It’s a part of Virginia law that mostly pertains to rural areas, crafted to protect farmers and their livestock. But it could also potentially apply to Arlington, should the county allow residents to raise egg-laying hens.
Virginia law section § 3.2-6552 allows for citizens to kill any dog caught in the act of killing or injuring poultry. After the fact, Virginia courts have the power to order animal control officers to kill any dog found to be a “confirmed poultry killer.”
The little-known law may be a deal-breaker for dog-loving Arlington residents, should the county follow a task force recommendation and require potential hen owners to first win the approval of adjacent property holders.
“That could really cause some problems between neighbors,” said Jim Pebley, of the group Backyards, Not Barnyards, which opposes urban chickens in Arlington. “This just adds another reason why relaxing restrictions on raising poultry in residential areas is not a very good idea.”
Asked about the law, supporters of backyard hens didn’t seem concerned, however.
“Thankfully, dogs, people and hens co-exist happily in Baltimore, Richmond, Raleigh, and hundreds of other urban communities across the country that embrace henkeeping,” said Ed Fendley, of the Arlington Egg Project. “We are confident that in Arlington, too, we can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Other states have similar laws on the books. Two weeks ago in the San Francisco area, two dogs were killed by the owner of chickens the dogs had just killed. The killing of the dogs would be legal under California law, unless the dogs “suffered unduly” and animal cruelty charges can be brought.
The Virginia law is as follows:
It shall be the duty of any animal control officer or other officer who may find a dog in the act of killing or injuring livestock or poultry to kill such dog forthwith whether such dog bears a tag or not. Any person finding a dog committing any of the depredations mentioned in this section shall have the right to kill such dog on sight as shall any owner of livestock or his agent finding a dog chasing livestock on land utilized by the livestock when the circumstances show that such chasing is harmful to the livestock. Any court shall have the power to order the animal control officer or other officer to kill any dog known to be a confirmed livestock or poultry killer, and any dog killing poultry for the third time shall be considered a confirmed poultry killer. The court, through its contempt powers, may compel the owner, custodian, or harborer of the dog to produce the dog.
Any animal control officer who has reason to believe that any dog is killing livestock or poultry shall be empowered to seize such dog solely for the purpose of examining such dog in order to determine whether it committed any of the depredations mentioned herein. Any animal control officer or other person who has reason to believe that any dog is killing livestock, or committing any of the depredations mentioned in this section, shall apply to a magistrate serving the locality wherein the dog may be, who shall issue a warrant requiring the owner or custodian, if known, to appear before a general district court at a time and place named therein, at which time evidence shall be heard. If it shall appear that the dog is a livestock killer, or has committed any of the depredations mentioned in this section, the district court shall order that the dog be: (i) killed immediately by the animal control officer or other officer designated by the court; or (ii) removed to another state that does not border on the Commonwealth and prohibited from returning to the Commonwealth. Any dog ordered removed from the Commonwealth that is later found in the Commonwealth shall be ordered by a court to be killed immediately.