Little Opposition to Bill Aimed at Strengthening Animal Cruelty Laws
CONCORD — New Hampshire Senate Bill 559 was discussed Tuesday in a hearing to the Energy and Natural Resources Senate Committee by prime sponsor Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.
Supporters and far fewer opponents of the bill took up every available seat and floor space in the conference room and several more spilled out into the hallway.
Bradley said, “I think it’s indicative that the fact that it’s a full room this morning that our current law is a problem.”
Prevention through Inspection
Bradley says New Hampshire inspects all animal shelters in the state but only four breeding kennels fall under New Hampshire licensing rules. The way the law is currently written, kennels only need to be licensed if they have 10 litters or more in a single year or transfer 50 animals or more. A threshold that, Bradley says, has created a loophole allowing for more hoarding and animal cruelty situations. He says SB 559 would address this issue, and update the law to include that any facility with five or more unaltered, breeding females would be subjected to licensing and biannual inspections. Bradley says these laws are similar to the laws on the books in Maine and Vermont.
Bradley says he believes responsible dog owners will not have any problem being inspected and licensed every two years and the new laws, “will better protect against irresponsible dog owners.”
Severity of Cruelty
The second part of SB 559 deals with the criminal justice aspect of the law. Currently, animal cruelty crimes are charged as misdemeanors. Under SB 559, if animal cruelty leads to serious bodily injury or death to the animal, the charges can be a felony.
Cost of Care
Bradley says under current New Hampshire law, towns (aka taxpayers) are on the hook for paying for the care of seized animals during cruelty cases. In the case of the 84 Great Danes rescued from a Wolfeboro mansion last June, the Humane Society of the United States stepped in and provided shelter and care to the dogs but not without a price. The defendant, Christina Fay, is currently appealing her guilty verdict to superior court. She will not surrender the dogs so they remain at a temporary shelter. Care for the Great Danes has reached $800,000.
Bradley says 33 other states have similar legislation protecting towns and often times local animal rescues from bearing the burden of the cost of care.
“It’s not like a computer or drugs,” Bradley said. “They can’t be just stored in a box somewhere.”
Under the new legislation, a filing can be made within 21 days of animals being legally seized from a cruelty situation. The judge would set up bond for the cost of care and if the owner can pay the bond he/she can retain rights to the animals. However, if they cannot, the animals would be placed in homes.
Several people spoke in support of the bill, including Wolfeboro Police Chief Dean Rondeau who said without the HSUS’s help they could never have given the Great Danes the care they needed for such a long period of time during the trial.
Not everyone was on board with the proposed legislation. Joan Eversole spoke out against the bill. Eversole says she breeds Dalmatians and also shows dogs.
“I have some serious issues with it,” she testified calling it an “overly extensive bill."
Eversole says while the norm used to believe it was healthier to spay/neuter your dog, she says the current veterinarian guidelines now say, “it’s now healthier for them to stay intact. Even if you aren’t breeding them.”
She says based on these guidelines she would have to fix her female puppies which could shorten their lifespan or quality of life.
Other questions that were raised during the hearing include the inclusion of farm animals into the bill as well as how the state would pay for kennel inspectors and the added costs associated with the bill.
The hearing will continue next Tuesday at 9:15 a.m.