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Paid bereavement leave for pet deaths? Maryland legislative roundup: animal edition | COMMENTARY

In this Monday, Aug. 26, 2019 file photo, Puppies play in a cage at a pet store in Columbia, Md. A federal judge on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, threw out a lawsuit that challenged Maryland’s newly enacted ban on the sale of dogs and cats by retail pet stores, a statute billed as a check against unlicensed and unsanitary "puppy mills."
In this Monday, Aug. 26, 2019 file photo, Puppies play in a cage at a pet store in Columbia, Md. A federal judge on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, threw out a lawsuit that challenged Maryland’s newly enacted ban on the sale of dogs and cats by retail pet stores, a statute billed as a check against unlicensed and unsanitary "puppy mills."(Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Who’s a good legislator? Such a good, good legislator? You are, yes you are! And we’re talking to you, Maryland lawmakers (in our best “pets are so cute” voice). You all love animals, on either side of the aisle — evident from the mix of bills and supporters this legislative session targeting pets or the people who love them. Here are a few of our favorites and what we think should happen to each.

H.B. 897/ S.B 353: Black Bear Damage Reimbursement Fund — pets

Sponsors: Republican Dels. Wendell Beitzel (Garrett and Allegany counties), Jason C. Buckel (Allegany County), Daniel Cox (Frederick and Carroll counties), Kevin Hornberger (Cecil County), and Susan Cecil (Harford County). Sen. George C. Edwards, a Republican representing Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties.

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Synopsis: Adds pets to the list of items and life forms for which a person may be reimbursed from the Black Bear Damage Reimbursement fund.

Analysis: The Department of Natural Resources oversees the tiny black bear fund, which is used to reimburse farmers for damage to crops, beehives and livestock from the bear population. The fund has had an average of around $3,400 available in recent years, and has never met the agricultural damage claimed in any year, which has ranged from a low total of $4,604 in 2012 to a high of $50,523 in 2003. Given that the fund is already inadequate for the small business needs of farmers, we can’t in good conscience endorse adding potential recipients, no matter how sympathetic we may be to a pet’s injuries or loss.

Editorial board recommendation: Fail.

H.B. 445: Animal welfare, prohibition on declawing cats

Sponsors: Democratic Dels. Lorig Charkoudian, Jim Gilchrist, Ariana B. Kelly, Lesley J. Lopez, David Moon, Emily Shetty and Vaughn Stewart (Montgomery County); Jon S. Cardin and Dana Stein (Baltimore County); Jessica Feldmark (Baltimore and Howard counties); Anne Healey and Julian Ivey (Prince George’s County); Brooke E. Lierman (Baltimore City); and Jen Terrasa (Howard County).

Synopsis: Prohibits a veterinarian from declawing a cat unless it’s for the cat’s health.

Analysis: The process of declawing a cat is more like an amputation than a manicure, requiring the removal of the toe bone at the joint closest to the claw, and often involves cutting through the foot pad beneath. It’s major surgery that’s opposed by the American Academy of Feline Practitioners and an excessive move to keep your furniture scratch free. This bill would threaten the licensing of any practitioner who performs the procedure. Given that veterinarians generally seek to help, not harm, animals, it seems they would be fine with the excuse to decline client requests to maim felines.

Editorial board recommendation: Pass.

H.B. 712/ S.B. 260: Bereavement leave with pay for pet deaths

Sponsors: Democratic Dels. Regina T. Boyce, Tony Bridges, Frank M. Conaway Jr., Keith E. Haynes, Stephanie Smith and Melissa Wells (Baltimore City); Mary A. Lehman (Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties); Emily Shetty (Montgomery County); and Pat Young (Baltimore County). Democratic Sens. Mary Washington and Jill P. Carter (Baltimore City); Joanne C. Benson and Obie Patterson (Prince George’s County); Clarence K. Lam (Baltimore and Howard counties); Susan C. Lee (Montgomery County); and Charles E. Sydnor, III (Baltimore city and county).

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Synopsis: Allows certain employees to take paid bereavement leave in the event of a pet’s death.

Analysis: For some, pets are like children or a best friend (don’t judge), and their deaths can be devastating, especially for those who live alone and who relied on the animal for companionship. We would hope that employers would be sympathetic to that and allow for reasonable leave following the death of a beloved pet per individual policies. Still, pets are not actually family entitled to inclusion in the Family Bereavement Act. Adding them would require the creation of at least two full-time positions within the Maryland Department of Labor at a cost of more than $130,000 a year to investigate an anticipated 200 annual complaints challenging the definition of a pet (Goldfish? Ferret? Backyard chicken?) and the bereaved’s connection to it.

Editorial board recommendation: Fail.

S.B. 625: No More Puppy – and Kitten – Mills Act of 2020

Sponsors: Democratic Sens. Benjamin F. Kramer, Susan C. Lee and Brian J. Feldman (Montgomery County); Pamela Beidle (Anne Arundel County); Clarence K. Lam (Baltimore and Howard counties); Joanne C. Benson (Prince George’s County); Guy Guzzone (Howard County); Antonio Hayes and Mary Washington (Baltimore City); Katherine Klausmeier (Baltimore County); and Ronald N. Young (Frederick County). Republican Sens. Chris West (Baltimore County) and Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil and Caroline counties).

Synopsis: Changes the definition of a retail pet store to include internet animal stores for the purposes of prohibiting puppy-mill style breeding and sales.

Analysis: This year, a law took effect banning pet stores in the state from selling most commercially bred pets in an effort to shutter inhumane breeding mills. Adding internet establishments, where many are now conditioned to do most of their shopping, is a natural next step.

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Editorial board recommendation: Pass.

S.B. 729: Prohibition on testing cosmetics on animals

Sponsors: Sen. Clarence K. Lam, a Democrat representing Baltimore and Howard counties.

Synopsis: Prohibits animal testing in the state in the development of a cosmetic and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics.

Analysis: We have no idea how much cosmetic animal testing is going on in Maryland, but entire countries already ban the cruel practice — including all members of the European Union, as well as India, Israel and Norway — so why can’t we? Ditto for banning sales of cosmetics tested on animals; California did it starting Jan. 1 after passing a law to that effect in 2018.

Editorial board recommendation: Pass.

H.B. 992/ S.B. 997: Buddy’s Law: tortious injury to or death of pet

Sponsors: Dels. Nicholaus R.Kipke and Brian Chisholm, and Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire; all are Anne Arundel County Republicans.

Synopsis: Increases to $25,000 from $10,000 the amount a pet owner may recover in compensatory damages from someone who “tortiously causes an injury to or death of the pet under certain circumstances.”

Analysis: It’s difficult to put a price on a pet’s well-being: $10,000 would cover many emergency room vet visits, but it wouldn’t make up for a pet’s loss, nor would $25,000, for that matter. The first figure is adequate to punish the person who caused the injury or death, however, and honor the animal’s existence.

Editorial board recommendation: Fail.

S.B. 128: Pets for Vets Act of 2020

Sponsors: Republican Sens. Bryan W. Simonaire and Edward R. Reilly (Anne Arundel County); Jack Bailey (Calvert and St. Mary’s counties); George C. Edwards (Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties); Jason C. Gallion (Harford and Cecil counties); Stephen S. Hershey, Jr. (Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil and Caroline counties); Johnny Ray Salling (Baltimore County); and Mary Beth Carozza (Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico counties). Democratic Sens. Pamela Beidle (Anne Arundel County); Douglas J. J. Peters (Prince George’s County); Ronald N. Young (Frederick County); Clarence K. Lam (Baltimore and Howard counties); and Arthur Ellis (Charles County).

Synopsis: Requires a county or municipal animal control facility to waive a dog or cat adoption fee for a veteran who presents qualifying identification.

Analysis: Pets, and the bonds we develop with them, have been proven to lift spirits, provide focus and purpose, and — specific to veterans — ease the transition back into civilian life. For vets who need a furry friend, waiving the adoption fee, which can run as high as $150, for an animal who needs a home is the least we can do to repay them for their service to our country. Such action is expected to have minimal impact on local government revenue, but possibly make a huge difference in the lives of some veterans and creatures.

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Editorial board recommendation: Pass.

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