In September 2018, the emergency shelter created by the Humane Society of the United States for over 80 Great Danes officially closed, marking their brighter future with loving families and the thankfulness for those who contributed to their rescue and care. That was following approximately 450 days that those amazing animals remained in a shelter environment, after enduring cruelty in Wolfeboro - along with countless other animals who suffered throughout New Hampshire due to unenforceable and weak laws. Several years before, and over one year after that closure, a long and arduous battle was taking place to enhance those laws.
It is with unmeasurable gratitude for the tireless efforts of animal advocates, law enforcement officials, local shelters, humane societies, animal protection organizations, prosecutors, legislators, and cruelty investigators, those who testify or reach out to local officials, contribute to public awareness, who care for animal victims or face cruelty every day, and those who fight for animals in court or at the state house - and who remain steadfast despite the fierce, misguided opposition - that Straight Twist shares the incredible success of this year.
The following protections for New Hampshire animals and residents were adopted in 2019.
1. Animal Fighting Paraphernalia Ban
HB 605-FN closes loopholes in the current law, which has allowed animal fighters to evade prosecution. According to the FBI and local officials, animal fighting has reached epidemic proportions and exists throughout the country, including within NH. In addition to egregious animal cruelties, animal fighting is linked to money laundering, childhood exposure to violence, assault, homicide, drug trafficking, and weapons trafficking. The passage of this law contributes to the collaborative efforts of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Agriculture, cruelty investigators, state officials, and local law enforcement to put an end to animal fighting nationwide.
Despite unfounded opposition from the Dog Owners of the Granite State (the NH federation of the American Kennel Club), HB 605-FN passed with an overwhelming majority via voice vote from the Senate, and the House by a vote of 215-124. Governor Sununu signed the bill on July 29th, and it became effective on October 27, 2019. HB 605-FN was spearheaded by Rep. Katherine Rogers (Merrimack - Dist. 28) and strongly supported by Rep. Nancy Murphy (Hillsborough - Dist. 21). Rep. Howard Pearl (Merrimack - Dist. 26) made an unjustifiable attempt to table the bill on the house floor, which, fortunately, was unsuccessful. Click here to see how your house representative voted on the motion to pass the bill, and here for more on the actions of key legislators.
2. Prohibition of Animal Ownership by Convicted Abusers
Reports of recidivism rates for certain animal cruelties have been nearly 100%, perpetuating animal abuse and contributing to domestic violence. This year, the NH Legislature passed a mandatory 5-year prohibition of animal ownership for those convicted of felony cruelty, bestiality, or animal fighting. The law now also includes meaningful prohibition guidelines, which the court must also consider in cases involving misdemeanors. These enhancements come via the passage of HB 605-FN (discussed above) and HB 459 (the language originating from SB 77-FN). HB 459 passed via voice vote in the Senate, and the House, and was signed into law by Governor Sununu on July 30th. The animal protections within the bill (sections 10-12) will become effective on January 1, 2020.
3. Rabbits Cannot be Transferred Under the Age of Eight Weeks
Thanks to the passage of HB 283, rabbits now cannot be transferred (sold/given as gift/adopted-out) under eight weeks old, an increase from the previous age of four weeks. The law helps to prevent health risks and potential death due to separation before proper weaning. It also curbs the influx of homeless rabbits, caused by purchases made by those attracted to small pets, but who are unprepared for long-term care once the rabbit grows. The Senate and House passed the bill with voice votes, and it became a chaptered law effective August 17, 2019. HB 283 was sponsored by Rep. David Danielson (Hillsborough - Dist. 7).
4. Courts Must Consider the Well-being of Animals in Divorce Settlements
In divorce settlements, NH law requires an equitable, often equal division of assets between the parties. This requires the consideration of property, such as furniture and real estate, but not necessarily the most suitable care of animals. Under previous law, the court often turned to the name on the license, adoption, or purchase records of the pet to determine custody in settlements. Unfortunately, that documentation does not always reflect what is in the best interest of the animal, such as in cases of domestic violence, where the pet is registered in a perpetrator's name, who uses the animal as a means to control, abuse, or threaten the victim(s). With the passage of HB 361, the courts must now consider the well-being of animals in divorce settlements when determining custody. The measure, unfortunately, considers pets to be property, which corresponds with other existing laws regarding pets. However, while we simultaneously strive for the long-term goal of granting animals with rights as individual, sentient beings, HB 361 is an improvement of previous law which did not require such consideration of the well-being of pets in divorce settlements at all. HB 361 was sponsored by Rep. Debra DeSimone (Rockingham - Dist. 14), passed with voice votes in the House and Senate, and was implemented on August 24, 2019.
5. Heath Certificates and Rabies Vaccines Required Before Transfer of Dogs, Cats, and Ferrets
It is reasonable that pet vendors should be required to ensure pets are healthy before offering them to the public, not only to prevent the suffering of animals, but the spread of disease to our families, and other NH residents. Previous law required that dogs, cats, and ferrets were vaccinated by a veterinarian to protect them from infectious diseases before transfer. It also required that all animals transferred were accompanied by a health certificate signed by a veterinarian no more than 14 days beforehand. However, when the NH Department of Agriculture (DOA) proposed a bill overhauling that section of the law in 2017, those essential requirements were removed. Thankfully, they were placed back into the law, not just once, but twice in 2019, firstly within HB 459, and also within the budget bill, HB 4. The proposed language within both bills was primarily sponsored by Sen. Jeb Bradley (Wolfeboro - Dist. 3).
6. Consideration of Wildlife Corridors
NH must now take into consideration the importance of wildlife corridors during road or infrastructure development; for the safe passage/linkage between wildlife habitats, which contributes to the health and survival of wildlife, the biodiversity of ecosystems, and conservation of natural resources for current citizens and future generations. Although the law requires only the 'consideration' of wildlife corridors, this is a vital step in the right direction towards increasing public awareness, acknowledging these matters and enhancing our laws that address them. Sen. David Watters (Dover - Dist. 4), was the primary sponsor of SB 200, which passed the Senate and the House via voice votes, and became effective on September 10, 2019.
7. A Lower Breeder Licensing Threshold, Enhancing Oversight and Cruelty Prevention
NH has experienced an unfortunate rise in animal cruelty cases involving unlicensed breeders, with six occurring within a recent span of less than two and a half years alone. Those cases involved several animals, some ranging from approximately 36 to 105 per case, causing immense suffering, non-profits millions in donations, and the spread of contagious illnesses, also risking the health of residents. While previous law required the licensure and regulation of animal shelters, rescues, and pet stores, regardless of the number of animals they transferred (sold/gave as gift/adopted-out), it only required licensure of breeders who transferred 50 puppies or ten litters per year. Not only was that unequal standards for those transferring animals, but more importantly, it was contributing to some of the most large-scale and abhorrent animal cruelty cases in NH. That threshold of 50 puppies per year, led to the licensure of a mere eight approximate breeders, leaving the estimated thousands of NH breeders unregulated, and was restricted to puppies only.
HB 4 changed the pet vendor licensing and regulation requirements to any entity that transfers 25 or more dogs, 25 or more cats, 30 or more ferrets, or 50 or more birds to the public, between July 1 and June 30 of each year. It also requires licensure of any entity that transfers amphibians, reptiles, fish, or small mammals within the same timeframe, in quantities set in the rules adopted by the NH DOA.
Not only did HB4 establish equal licensing standards for all pet vendors, but it reduced the former perilously high breeder licensing threshold, and granted protections for additional species.
Initially proposed within SB 161, Sen. Jeb Bradley championed the measure, along with co-sponsor, Rep. Katherine Rogers. The Senate passed the bill unanimously (via voice vote, based on attendance), who then tabled it - not with the intent to kill the law but to add the language to the budget bill (HB 2) - along with all other bills passed by the Senate that included an appropriation, or fiscal note. (SB 161 included an appropriation for the DOA to correspond with the likely increased number of breeders to be regulated.) HB 2 passed the House and Senate but was later vetoed by Governor Sununu on June 28th. However, the finalized budget bill, HB 4, was passed with the language included (sections 346:397 - 346:398) and signed into law effective July 1, 2019.
8. Structured Requirements to Address the Care of Animals Throughout Cruelty Cases, Help Reduce Long-Term Sheltering, and Mitigate the Cost of Care
Animals seized as part of cruelty cases must be held as criminal evidence during the trial. Although animal cruelty victims require immediate and ongoing care, it takes an average of 7-9 months for cruelty cases to be heard. A lack of structure within the law also often prevented an organized and timely method to discuss the appropriate care of the animals with the court, causing the need for multiple motions to be filed and contributing to trial delays.
8a. A Status Hearing is Now Required Within 14 Days of Animal Rescue
Thanks to HB 459, courts must now hold a status hearing within 14 days of the seizure of animals from cruelty. The hearing allows for a prompt and organized conversation (including the prosecution and defense) in front of the court; allowing the prosecution to advocate for the most adequate care of the animals for the duration of the trial, and helping to prevent unnecessary and costly delays. The law also clarifies that owners or co-owners (who are not the defendant) may petition the court for temporary custody of the animals (throughout the trial), which the court may grant if determined to be in the best interest of the animals' health, safety, and well-being.
Animals seized due to cruelty often suffer from injuries, ailments, and psychological trauma, which requires specialized care and is costly, adding up to thousands, even millions per case. Currently, those expenses fall upon local humane societies, often via donations from residents, or the municipality via taxpayer funds. Additionally, regardless of the exceptional level of care, the longer animals remain in shelter environments, the more physically and psychologically challenging it can be, for both the animals and those caring for them.
Following the conviction of cruelty in a lower court (e.i., District, Superior), the defendant can file an appeal, which takes an additional 6-12 months. Existing law granted the court authority to require that the defendant post a bond for up to $2,000 per animal, for the cost of their care, to maintain ownership during the appeal. Meaning, if they didn't pay towards the cost of the care of the animals, their ownership would be forfeited. However, the law did not specify a time frame in which that bond must be posted, and the courts have also misinterpreted the bond law, leading to lengthy delays or that financial responsibility left utterly unmet.
All the while, those animals are often living in shelter environments, straining valued resources of humane societies, depleting donations from residents, and risking the health and safety of the animals and their caretakers - and those convicted of the cruelty to those animals continued to maintain ownership of them.
8b. A Court-Ordered Cost of Care Bond Must Be Paid Within 30 Days
A person convicted of cruelty ordered by the court to post a bond to maintain ownership of the animals throughout their appeal, must now post that bond within 30 days; requiring that those convicted of cruelty either contribute to the cost of the care for the animals, or their ownership will be forfeited. The post of the bond would mitigate the depleting of non-profit and taxpayer funds. If unpaid, the forfeiture would also cease the draining of those funds, and it would allow the animals to go to appropriate, forever homes rather than stay in a shelter for an extended time (such as the Wolfeboro Great Danes who were in a shelter for over 450 days, and the Alexandria/Bristol German shepherds who were in a shelter for over 560 days).
The language within HB 459, which originated from SB 77-FN, was primarily sponsored by Sen. Jeb Bradley. SB 77-FN was tabled after the House Environment and Agriculture Committee attached a partially adverse amendment to it, by a vote of 18-1. Bradley then motioned to add the language to HB 459, which the Senate supported with a vote of 18-0. The bill then passed the full House and made it successfully through a committee of conference. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts by Bradley, the animal protection measures within HB 459 were technically the first to survive the House Environment and Agriculture Committee in recent years - a committee that has been a disappointingly consistent barrier of meaningful animal welfare statutes. The animal protection sections within HB 459 became a chaptered law on July 30, 2019. For more details on the actions of key legislators, see the articles linked below.
9. Cost of Care Fund Established - With $200,000 From State Budget Appropriations
Also passed within the final budget bill, HB 4, was the establishment of a cost of care fund. Those caring for the animal cruelty victims throughout a trial, may apply to the commissioner of the NH DOA for a grant from the cost of care fund for the reimbursement for expenses. Although cruelty cases can cost hundreds of thousands, up to millions per case, the cost of care fund is a creative approach that will help mitigate this immense financial burden, which currently falls on non-profits and taxpayers.
The language was initially proposed within HB 501-FN, sponsored by Rep. John O'Connor (Rockingham - Dist. 6) and Rep. Peter Bixby (Strafford - Dist. 17). Following the need for language revisions, HB 501-FN was retained by the sponsors' own House Environment and Agriculture Committee. The Committee then attached a revised version to animal and taxpayer protection bill, SB 77-FN, via an amendment that caused the bill's death, which was led by a motion to table from Rep. Bixby himself. Fortunately, the finalized version of the cost of care fund was then added to HB 4, which did not include the potentially detrimental language within the Committee's amendment. Although tabled, the crucial language originating from SB 77-FN (before amended by the Committee), was also revived by Sen. Bradley when it was added to HB 459, as discussed above (see 8a).
Within HB 4 is also two appropriations for the cost of care fund; $100,000 for fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, and $100,000 for fiscal year ending June 30, 2021.
A Brighter Path For NH Animals
The success for animals in 2019 is undoubtedly due to the tireless and collaborative efforts of animal advocates; whether those who care for animal abuse victims, or those on the front lines battling cruelty on the streets, in the courthouse, or state house, or those who have made calls and spread awareness to ensure our voices are heard. Above all, however, it was the animals who have endured cruelty themselves - who, although unable to speak, have taught us invaluable lessons. Those lessons, which have paved the way towards a brighter future for New Hampshire's animals.
With dedication to, and in honor of, the Cocker Spaniels of Durham, the Chihuahuas of Croydon, the German shepherds of Alexandra/Bristol, the Labrador retrievers of Marlborough, the Great Danes of Wolfeboro, the Golden and Labrador retrievers of Bradford, and the numerous others who have endured cruelty. For those who have survived and who are now in loving, forever homes, may our hearts be warmed with happiness for you - for those who were lost, may you never be forgotten. And for those unnamed, may you rest now and know, your suffering was not in vain.