty to the Office of Animal Welfare. The language also indicates a cross-reporting requirement intended to de-silo agency communications and increase cooperation between caseworkers and law enforcement (passed).

HB 95 permits Family Court to award possession, custody or responsibility for care of companion animals to petitioner(s) when dividing marital property in divorces. This language allows for the consideration of the companion animal’s well-being, separate from other marital property (passed).

The planning process to develop this package started over two years ago, with Judge Jennifer Ranji organizing educational and informational sessions in collaboration with the National Link Coalition, to bring legislators, law professionals, state agencies and organizations, animal shelters and advocates together to brainstorm and develop policy language and procedures for the development of legislation that would increase awareness on the link between domestic violence, abuse and animal cruelty. Educational and training components are currently being evaluated and developed for agency implementation.

Many stakeholders and supporters came together to ensure the success of these bills, including the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, the Delaware Office of Animal Welfare, Humane Animal Partners Delaware, the Faithful Friends Animal Society, the Brandywine Valley Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and others. A timely bill-signing with Gov. John Carney made room for therapy and rescue dogs to showcase their ability to bring everyone together, relieve stress and spread smiles. Quite a timely reward for such impactful work. As usual, a highlight of the last week of session included a visit with therapy dogs from PAWS for People and National Capital Therapy Dogs, coordinated by Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton.

Additional legislation of note last session included:

  • SB 109 implements shorter hold times for impounded animals. The time an animal is to be held in custody by the state when an owner fails to pay for the cost of care is reduced from 30 days to 15 days, allowing the animal to be placed and/or made available for adoption sooner (passed).
  • SB 129 with Senate Amendment 1, sponsored by Sen. Jack Walsh, D-Stanton, would establish uniform standards and reflect best practices of care to fill gaps in existing law relating to animal shelters (passed).
  • SB 189 with SA 1, introduced by Sen. Poore, adds xylazine, a low-cost drug approved for only veterinary use, to “schedule III” of the Delaware Uniform Controlled Substances Act and expands authorization for distribution of controlled substance testing strips. Along with increased availability and growing illicit use in conjunction with opioids, xylazine has no known antidote or reversal agent and is commonly implicated as a contributing cause of death in the event of a drug overdose (passed).
  • HB 156, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newport, establishes a new, comprehensive framework for the regulation of pet insurance transacted in Delaware and reflects the adoption of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Pet Insurance Model Act (passed).
  • SB 168 brings updates to existing Delaware Code relating to veterinary medicine and licensing, mandating the existence of a veterinarian-client-patient relationship as a prerequisite to treatment and a licensure exemption for out-of-state veterinarians and veterinary technicians called to practice in connection with a state emergency. This act also provides temporary licensing provisions and allows for monetary penalties on licensees who are found to have committed regulatory or statutory violations. Sen. Russ Huxtable, D-Lewes, a new addition to the General Assembly last session, worked with animal shelters and the Delaware Veterinary Medical Association to advance this legislation (passed).
  • HB 124 speaks to the enforcement of state laws relating to barking dogs and enables the Office of Animal Welfare to hire and train enforcement officers for each county. This bill was previously introduced as HB 378 in 2022 and did not progress to a floor vote. Advocates and stakeholders, including the Office of Animal Welfare, opposed this bill as written, mostly due to enforcement concerns and a substantial fiscal note. Though the bill progressed further this session, it was not advanced through the House Appropriations Committee (not passed).
  • SB 117, introduced by Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, authorizes paramedics and other emergency medical services personnel to render medical care and transport for police dogs injured in the line of duty. SB 117 received support from the Delaware State Police, members of the law enforcement community and emergency response professionals. The language in this bill mirrors a previously passed version in Massachusetts, termed “Nero’s Law,” after Massachusetts law did not allow for K-9 Officer Nero’s critical injuries to be treated by emergency medical personnel when both Nero and his partner, Sgt. Sean Gannon, were injured by gunfire. The Delaware bill received unanimous support and passed just days prior to the end of session. EMS training and protocols on basic lifesaving measures for K-9s will be developed and incorporated into continuing education and new certification training (passed).
  • SB 176 provides reimbursements to owners for medical care of retired K-9s, up to $1,500 annually. Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, expeditiously introduced this bill in the final weeks of session, earning substantial support to secure passage June 30, the last day of the legislative session (passed).
  • SB 37 rather innocuously designates rescue dogs as the “state dog,” in an effort to increase awareness of the benefits of rescue and adoptable dogs in Delaware shelters (passed).

Many would agree that there was less “fur flying” this year, at least in the Senate. It was a very positive year for animals in terms of coordination and collaboration of agency and organizational resources, which contributed to the expanding protections for both pets and people. Planning sessions for 2024 have started and will likely build on cross-reporting and animal cruelty prosecutions.

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