|RICHMOND (December 17, 2020) – As Virginia begins to see extreme cold temperatures and winter weather, Attorney General Mark R. Herring and his first-in-the-nation Animal Law Unit are reminding Virginia pet owners and law enforcement that animals cannot be left out in the cold without adequate shelter and care, and that there can be serious legal consequences, including criminal charges of animal cruelty, if an animal is left in the cold without adequate shelter.
“Virginia law requires owners to make sure their pets are protected from the elements and it gives law enforcement the tools they need to ensure the safety and health of an animal, and that includes the ability under certain circumstances to seize an animal to make sure it is safe,” said Attorney General Herring. “As we begin to see colder temperatures and winter weather, I want to encourage all Virginians to take care of yourselves, and check on your friends, neighbors, family members, but don’t forget to take care of your animals as well.”
Leaving an animal exposed to the cold with no shelter or inadequate shelter can be considered animal cruelty, a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.
Attorney General Herring and his Animal law Unit advise animal control officers to ask owners to bring their animals inside or into adequate shelter, ask the owner to surrender the animal if they are unable to provide adequate shelter, or in certain circumstances take temporary custody of the animal to ensure its safety.
Over the summer, Attorney General Herring sent a letter to animal control officers around Virginia highlighting the new animal cruelty laws that went into effect in July. The letter also reminded animal control officers that there can be serious legal consequences for leaving animals outside without adequate shelter and water.
In 2015, Attorney General Herring created the nation’s first OAG Animal Law Unit to serve as a training and prosecution resource for state agencies, investigators, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys around the state dealing with matters involving animal fighting, cruelty, and welfare, To date, the unit has handled thousands of matters, including trainings, prosecutions, and consultations.