Enhancing NH Animal Cruelty Law, HB 1560-FN
HB 1560-FN would establish felony-level penalties, which allow for the appropriate prosecution of cases involving the serious harm or death of domestic animals.
Not only has New Hampshire experienced far too many egregious animal cruelty cases, but a significant majority of them have resulted in unfitting charges and sentences. Despite involving immense animal suffering, these inappropriate penalties leave the public feeling frustrated, disheartened, and yearning for justice.
A major contributing factor is the limitations of existing law, which often ties the hands of the prosecution.
Existing Cruelty Law is too Limited, Contributing to Cruelty and Unfitting Punishments
Current NH Law (RSA 644:8, III-a): A person is guilty of a class B felony who purposely beats, cruelly whips, tortures, or mutilates any animal.
Any mistreatment or suffering caused to an animal that does not fit within those specific, purposeful acts of cruelty is considered a misdemeanor unless it is a subsequent offense (RSA 644:8, III). That is regardless as to whether such suffering leads to severe injuries or death. This is so incredibly limited that it often makes suitable prosecution nearly, if not utterly impossible.
The prosecution must prove that the accused acted purposefully. In cruelty law, purposeful means the intent to cause harm to the animal. While that may seem simple, this is extremely challenging even in cases involving blatant cruelty.
The prosecution must prove that the action was explicitly beating, cruelty whipping, torture, or mutilation.
Cases that do not specifically involve beating or whipping, such as starvation, drowning, or deprivation of water or adequate shelter, must be argued as torture - requiring an additional step. With the term torture undefined in existing law, current court practice requires it to be defined during a trial, which must be agreed to by the prosecution and defense. Only then, can the prosecution attempt to prove that the act of cruelty fits the definition of torture.
The State wouldn't have to fit these narrow margins nor waste valuable time and resources debating the meaning of torture if NH had appropriate laws in place.
Examples of NH Cruelty Cases
Claremont, NH - 2017
14 cats were found stuffed inside a small, feces, blood, and urine-filled cat carrier that was left outside in the cold. One cat was found dead, and another was humanely euthanized due to neurological damage caused by severe dehydration. The surviving cats suffered from respiratory infections, hypothermia, and dehydration.
This heinous act of cruelty could be considered torture. However, according to reports, the Defendants asserted that their roommate was allergic to cats, and that was their purpose for keeping them outside - reducing the likelihood of successfully arguing an intent to cause harm. The two defendants were found guilty of one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty each and received a 140-day suspended jail sentence (no time served contingent upon good behavior for three years).
Merrimack, NH - 2019
A golden retriever named Bailey was reportedly pushed into a lake by his owner. Despite his struggle to stay above water, Bailey lost his life while his owner allegedly stood on the dock and made no attempts to help him. According to reports, two residents witnessed the incident and attempted to CPR.
One could argue torture in drowning cases, as science shows, there is a great deal of panic and suffering associated with such a death. This is likely why the Animal Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) considers drowning an unacceptable form of euthanasia. However, that argument may not hold up in court, particularly depending on how the term 'torture' is defined during the trial.
In regards to establishing intent in this case, one of the witnesses shared a statement about the Defendant, which read, "We don't believe her intent was to kill Bailey." And with that, arguing purposeful torture became that much more challenging, greatly risking a failure to meet the burden of proof. Misdemeanor charges were filed.
HB 1560-FN Enhances Cruelty Law, Allowing for Suitable Prosecution
HB 1560-FN, sponsored by Representative Katherine Rogers (Merrimack - Dist. 28), and amended by the House Criminal Justice Committee, would enhance NH animal cruelty law in two ways.
It makes purposeful, knowing, or reckless acts of cruelty - which cause 'serious harm' or death of the animal - a class B felony.
It defines 'serious harm' as any harm to the animal's body, which causes severe, permanent, or protracted loss of or impairment to the health or of the function of any part of the animal's body.
For example, if HB 1560-FN had been in place when the Merrimack drowning case occurred, there would be no need to define torture nor prove that drowning fit that definition. The prosecution also would not have to prove the Defendant intended to cause Bailey harm. Instead, the prosecution would have to prove that the alleged action of pushing him into the water and refraining from helping him was reckless and that reckless conduct caused his death. In this case, reckless means that the Defendant was aware of and disregarded the unjustifiable risk of causing Bailey's death - and that disregard constitutes a gross deviation from what a law-abiding person would observe in the situation. While the witness's comment that the Defendant didn't intend to kill Bailey would be a factor, it wouldn't prevent the argument that the Defendant's alleged conduct was reckless and that it ultimately caused Bailey's death, regardless. It is also noteworthy that two witnesses were reportedly present who removed Bailey from the water and administered CPR in an attempt to save him. Their actions demonstrate a clear and gross deviation from the Defendant's alleged conduct.
Exemptions For Husbandry Practices and Humane Euthanasia
HB 1560-FN includes an exception for (meaning it does not apply to) customarily accepted animal husbandry practices, humane slaughter under RSA 427, or accepted methods of euthanasia as determined by the AVMA to alleviate the suffering of an injured or ill animal.
Preventing Human Violence and Recidivism
There is compelling evidence linking animal cruelty and human violence. In a study researching child abuse, 88% of the families in which physical abuse took place also had animals that were abused. An animal research study in 2002 additionally found that 100% of people who committed sexual homicide had abused animals, 99% of animal abusers had convictions for other crimes, and 61.5% of animal abusers had also assaulted a human. These are only a few examples, among many.
Not only will the enhanced penalties within HB 1560-FN help to deter acts of violence against animals and people, but it will also help reduce repeat offenses.
Existing law mandates that any person convicted of a felony-level offense is prohibited from the ownership or custody of animals for a minimum of five years. The court may also impose other restrictions, such as residing with or employment in the care of animals (RSA 644:8, IV(b).
Opposition Standpoint Carries No Weight - Issues of Mental Illness and Criminal Negligence
HB 1560-FN was supported by the majority of the public who attended the hearing for the bill held by the House Criminal Justice Committee, as well as the NH Association of Chiefs of Police, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Animal Control Officers Association of NH, the NH Veterinary Technician Association, and the Governor's Commission on the Humane Treatment of Animals (by a majority vote with no objections).
The only opposition of HB 1560-FN came from the American Kennel Club (AKC) and their NH Federation, the Dog Owners of the Granite State (DOGS). Stacey Ober, New England legislative analyst for the AKC, and Angela Ferrari, president of DOGS, asserted their opposition was for the two primary reasons below.
Assertion 1: The bill as introduced referred to 'serious bodily injury' within RSA 625:11, which is a term applicable to humans, not animals. The Facts: The amendment introduced by bill supporter, Representative Nancy Murphy (Hillsborough - Dist. 21) and adopted by the House Criminal Justice Committee, replaces 'serious bodily injury,' to 'serious harm,' which is a long-standing term within NH animal cruelty statute. Assertion 2: The bill would lead to harsh punishments for those with mental illnesses, or those who do not know or realize that their actions were cruel or would cause cruelty. Those individuals would benefit from existing misdemeanor-level punishments, so they can be educated by that minor penalty rather than the mandatory jail time that comes with a felony. If the bill was to remain as, it should include exemptions for cruelties involving defendants with mental illnesses.
The Facts: Firstly, the felony-level charges of HB 1560-FN apply to causes of 'serious harm' and 'death' that are committed 'purposefully,' 'knowingly,' or 'recklessly.' Not only do those acts of cruelty involve immense suffering, but the elements of culpability (purposeful, knowingly, recklessly) all require that the assailant either has intent to cause harm, or is aware that their conduct comes with a great risk of causing that harm. Those who do not 'know' or 'realize' what they are doing will cause harm, are considered criminally negligent, or having no culpability, and therefore cannot be charged with the felony-level penalties of HB 1560-FN.
Secondly, it can be argued that all those who commit acts of cruelty against animals may be coping with some form of a psychological issue or mental illness. Animal cruelty involves a disregard for or desensitization of violence and the suffering of sentient beings. Creating exceptions within animal cruelty laws for mental illness could potentially render those laws unenforceable, and additionally pose issues regarding due process and constitutionality.
Lastly, it is the responsibility of the State Legislature to implement laws that are effective and enforceable, keep the majority of our residents and animals safe, and grant the State tools needed for appropriate prosecution. It is the responsibility of the defense to raise matters of mental illness, and it is the responsibility of the court to weigh that. Under existing practice, NH courts have required psychological evaluations in animal cruelty cases, those determined not competent to stand trial have not been forced to do so, and HB 1560-FN will not hinder that.
A Punishment That Fits the Crime
"Animals who starve to death experience a myriad of painful symptoms and anguish throughout each stage of their physical deterioration, and it is not uncommon for animal control officers to find companion animals frozen to the ground because of lack of proper shelter. Often these animals perish only feet away from the homes in which their caretakers live."
NH State Director, HSUS
Under existing law, such cruelties are considered a misdemeanor, often leading to lenient penalties, fines, and suspended jail sentences. It is time that NH allows for the appropriate justice for animals who suffer so immensely, at the hands of those who are responsible for providing them with love and care.
State of NH v. Dwaine Lord, Case No. 427-2017-CR-01070/State of NH v. Crystal M Lamonda, Case No. 427-2017-CR-01067;
American Veterinary Medical Association, "Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals," 2020, https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Documents/euthanasia.pdf, Pg 71, Last visited March 2020;
DeViney, E., Dickert, J., & Lockwood, R. (1983). The care of pets within child abusing families. International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 4(4), 321-329;
Clarke, J. P., ‘New South Wales police animal cruelty research project,’ Sydney, Australia: New South Wales Police Service, 2002