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  • Writer's pictureGina Scrofano

NH House Committee Guts Animal Welfare Bill

The House Environment and Agriculture Committee has adopted a shortsighted and potentially unconstitutional amendment to animal welfare bill, SB 569-FN, which not only guts the bill but weakens current law. There is a way to prevent those modifications from being passed by the full House, but residents must act now.

Animal cruelty prevention bill, SB 569-FN passed the Senate with a strong majority and bi-partisan support. The bill went through a lengthy compromise process including numerous stakeholder meetings, multiple public hearings, two Senate Committee votes and two full Senate votes. The already well-written bill came out of the Senate even more polished, striking the balance of preserving the rights of responsible breeders while simultaneously strengthening animal cruelty prevention.

SB 569-FN was also endorsed by Governor Sununu and is supported by the NH Federation of Humane Organizations, Animal Control Officers Assoc. of NH, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Assoc., NH Municipal Assoc., and the NH Assoc. of Chiefs of Police, who not only understand the importance of animal welfare, but the links between animal cruelty and human violence.

Unfortunately, the House Environmental and Agriculture Committee did not agree with the Senate, and the pleas by those currently on the front lines of the battle against animal cruelty fell on deaf ears. The Committee ignored those pleas and has catered to those with special interests who oppose the bill, due to the mere thought that some breeders would be inspected to ensure they're providing the basic standards of care for their animals. Led by Chairman O'Connor, who has a history of killing animal welfare bills, the House Committee attached an amendment to SB 569-FN, which will not only gut the bill, but will weaken current animal welfare laws.

Below is a closer look at House Committee Amendment 2018-1709h, and why it is dreadful for SB 569-FN, NH animals and residents.

1. Routine Mandatory Inspections Removed

Whether it is a breeder advertising online, or an animal shelter with areas sectioned off from public view, there is no way to determine for sure what is going on behind closed doors unless the State inspects the facility.

SB 569-FN as passed by the Senate: Requires biennial unannounced inspections of licensed commercial breeders, shelters, rescues and pet stores.

(437:3 II, Pg 3, Lines 7-8)

Committee Amendment 2018-1709h: Removes that biennial mandate, leaving inspection frequency completely unspecified, and general inspection requirements unclear.

(Not included 437:3 II, Pg 3, Lines 5-6)

2. No Inspection Before Licensing

Inspecting facilities before issuing a license is a commonsense requirement. The State has the responsibility to confirm people are complying with all laws regarding the breeding, sheltering, or sale/transfer of animals before granting them a license to do so; just as the state would not give a resident a drivers license without first requiring a driving test.

SB 569-FN as passed by the Senate: Requires inspections of all commercial breeders, shelters, rescues, and pet stores before granting a license. (437:3, Pg 2, Lines 30-35)

Committee Amendment 2018-1709h: Completely removes that requirement, allowing the Department of Agriculture (DOA) to grant licenses without first conducting an inspection. (Not included 437:3, Pg 2, Line 30)

3. Unjust Punishment For Purposeful and Egregious Cruelties

Current NH laws are so limiting that misdemeanors are often the only legal option when filing charges for cruelty, despite involving the severe injury and death of animals. This leads to unjust punishments, such as the District Court's ruling of the Wolfeboro Great Dane case, and the Claremont cat case.

SB 569-FN as passed by the Senate: Makes purposeful acts of cruelty resulting in the severe bodily injury or death of a domestic animal a Class B Felony. Not only does this allow for a punishment that better fits the crime, but it also assists the FBI in their current tracking of felony animal cruelties which are linked to acts of violence against humans. (644:8 III-b, Pg 6, Lines 8-13)

Committee Amendment 2018-1709h: Completely removes that section, leaving our State's laws weak and unjust. (Pg 6, Not included after line 19)

4. Prohibits Anonymous Reporting of Animal Cruelty

Despite misconception, the filing of complaints against breeders, shelters, rescues, and pet stores has been a possibility under previous law, as it is currently, and will remain so regardless of SB 569-FN. However, it is important that the DOA investigate such complaints promptly, as is a person's anonymity when filing a complaint, for protection from retaliation. Current law does not have any restrictions regarding anonymity.

SB 569-FN as passed by the Senate: Simply clarifies that the DOA must investigate within a reasonable time upon receiving a complaint. SB 569-FN does not include limitations regarding anonymity. (437:3, Pg 3, Lines 1-3)

Committee Amendment 2018-1709h: Prohibits anonymous complaints and allows the facility to receive a copy of the full report upon request, including the name of the person that submitted the complaint. (437:3, Pg 2, Lines 36-37 - Pg 3, Line 1)

5. Exempts All Categories of Dog Breeders

In NH only licensed commercial breeders are regulated and inspected. Current law (RSA 437:1) defines a commercial breeder as a breeder that sells 10 litters or 50 puppies per year. Not only is that an incredibly high threshold, but it is inefficient and ineffective.

SB 569-FN as passed by the Senate: Requires the licensure of all breeders that have 7 or more unspayed female dogs for the purpose of breeding and selling their offspring. (437:1, Definition of, 'Pet Vendor', Commercial Breeder', & 'Breeding Female')

Committee Amendment 2018-1709h: Exempts nearly every type of breeder imaginable, such as breeders of dogs for field work, drafting, guarding, working, herding, hunting, mushing, or those participating in any lawful dog event, including, but not limited to, conformation shows, obedience trials, field trials, agility events, or hunts. (437:7, Pg 4, Lines 12-20)

6. Eliminates Law Allowing Public View of Animal Records

Committee Amendment 2018-1709h: Eliminates the current law (within RSA 437:3, III) that allows the public to view the transfer records of live animals or birds sold/transferred by pet stores, brokers, breeders or shelters. This means that the public will have no way of knowing where a pet store obtained their animals before purchasing. (437:3 III, Pg 3, Lines 12-16)

7. Appropriations Removed

Over two years ago, the DOA was granted general state funds for the hiring of a second State Veterinarian; that position remains unfilled to this day. At least two years ago, the DOA was also granted the authority to appoint individuals to conduct inspections, which the Dept. apparently has yet to utilize. Within the 2018 financial budget, additional general state funds were allocated to the DOA, as well as the authority further extending the utilization of law enforcement, animal control, and health officials for inspections, per the DOA's specific request. Yet, the DOA asserts the Dept. needs additional funding to carry out the inspection requirements within SB 569-FN, so the bill as originally written did just that.

SB 569-FN as passed by the Senate: Includes $200,000 in appropriations for the DOA, for the hiring of two new inspectors to support the increase in oversight and inspections.

Committee Amendment 2018-1709h: Completely removes the bill's appropriations.

8. Leaves Cost of Care Burden on Shelters and Taxpayers

When animal victims are seized as part of cruelty cases, current law (RSA 644:8) requires such seizure be via court order, probable cause, or the animals to be in clear or imminent danger. Following the seizure, the animals must be cared for while the case is being prosecuted. It is currently animal shelters that pay the cost to care for those animals. When shelters cannot afford that expense, it falls on the town where the seizure took place, thus taxpayers.

SB 569-FN as passed by the Senate: Set up a civil hearing process following the lawful seizure of animals, in which the court would again determine if the seizure was legal, based on a preponderance of the evidence. If so confirmed, the court would then determine a reasonable cost of care for the animals, taking the Defendant's income into account. That individual charged with the cruelty of those animals, and who was most likely the person responsible for the care of those animals in the first place, would then have to pay the cost of their care. (644:8, IV & IV-b, Pg 6 Lines 14 - Pg 8 Line 23) On April 11th, Sen. Bradley also proposed an amendment to SB 569-FN which would allow for a person found not guilty, reimbursement of those funds. Unfortunately, the House Committee did not adopt that amendment.

Committee Amendment 2018-1709s: Eliminates the Cost of Care section of the bill, leaving that financial burden on humane societies and law-abiding taxpayers. Although NH has studied the Cost of Care law for over a decade, the House Amendment proposes a Cost of Care study committee to examine this further. It is highly unlikely that the committee will yield better results than those proposed in SB 569-FN. (437, Pg 6 Lines 34 - Pg 7 Line 32)

9. Discrimination Against People With A Mental Disorder

Animal hoarding is a complex and diagnosable mental disorder. Individuals with animal hoarding disorder have described feelings that they must have animals, and they're the only person that can help them. Animal hoarding disorder also involves an impairment of insight, potentially reaching a level of delusion in which the person does not realize their inability to provide basic standards of care, and if left unprevented, hoarding can lead to animal cruelty. For state law to consider animal hoarding unlawful would be discriminatory against those with a mental disorder. However, the law can consider animal cruelty illegal, which NH law currently does under our cruelty code (RSA 644:8).

SB 569-FN as passed by the Senate: Makes purposeful cruelties resulting in the severe injury or death of an animal a felony offense. (644:8 III-b, Pg 6, Lines 8-13) It would be up to the courts to appropriately conduct proceedings, and to determine if an individual's mental disorder led to such cruelties and whether or not that would impact sentencing.

SB 569-FN as passed by the Senate: Includes a cost of care law, (644:8, IV & IV-b, Pg 6 Lines 14 - Pg 8 Line 23) allowing humane societies to focus their funds and efforts on sheltering homeless animals (which could otherwise end up in possession of hoarders), as well as their public outreach programs, which includes working with those coping with hoarding disorder and preventing such situations from reaching the level of animal cruelty.

Committee Amendment 2018-1709h: Makes animal hoarding a misdemeanor for a first offense and a felony for the second offense, which is not only likely unconstitutional, but it also creates confusion within our current cruelty code; weakening the law overall. (644:8 III (g), Pg 6, Lines 20-29)

While animals are currently suffering from lack of fundamental care in the absence of commonsense oversight and weak regulations, the House Committee has turned away from the facts presented to them by law enforcement, veterinarians, prosecutors, town managers, humane societies, the Senate, and numerous residents who support the enhancement of animal cruelty prevention, and have caved to those with special interests who are placing greed over compassion, and making funds off the breeding and selling of animals.

Time is precious - but so aren't the innocent animals that are depending on us to protect them. Please sacrifice some of your time and call your House Representative(s) to prevent the Committee's Amendment from passing the Full House. This is the final battle for SB 569-FN, the time has come for resident's to unite and win this one for NH's animals.

DEADLINE - May 2nd 7am

1. Call Your Representatives

Find your representatives here.

Example 1: "Hello Representative [Rep. name], I am [your name] from [town], NH. You will soon vote on Animal Cruelty bill SB 569-FN. I'm reaching out to kindly ask that you vote no on the House Committee Amendment, then vote yes to support the bill without the amendment. Thank you."

Example 2: "Hello Representative (Rep. name), I am (your name) from (town), NH. You will soon vote on animal cruelty bill SB 569-FN. I'm reaching out to kindly ask that you vote no on the House Committee Amendment for animal welfare bill SB 569-FN, then vote yes to support the bill without the amendment. Gov. Sununu endorsed the bill as passed by the Senate, it has strong bi-partisan support and is supported by the NH Assoc. of Chiefs of Police. SB 569-FN without the House Committee Amendment is essential for animal cruelty prevention, which also extends to the safety of residents, as well as the responsible use of taxpayer funds. However, the House Committee Amendment not only completely guts the bill, but it also weakens current law. Please vote no on House Committee Amendment 2018-1709h and then vote yes to pass the bill without the amendment. Thank you."

2. Email The House of Representatives

It cannot be stressed enough how imperative calls to our legislators are for the success of SB 569-FN. However, after you call - following up with an email is beneficial.

Email Address:

Subject: Oppose Committee Amendment to SB 569-FN

Message: (Feel free to edit the above example as you wish)

Sign Off: Be sure to sign off with a 'Thank you', your name and town.

3. Share Far and Wide!

We can't change what we don't know - Please share this article with your family and friends before May 2nd.


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