The Death of NH's Animal Cruelty Bill: Part II, Felony-Level Cruelty
A Five-Part In-Depth Look Into the Final Three Meetings Leading to the Death of One of the Most Comprehensive Animal Welfare Bills in NH History
Following three meetings by the committee of conference, the attempts to find common ground within two versions of an essential animal cruelty bill ended with the Senate walking in one direction, the House in the other, and the bill laying dead on the table. This five-part series will provide a detailed look into the facts, the misconceptions, and the moments of victory and defeat, within the battle that led to the death of one of the most comprehensive animal welfare bills in NH history.
The Senate Enhances Penalties for Purposeful Acts Causing Death
Cruelty cases involving the death of animals are frighteningly becoming a common occurrence in NH. Despite that, charges filed against those who commit such cruelties are often misdemeanors due to limitations within current law, leading to unfit punishments.
The Senate's SB 569-FN would've enhanced our animal cruelty code so that if a purposeful act of cruelty, currently categorized as a misdemeanor (RSA 644:8 III), caused the severe injury or death of an animal, it would be a felony (2027s, Pg 5, Lines 30-37).
The House's version omitted that section of the bill (1976h).
The House Prevents Sound Legislation
Rep. Pearl (R-Loudon) believed that under the Senate's version a musher could be charged a felony for shooting their dog with a broken leg to end the dog's suffering. (Mushing is a sport or activity powered by dogs; sled dog racing, weight pulling, etc.)
Additionally, Rep. Bixby (D-Dover) believed that NH already has appropriate felony-level laws in place for egregious animal cruelties, such as torture, and that any changes to the current misdemeanor-level laws would require further study.
“I think that if we were to do this right, we would take a look at each act that is in section III of 644:8 and say okay, if this is a purposive act what are the implications," said Bixby. "That’s something that could be done in a study commission; it is not something that we can do in the next half hour or even over the next day.”
Unfortunately, what the House members fail to understand are the requirements of culpability and the prosecution aspects of NH's animal cruelty laws.
According to Rep. O'Connor (R-Derry), the House Environment and Agriculture Committee reviewed training documents used by the police force. However, the House made no known efforts to discuss this matter with NH law enforcement or state prosecutors; undeniably avoiding valuable insight.
Although Rep. Bixby may mean well, his belief that this issue needs further study stems from his own ignorance. Chief Dean Rondeau (Wolfeboro), Chief Richard Lee (Croydon), and President of NH Assoc. of Chiefs of Police, Chief Andrew Shagoury (Tuftonboro), all testified in favor of SB 569-FN with the enhanced felony-level penalties included. State prosecutors such as, Patricia Morris who has been practicing NH animal law for 10 years and teaches animal law at UNH School of Law, also testified in support of the Senate's version of the bill. These are the individuals who have been out there on the ground and in the courtroom battling horrendous animal cruelties and living by NH's animal cruelty code (RSA 644:8) every day. The experience that they have gained exceeds far beyond that which comes from reading training documents. The NH Assoc. of Chiefs of Police, Animal Control Officers Assoc. of NH, and NH prosecutors support the Senate's SB 569-FN, including the felony section, and they do so for a reason.
Current NH Felony-Level Animal Cruelty
"A person is guilty of a class B felony who purposely beats, cruelly whips, tortures, or mutilates any animal" (RSA 644:8, III-a).
In that law, 'purposely' refers to the person's intent to cause cruelty. Arguing in court that even horrific cruelties fit within those narrow limitations is not as easy as some may believe.
Cruelty Case - Example One
Claremont, NH 2017: 14 Cats were found stuffed inside a small, feces, blood, and urine filled cat carrier that was left outside. 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. Although some may consider that an act of 'torture,' successfully arguing that this case fit NH's current felony-level cruelty was unlikely, if not impossible. The court would first have to establish a definition of 'torture,' to be agreed upon by the Prosecution and the Defense. Then, the prosecution would've had to prove the Defendants' actions fit that definition of torture and that the actions were committed with the 'purpose' to cause harm. In this case, the Defendants asserted they moved to a friend's house who was allergic to cats, and that was their 'purpose' for keeping them outside. 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.).(1)
Cruelty Case - Example Two
Manchester, NH 2017: A man slit his cat's throat with a serrated knife. According to reports, the Defendant admitted to police that he killed the cat as a sacrifice to God; thus his 'purpose' to cause the cat harm was established. Although it is not illegal to kill your own animal in NH, in this particular case, the court ultimately considered the manner in which the cat was killed to be 'torture' or 'mutilation,' and the Defendant was found guilty of a class B felony. However, that was only after a court process requiring both the Prosecution and Defense to agree on the definitions of torture and mutilation, as well as the jury's agreement that the Defendant's actions fit one of those definitions.(2)
We would not have to accept unjust punishments for atrocious cruelties, nor would the court have to waste valuable time debating over the definition of torture if NH had appropriate laws in the first place.
Senate Offers Compromise
Enhancement of our cruelty code is clearly necessary. And although Rep. Pearl's hypothetical of prosecuting a musher with a felony for intending to end their dogs suffering is far-fetched, the Senate offered a compromise to address his concerns.
The Senate included an exclusion within the felony section for "accepted methods of euthanasia as determined by the American Veterinary Medical Assoc. to alleviate the suffering of an injured or ill animal" (2027s, Pg 5, Lines 34-37).
During that conversation, Rep. Pearl expressed his willingness to accept that compromise after brief research of the AVMA guidelines, which would've likely resulted in an agreement, as those guidelines include a gunshot to the head (3); his exact concern as expressed in his musher hypothetical.
However, Rep. O'Connor and Rep. Bixby expressed strong opposition to the Senate's version of the bill overall on the third day of the committee of conference, regardless of that conversation. It was at that point that Rep. Pearl's willingness to compromise disappeared, as did the chance of survival for SB 569-FN.
Part III of this in-depth look into the final three meetings leading to the death of SB 569-FN, soon to follow.
(1) 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
(2) State of NH v. George Abbott, Case No. 216-2017-CR-00663
(3) American Veterinary Medical Association, "Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals," 2013, https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Documents/euthanasia.pdf , Pg 45-46