Agency spent only one-fifth of billed charges on Great Danes’ care
By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
CONCORD — Dog owners, breeders, and farmers who testified against an animal cruelty bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) said, while its intentions are good, they fear it would open the door to abuse and intimidation by animal rights activists, unfairly discriminate against the poor, and allow extortion by the agencies providing emergency care.
They point to the judgment against Christina Fay, the Wolfeboro woman convicted of animal cruelty after authorities seized 84 Great Danes that were living in squalid conditions. Last December, Circuit Judge Charles Greenhalgh found Fay guilty and gave her a one-year suspended jail sentence, ordering her to pay the entire amount that the prosecution had asked for: $773,887.63 sought by the Humane Society of the United States, $16,300 by the town of Wolfeboro, and $1,500 by Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County.
The sentence has been stayed because of Fay's appeal to Carroll County Superior Court, but the breakdown of charges by the Humane Society shows that only $154,375.66 went to the direct care of the seized dogs. The remaining $619,511.97 is attributed to consulting fees ($245,429.88), travel by plane, train, and automobile ($151,138.36), meals ($23,841.98), and lodging ($117,490.01), with minor amounts going to office expenses, trash removal, and even an $88.63 charge for “Prize/Awards Payments.”
The dogs received $16,610.63 in veterinary care, along with $30,082.09 for medical supplies, $11,885 for transportation and sheltering, $74,877.77 in supplies, and $20,920.17 for food.
The Humane Society of the United States is independent and not affiliated with local humane societies, but it does maintain an office in New Hampshire. The agency did not return a call asking for further explanation of the charges.
Jay Phinizy of Ackworth, a former state representative who raises hunting dogs, believes existing laws are sufficient to deal with animal cruelty, if they are only enforced, and that Bradley’s bill is flawed by being rushed into law without sufficient study.
By allowing the state to force the accused to pay a $2,000 per animal bond when an animal is seized, rather than waiting for a conviction before assessing costs, Phinizy and others say it violates due process and sets the system up for corruption by those providing services, who could profit from the seizures.
The bill went into a second week of testimony after several of those who came to speak on it had not had a chance by the end of the first three-hour session, two weeks ago. On the second day of testimony, most of those speaking expressed opposition to the bill.
Some speakers said the new law would make it easier for people to make false accusations that could create an undue burden for the poor who cannot afford to pay a bond and whose only companionship might come from pets.
Angela Ferrari, who raises show dogs in Mont Vernon, said that not only rescue groups, but the state officials overseeing animal safety would have financial incentives to drag out the hearing process.
Bradley’s bill would require those who are accused to post monthly bonds of $2,000 per animal until the case is resolved — with no provision for reimbursement if they are found not guilty in the end.
“Everyone should be concerned about that,” Ferrari said. “Families would be forced to put up a bond or forfeit their animal. If you can’t make that payment right out of the gate, you have to forfeit your pet. If you appeal, the monthly charges will continue for the course of the trial. If at any point you can’t pay, you have to forfeit the animal.
“It flips the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and we’re being penalized without an opportunity to prove our innocence — and if we do prove we’re innocent, we still forfeit what we’ve paid,” she said.
With the additional funding included in the bill, opponents argue, officials have an incentive to prosecute cases, and they fear more innocent people will be falsely accused.
Opponents also argue that there is no penalty for making a false accusation, allowing someone who doesn’t get along with a neighbor to file a complaint that must be investigated — something that could mean devastating financial and emotional consequences for the accused.
Ferrari is among those who say enforcement of existing laws could have prevented the tragedy of the Great Danes.
“She should have been licensed [as a commercial kennel] due to having 11 litters in 2016. If we can’t uphold current laws, how will additional rules be any more effective?” she asked.
There was testimony from people who raise dogs as pets but choose not to spay or neuter them because of concerns about the negative effect on their health. They say recent studies have linked spaying with cancer and shortened lives, as well as incontinence for female dogs.
Bradley’s bill defines a commercial kennel as any facility with five or more breeding females.
“If someone is breeding chihuahuas,” Ferrari said, “you could have 10 breeding females and be lucky to have 10 puppies in a year. Some won’t have a litter. But five Great Danes can have five litters of 10 — there’s a big difference in the number of puppies.”
Owners point to the state of Maine, where the law exempts people from commercial kennel regulations when the dogs are kept for hunting, training, field trials, and exhibition. Bradley’s bill makes no distinction.
At the very least, opponents say, there should be additional training for those who are charged with enforcing animal cruelty laws. Many animal control officers are hired on minimum qualifications such as a high school diploma or GED, an age requirement of 21 years, and a valid driver’s license.
They worry about untrained personnel visiting a facility where animals are sick, and then stopping by to investigate an animal complaint and potentially infecting those animals, as well.
“There’s a concern about having anybody coming to our homes as breeders,” Ferrari said. “Even puppy families have to wash their hands and take shoes off, and may be told to hold off until their puppies are old enough to have their vaccinations. Things get transferred so easily.”
The Bradley bill also makes reference to “birds” but with no specifics as to what kinds of birds are included or how they fit into the animal cruelty statute. Those who raise chickens or turkeys are unsure how they may be affected by the new provisions.
Those who object to Bradley’s bill are seeing a better option in a House bill sponsored by Rep. Matthew Scruton of Rochester which would establish a legislative study committee to review the effectiveness of current laws and whether they are being enforced, look into whether additional laws or regulations are necessary, and assess whether New Hampshire laws are consistent with the federal Animal Welfare Act. The committee also would determine possible funding sources for animal cruelty-related costs.
Scruton’s bill would have the Speaker of the House appoint four members to the study committee: a member of the Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee, two members of the Environment and Agriculture Committee, and one member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. The President of the Senate would appoint a member of that body to serve on the committee.
Upon passage, the committee would form within 45 days, and it would report on its findings by Nov. 1.
Bradley’s bill remains in committee and may see an amendment to address some of the issues raised during the hearings later this week.
Meanwhile, opponents have taken copies of their testimony to the Governor’s Office. Gov. Chris Sununu had previously indicated his support of the Bradley bill, but the animal owners attending the hearing wanted to make sure he was aware of their concerns.