When The Humane Society of the United States entered a mansion in Wolfeboro on June 16 in collaboration with the Wolfeboro Police Department and representatives from the Conway Area Humane Society and Pope Memorial SPCA, what we found was appalling and even somewhat unimaginable.
Animal waste covered the walls and floors, the smell of ammonia overwhelmed our Animal Rescue Team, and 84 Great Danes had been trapped inside, living in a place entirely unfit for them or any other living creature. This situation could have been alleviated much sooner or avoided altogether if New Hampshire had stronger commercial dog breeding laws on the books.
Under existing law, breeders are licensed with the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture if he/she sells 50 individual puppies or 10 litters in one year. This allows many high-volume breeders to escape any regulatory oversight. The outpouring of support from the community has been tremendous — the area’s humane groups, law enforcement, veterinary community and others are helping to care for these dogs. However, if the Granite State is to take the lessons from this case seriously, the state must work to prevent it from happening again and dedicate resources to ensure regulations are consistently enforced and that the requirements to breed dogs commercially are strengthened to prevent situations from ever reaching this level of cruelty.
The HSUS, which is absorbing 100 percent of the costs to rehabilitate and care for these Great Danes through the duration of the criminal investigation, expects costs to reach the hundreds of thousands. But why must we and our supporters cover these costs at all?
Under current law, the costs to care for animals in investigations rests with the town in which the neglect occurs, in this case, the town of Wolfeboro and, by extension, its taxpayers. And since New Hampshire towns can’t possibly cover tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses required to care for animals in cases like these, humane organizations — like The HSUS and our state’s non-profit animal shelters — are placed in the difficult position of absorbing the costs to care for them or make the agonizing decision to not intervene.
We need a new system that both protects the rights of defendants and ensures costs do not fall to taxpayers and non-profits to absorb. Caring for animals presents a unique challenge in our criminal justice system and a creative solution is necessary to address it. Other states are taking steps to fix this problem and New Hampshire lawmakers can learn from what’s working elsewhere.
The first step is to upgrade New Hampshire’s commercial breeding regulations and shift to a system in which the number of breeding females at a facility — not the number of puppies sold — is the bar by which these operations are regulated. This will allow state officials to identify the need for registration and inspection on-site, rather than the lengthy process to track down paperwork.
The state must also increase resources allocated to the Department of Agriculture to ensure adequate staffing for enforcement. New Hampshire has a paltry number of staff to inspect and regulate commercial breeders, especially compared to our neighbors in Maine, which dedicates an entire department to the regulation and protection of companion animals.
Further, the state must work to pass a comprehensive cost of animal care law. Responsibility for costs associated with caring for animals seized in a cruelty investigation should fall on the person charged, with due process and provided that there is probable cause of the evidence.
We need not reinvent the wheel on either issue. The Governor’s Commission on the Humane Treatment of Animals is already charged with finding solutions to the exorbitant costs to care for animals in cruelty cases and to promote legislation to ensure the safety and welfare of domestic animals in the Granite State.
The time is now for the Commission, the governor and state legislators to come together to work on solutions to address these issues and to combat the inhumane treatment of dogs in puppy mills.
(Linday Hamrick is the New Hampshire state director for The Humane Society of the United States.)
- Written by Edward Engler
- Category: Columns
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