NH Senate passes revised animal cruelty bill in wake of recent cases

CONCORD — An animal cruelty bill aimed at preventing such cases as Christina Fay’s Great Dane trial and Jennifer “Bobbi” Choate’s German shepherd deaths is before the Senate Finance Committee after the full Senate passed the bill with amendments last Thursday.
Fay was found guilty on appeal of her animal cruelty conviction for the condition of Great Danes in Wolfeboro, and Choate is awaiting trial on animal cruelty charges originating in Bristol and Alexandria where dogs were seized from unheated spaces. Earlier she had lost 36 dogs in two fires in Bristol.
The Senate amendments were introduced to address many of the concerns dog owners had about unintended consequences of the new legislation, aimed at protecting the health and welfare of dogs and providing the necessary oversight by state and local officials.
The amendments to Senate Bill 569 affect the original revenue forecasts associated with the bill.
One of the goals of the legislation was to protect local property taxpayers from potentially significant expenses associated with the board and medical treatment for seized animals. As originally proposed, those accused of animal cruelty would have to post a bond of $2,000 per animal, renewable every 30 days until the final disposition of the case.
Complaints about the high up-front cost, before an accused is found guilty, and no guarantee of any reimbursement to those who are found to have been unjustly charged, prompted some of the changes the legislation. The bill now says, “the trial court may require the appellant to post a bond or other security in an amount not exceeding $2,000 ... for costs expected to be incurred for the board and care of the animal during the appeal.”
The amount must be “sufficient to cover the reasonable costs of providing the confiscated animal with humane care and adequate and necessary veterinary services ....”
It also states, “Upon final disposition of the criminal action, remaining funds deposited with the municipal or county treasurer shall be returned to the depositor and, in the event the owner is convicted of animal cruelty, remaining funds shall be distributed by order of the court. The court may return funds to the depositor or may be donated to municipality or an animal welfare organization to be held and used specifically and only for animal cruelty cases in New Hampshire.”
Failure to post a bond leaves the disposition of the seized animal to the court, “in any manner it decides.”
Those providing care to the animals would be reimbursed based upon “reasonable” costs, but they must file a petition with the superior court outlining the need for care.
The bill would appropriate $200,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, with the money going to the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food. The commissioner would would be authorized to hire two inspectors to provide increased oversight and inspection of pet vendors.
New definitions separate animal rescue facilities from animal shelter facilities, and define commercial kennels as those with seven or more breeding female dogs or which transfer 10 or more litters or 50 or more puppies in any 12-month period. Breeding females are defined as those 24 months or older who are kept for breeding and the selling of the dog’s offspring.
Pet vendors include animal rescue facilities, animal shelter facilities, brokers, commercial kennels and pet stores.
There are extensive requirements for record-keeping and inspections to ensure that the facilities will not result in inhumane treatment of the animals.
The state also closely regulates animals coming from out of state to prevent the spread of disease, but it exempts animal shelters from those requirements — a continuing bone of contention for breeders.
The bill would require “within a reasonable time” an investigation of any written complaint by a person or agency alleging a violation of the statute. The results of such an investigation could result in a suspension or revocation of the entity’s license, along with a fine of as much as $1,000 for violations.
Any decision by the commissioner would be subject to rehearing and appeal.
Finally, the bill would establish an animal transfer study commission, comprising one member of the Senate; one member of the House who serves on the Environment and Agriculture Committee; the commissioner of Agriculture, Markets, and Food; a dog owner and breeder; a member representing humane organizations; a member representing an animal rescue organization; a member representing pet stores; the attorney general; and a member of the New Hampshire Veterinary Medical Association.
The committee would be charged with studying and making clarifying recommendations by Nov. 1 for the phrase “in the business of transferring animals” as it applies to licensed pet vendors.