NH Considers Decrease In Pet Vendor Oversight
Updated: May 12
Before July 2019, New Hampshire breeders who transferred (sold, adopted out) more than 50 puppies or ten litters per year were required to be licensed and regulated by the State. The law excluded all other breeders who transferred below that threshold.
That dreadfully high licensing threshold led to only 5-8 licensed and regulated breeders out of the estimated thousands in NH. And that lack of oversight contributed to over six animal cruelty cases involving unlicensed NH breeders in a recent span of approximately two and half years. Those cases caused the suffering of over 300 animals, cost NH taxpayers over $3.5 million in cost of care expenses (via general state funds and donations), and involved the spread of zoonotic diseases - which are transferrable to humans.
Those cases ignited a legislative battle between those who supported increased pet vendor oversight, such as the Humane Society of the United States and local humane societies, and those who claimed such regulation would violate the asserted rights of breeders, such as the American Kennel Club and the Dog Owners of the Granite State (DOGS).
Following a long and arduous campaign, spearheaded by Senator Jeb Bradley (Wolfeboro - Dist. 3), the pet vendor licensing threshold was successfully changed to any pet vendor who transfers more than 25 dogs or 25 cats per year, effective July 2019.
HB 250 Increases The Pet Vendor Licensing Threshold - Decreasing Pet Vendor Oversight
This year, Representative Howard Pearl (Merrimack County - Dist. 26) proposed HB 250, which increases that licensing threshold to 30 dogs or 35 cats, among other adverse changes (HB 250, 0350h).
The House Environment and Agriculture Committee passed HB 250 (18-1), as did the full House via a voice vote. After amending the bill to 30 dogs or 30 cats transferred per year (HB 250, 1290s), the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee also passed it (4-0). It now heads to the full Senate for a final vote.
Although the increase seems minor, the reality is that any increase in the licensing threshold causes an increased risk of cruelty, cost of care expenses, and diseases.
Also noteworthy is that nearby states have more strict pet vendor licensing thresholds than NH. For example, licensing is required in Connecticut for the transfer of 2 litters of dogs within 12 months [Conn. Gen. Stat § 22-342].
Maine requires the licensure of any breeder who keeps 5 intact, breeding females or more than 16 dogs or cats are transferred within 12 months [7 M.R.S.A. § 3907].
Comparatively weaker laws make NH a go-to-state for irresponsible breeders, such as in the Wolfeboro case involving the cruelty of over 80 Great Danes and the Alexandria and Bristol cases involving over 30 German Shepherds, to name a few. Both cases involved unlicensed breeders who moved to NH from other New England states.
HB 250 Allows 'Blind' Exemptions From Licensure and Inspection
Under HB 250, a pet vendor who was not required to have a license and did not transfer over 30 dogs or 30 cats in the previous four years can apply to the Department of Agriculture (DOA) for an exemption from licensure. HB 250 allows the pet vendor to transfer up to 45 dogs or 45 cats during the exempt period. The exemption would extend from the date it was issued to the following June 30th, potentially lasting up to 1 year. Such an exemption would enable pet vendors to avoid commonsense oversight, such as inspections by the State - every four years, under the law.
Inspections are crucial because, despite online images and statements made by pet vendors, there is no way for the public to see what goes on within restricted areas and behind closed doors. Additionally, there are limitations to what law enforcement officials can do to prevent situations of cruelty among pet vendors, as most often, they're brought into situations after they have risen to the level of animal cruelty. This is because, under the law [RSA 644:8], law enforcement cannot search a property or seize animals without probable cause - meaning, a search warrant or a situation where the animals are in clear and imminent danger. And in those instances, it's much too late. Licensure and inspections are preventative tools that the State can use to intervene and provide guidance before situations rise to the level of criminal animal cruelty.
The exemption of HB 250 puts the DOA in the position where they're blindly waiving the lawfully required licensure and inspection without knowledge of the living conditions of the animals or if the pet vendor is complying with existing regulations. One might argue that an irresponsible breeder or pet vendor who is not providing adequate care for their animals might not bother to apply for the exemption (or follow the law at all, for that matter). However, we don't know what a person may or may not do or what their reasoning might be, and the law must be sound regardless.
It is confusing why the DOA didn't oppose HB 250. Anyone who wishes to prevent animal suffering and the spread of disease likely doesn't want to see another local news headline regarding an animal cruelty case involving a NH breeder, let alone one who received a licensing exemption from the DOA.
Following testimony in opposition to HB 250, Straight Twist reached out to members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, proposing they work with the DOA to create an incentive program instead of a licensure exemption. For example, a discounted renewal fee for licensed pet vendors who've had exemplary inspections for a certain number of years. The DOA could also create different tiers based on the number of animals transferred per year; the lower the number of animals transferred, the lower the cost for a license. Such approaches would benefit those complying with the law rather than creating a blind exemption for those trying to avoid it. Unfortunately, those recommendations went unanswered.
Assertions That Licensure and Inspections Are Too Challenging For Breeders Are Unjustifiable
To be licensed as a pet vendor, one must submit an application, pay a $200 fee, and agree to potential inspections by the State. Previous law required routine inspections at least once per year. However, the Legislature removed that law in 2017, following a proposal from the Department of Agriculture. Existing law doesn't even require annual inspections, just that the pet vendor must agree to the fact that an inspection could potentially occur [RSA 437:3].
During the public hearings for HB 250, Representative Pearl and Angela Ferrari, leadership from DOGS - the NH affiliate of the American Kennel Club (AKC), expressed that 'hobby breeders' are having trouble staying below the new threshold of 25 dogs transferred per year. They stated the difficulty is because they sometimes have unexpectedly high litters and are forced to 'jump through hoops' to obtain a pet vendor license at the last minute.
During testimony for HB 250 and other pet vendor bills over recent years, breeders have also expressed they are experts at what they do. Mrs. Ferrari herself specifically shared insight on litter sizes for dogs during multiple public hearings. Therefore, breeders know the average litter sizes of the breed they're breeding and the chance of having a larger litter. If after transferring multiple litters, a breeder decides to have their dogs 'squeeze in one more litter' in any given year, they are fully aware they'll be at risk of exceeding the existing licensing threshold. As responsible breeders, they should be able to plan for that accordingly in advance.
Furthermore, NH Agriculture Rules [Agr 1704], which are the operating standards for licensed pet vendors, require fundamental care. For example, access to potable water and food, a sanitary environment free from animal waste, and primary enclosures that provide enough space for the animal to turn around, sit down and lie down comfortably.
These are basic standards of care that all those who breed or transfer animals should provide regardless of a licensing requirement. In these terms, whether one considers themselves a 'hobby breeder' or a 'commercial breeder' is irrelevant.
Before 2019, all pet vendors - except for breeders, were required to be licensed and inspected by the State, regardless of the number of animals they transferred. That included shelters that run off donations while providing numerous benefits for residents at no cost to the State, as well as approximately 80 fosters who operate out of their private homes.
The assertions that licensure poses a hardship due to inspections in private homes and operating regulations that are too challenging to follow are unjustifiable.
Mrs. Ferrari also stated that breeders prefer not to be licensed because they try to avoid additional fees, such as the $200 pet vendor licensing fee. However, she additionally shared that she enters her dogs into competitions, which is common among AKC breeders. Such events come with multiple fees. For example, agility trials cost approximately $20 - $25 per event. One event per month for one dog is at least $240 per year. Other events could cost more, such as hunting trials which are approximately $36 per dog. One might argue that perhaps fewer trials entered per year could equal more than enough to cover the cost of a pet vendor license. Additionally, breeders often sell their purebred dogs for thousands of dollars. At $1,500 - $2,500 per dog, that equals $37,500 - $62,500 at the existing threshold of 25 dogs transferred per year. And again, licensed fosters who operate out of their homes and run on donations pay the $200 licensing fee.
The breeding, rescuing, or sheltering, and transferring of animals is not mandated nor a right; it is a choice and a privilege. If one chooses to breed and sell sentient beings, which become valued companions of the public, commonsense oversight of such actions is warranted.
Municipal Zoning Issues Can Be Addressed Via a Stane-Alone Bill
HB 250 also addresses an issue regarding municipal zoning conformities. In 2019, the law was inadvertently changed to require that breeders who transfer 25 dogs or cats per year must comply with their municipality's licensed pet vendor zoning requirements. Those requirements can be somewhat challenging, depending on the locality, and such a request could be denied, preventing them from obtaining a pet vendor license.
HB 250 proposes that only those who transfer 50 dogs or cats or more per year must comply with those zoning requirements, essentially reverting the law to how it was before the changes in 2019. There is a case for requiring those zoning confirmities at a lower threshold than 50 dogs per year, particularly in preventing the spread of disease. However, the proposal is acceptable. If responsible breeders are trying to do the right thing by obtaining a license and undergoing regulation by the State, such roadblocks don't necessarily make sense broad scheme.
However, because HB 250 is mostly adverse, this section does not justify support of the bill - rather, a stand-alone proposal addressing this issue in the future.
The Bottom Line
Senator Bradley spoke with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during the executive session for the bill on May 3rd. He expressed that HB 250, as originally introduced by Representative Pearl, would have increased the pet vendor licensing threshold to 35 dogs or 50 cats. He also shared that with an amendment including a decrease to 30 dogs or 30 cats, he found it a suitable compromise, despite the exemption section. He added that he hoped this would put an end to the seemingly neverending dispute over the issue.
Bradley's perspective is arguably understandable. However, HB 250 is challenging to accept after years of efforts to implement a lower licensing threshold and the known 300 animals, and likely many others, who suffered due to NH's weak laws in the recent past. It is all the more difficult when considering that this proposal is to apparently appease breeders who feel inconvenienced by the required basic standards of care and practical regulations. Creating a nonsensical and unjustifiable blind exemption that prevents commonsense oversight and can be exploited to avoid the law - even if only every four years, is not a sound compromise. There are more suitable approaches to easing the growing pains as NH evolves in terms of regulating pet vendors - such as providing incentives and benefits for responsible, licensed pet vendors who comply with existing law.
Deadline: May 12th, 7:30pm
(or May 13th at 8:00am at the very latest)
Find your senator here.
Call your senator and urge them to vote against HB 250.
When you call, you will talk with or receive the voicemail of a staff member who assists your senator. Please be advised that although they appear to be business numbers, many have set up call-forwarding to their personal lines due to the pandemic - so, be sure to call during appropriate hours.
Example: "Hello, my name is [---], I am a constituent of Senator [---]. I'm calling to ask that [he/she] vote no on HB 250. The bill increases the pet vendor licensing threshold and creates blind exemptions, allowing licensing and regulation requirements to be waived for pet vendors, every four years - without an inspection to confirm the living conditions of the animals, or if they're complying with existing regulations. Some of NH's most large-scale and egregious cruelty cases have involved unlicensed NH breeders; causing the suffering of hundreds of animals, costing taxpayers millions, and increasing the spread of diseases. HB 250 will decrease commonsense oversight of pet vendors and unjustifiably increase those risks. I kindly ask that [he/she] votes against it. Thank you."
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