Richmond Lawmakers Brace for Chicken Fight 

Delegate Jennifer McClellan already can hear the chiding clucks and barks from her fellow lawmakers.

The Richmond Democrat plans to introduce legislation that pits chickens against dogs, and rural localities against such cities as Richmond, which last year legalized the keeping of as many as four backyard hens.

Tradition in the House of Delegates prescribes that the men and women elected to represent the residents of the Commonwealth respond to such proposals with noises approximating the animals the measures would legislate.

McClellan knows the drill. "It's not my first animal bill," she says, a hint of resignation in her voice.

To understand McClellan's proposal, you must understand Virginia law concerning livestock, poultry and dog attacks.

If a dog attacks a chicken, the owner of the chicken may kill the dog. Further, if an animal control officer witnesses the attack, law requires the officer to dispatch the dog.

That doesn't sit well with Richmond City Council members, who asked for changes to the law after learning of this death sentence for chicken-hungry dogs.

In the city, where neighbors live close by and chickens are a luxury not a livelihood, it isn't clear that a hen's right to life trumps that of a hungry dog's, McClellan says.

The legislation she plans to introduce would give localities the option to pass ordinances overruling the dog death sentence.

"I think we can agree if we're in a densely populated urban area that it's not a good idea to have people killing each other's pets," McClellan says.

The Virginia Farm Bureau, which represents farmers across the state, isn't so sure. Wilmer Stoneman, an associate director of government relations for the organization, says the bureau will oppose any legislation that erodes the rights of farmers to protect their property.

"The bills are concerning to us," he says, "and we don't think there should be a patchwork of different rules across the state."

Another lawmaker has filed a bill to strengthen protections for farmers whose chickens are killed by dogs by removing the $10 limit they can recoup from the dog owner in the event of a slaughter. If a chicken worth $30 is killed, then they'll be able to collect $30 from the person responsible.

With a fight between competing chicken interests looming, Stoneman says it's too early to tell whether there's room for compromise.

"I don't know," he says. "But I will say that if an animal is in the act of killing my livestock, we're going to protect the ability to defend our property."

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