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  • Writer's pictureGina Scrofano

The Death of NH's Animal Cruelty Bill: Part III, Animal Hoarding & Cost of Care

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.

Animal Hoarding

There are many misconceptions surrounding animal hoarding. One of the most common is that it's the result of someone obtaining numerous animals with good intentions, but gets in over their head. In actuality, animal hoarding is a complex mental disorder involving a person's need to accumulate animals, as well as impaired insight surrounding the necessary care of animals, and with their ability to provide that care. Such care can include sustenance, medical treatment, and sanitary shelter.

However, not all those with animal hoarding disorder actively cause cruelty. Animal protection organizations and NH humane societies have special outreach programs, and with that help, those coping with animal hoarding have owned animals without causing harm.

Having a mental disorder in itself cannot be illegal, as that would be discriminatory. However, without proper counsel, animal hoarding can lead to animal cruelty, and it is that cruelty that is unlawful.

NH's existing law already illegalizes animal cruelty (RSA 644:8). Therefore, illegalizing animal hoarding disorder, would not only likely be unconstitutional, but also ineffective.

If a mental disorder leads to a person committing a crime, it is the crime that is unlawful, not having the disorder. The fact that the disorder was the underlying issue is a matter to be addressed in court during the trial.

That may seem reactive as opposed to a proactive approach to this issue, however, laws that define clear and appropriate mandatory standards of care for animals, effective regulations, and appropriate penalties for cruelty, is what allows us to protect animals from imminently dangerous situations, whether caused by a mental disorder or not.

NH's animal cruelty laws are undoubtedly insufficient, but discrimination against people with a disorder is not the way to solve that problem. The Senate's version of SB 569-FN (which did not include an animal hoarding law), would've more efficiently strengthened our statutes by improving breeder, shelter, and pet store regulations, enhancing felony-level penalties for egregious cruelties, and adding a cost of care law which would help local shelters focus their funds on preventing cruelty, including those resulting from animal hoarding disorder.

Breeders Use Hoarding to Divert Off Breeder Cruelty Cases

Animal hoarding cases are distinguishable from breeder cruelty cases. However, groups such as the American Kennel Club (AKC) and their affiliate Dog Owners of the Granite State (DOGS), often create confusion by diverting attention from breeders that cause animal cruelty and labeling it as animal hoarding.

Multiple breeders with AKC certifications or who are members of DOGS testified in opposition to the Senate's version of SB 569-FN, focusing on animal hoarding as the problem as opposed to NH's current inefficient breeder regulations.

Some of those breeders asserted that the Wolfeboro Great Dane case was not a breeder cruelty case, but a hoarding case. That shortsighted opinion was also expressed by the NH Vet Medical Assoc., who testified to the Senate on February 6th that, "The case in Wolfeboro of the 84+ Great Danes was a case of animal hoarding." However, the trial testimony does not support that claim for many reasons, one of them being that the Defendant was a registered breeder who was selling offspring. The Defendant's sale advertisements included her AKC certificated Great Danes for over $2,000 each, up until her arrest on June 16, 2017.

The act of breeding animals for the sale of their offspring does not fit the profile of animal hoarding disorder, which the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium states is partially defined as 'persistence in accumulating and controlling animals.' Those coping with animal hoarding disorder often describe an overwhelming difficulty in parting ways with their animals.

There was also no plea of insanity, nor a mental health evaluation completed for the Defendant, or any mention of a potential mental disorder by the Defense during the District Court trial, nor presented to the Superior Court jury.

The House Affirms Misconceptions and Ignores the Facts

Misconceptions apparently influenced the House members, as they illegalized animal hoarding in their version of SB 569-FN; proposing an ineffective law that discriminates against people with a mental disorder (Passed by the House, Pg 6, Lines 12-21).

The House cannot claim ignorance on this issue; rather the unwillingness to acknowledge the facts. Their hoarding section was opposed by the NH American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), law enforcement, as well as animal welfare organizations and local humane societies that have years of hands-on experience with this matter.

Additionally, Rep. Beth Richards (D-Concord) of the House Agriculture Committee specifically asked Straight Twist a question about animal hoarding during the hearing on April 11th. Straight Twist briefly explained that animal hoarding only becomes a matter of cruelty law when it rises to the level of animal cruelty. That information was backed by Chief Andrew Shagoury, President of the NH Assoc. of Chiefs of Police, who testified on the same day. "We don't care about how many animals someone has per se," Shagoury stated, "we care about how they're being treated, or how they're being cared for; whether they're being neglected or abused."

Furthermore, Straight Twist emailed additional details including links for multiple resources regarding animal hoarding disorder to Rep. Richards directly on April 13th and also left a voicemail providing the email subject title and date sent. A reply was not received, but statements later made against Straight Twist by her fellow Agriculture Committee members confirmed that the email was likely read and shared with them.

Too Little, Too Late - The House's Compromise on Hoarding

On May 14th, the House agreed to move the hoarding section of their version and placed it into the study commission section of the bill, which means the matter would be reviewed by a nominated group who would make legislative recommendations at a later date (1976h, Pg 6/7, Lines 19-31). This was the only some-what meaningful compromise made by the House. However, the fact that the committee chose to keep the hoarding section in the bill at all reflects their continued narrow-mindedness regarding the matter.

Cost of Care Law

When animal victims are lawfully seized as part of a cruelty case, they must be cared for while the case makes its way through the court system. There are three 'parties' that could potentially pay for that cost of care: 1. the town where the cruelty occurred, meaning taxpayer funds, 2. animal welfare organizations and local shelters, which also means residents' funds via donations, or 3. the person who commits the animal cruelty and who is most often the person responsible for the care of the animals in the first place.

Current NH law requires 1. and 2.; law-abiding taxpayer's, and animal welfare organizations and shelters that survive off donations. This adds up to hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions per cruelty case, draining towns and shelters of those much-needed resources.

The Senate's version of SB 569-FN would've solved that problem by appropriately shifting that financial responsibility from those in groups 1. and 2., to those in group 3; those who caused the cruelty to the animals. (Passed by the Senate, Pg 6/8, Lines 14-27)

Alleviating animal welfare organizations and local humane societies of that financial burden would allow them to focus on assisting low-income pet owners, sheltering homeless animals, and preventing animal hoarding and general animal cruelties. The costs of care law would additionally help prevent animals from living in shelters during cruelty cases for unnecessarily extended periods of time. However, the House committee of conference members were against it.

Rep. O'Connor (R-Derry), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, consistently pointed to an outdated document indicating that the ACLU opposed a similar law back in 2014. However, after further research and review of the new language within the Senate's SB 569-FN here in 2018, the organization confirmed they do not oppose it.

Although the ACLU specializes in protecting residents of their constitutional rights, the House Agriculture Committee asserted that requiring a person accused of animal cruelty pay the cost of care for the animals before a conviction was unconstitutional, which was also a stance of the AKC and DOGS.

However, experienced professionals in fields relative to cost of care testified in support of the law, such as Cordell Johnston from the NH Municipal Assoc., Margo Santoro, then Town Selectmen (Stoddard), town manager David Owen (Wolfeboro), and numerous NH chiefs of police.

Patricia Morris, who has been practicing NH animal law for ten years, testified to the fact that the cost of care law in the Senate's bill actually enhances the Defendant's due process.

Current law requires that the seizure of animal victims is based on probable cause, meaning necessary evidence to obtain a warrant from the court, or that the animals are in clear and imminent danger. The Senate's bill then required that the court determine that the seizure was lawful for a second time, based on a preponderance of the evidence, before even considering the matter of cost of care; an additional measure of due process that is not granted to the Defendant in current law.

The bill additionally required that the court ensure the cost of care amount is reasonable, that the Defendant's income is taken into consideration, and also allowed the Defendant to dispute the amount, or request appropriate changes while the trial was underway.

Furthermore, the bill sponsor, Senator Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) offered an amendment to the House Agriculture Committee, that would allow the court to refund the Defendant of the cost of care they paid if they were found not guilty of the crime.

Unfortunately, the House continued to assert the cost of care section of SB 569-FN was unconstitutional. The House Agriculture Committee's stance was not only seemingly ill-advised, but hypocritical considering their strong support of the discriminatory animal hoarding law, prompting residents to submit letters to the editor.

The Senate Makes An Enormous Compromise

The cost of care law made up a significant portion of the bill as initially introduced, and would've clearly provided a much-needed level of protection for residents, shelters, and animals, while also protecting the rights of the accused. The cost of care law had been studied for several years, leading to the Senate's thoroughly considered language. However, as an enormous compromise, the Senate removed the cost of care section and agreed to place it into the study commission portion of the bill; meaning it would be further studied at a later date. (2027s, Pg 6/7, Lines 13-16)

Despite these compromises, the immensely crucial SB 569-FN ultimately did not make it through the last few meetings between the House and Senate. Additional insight as to why, can be read in the fourth of this five-part series, soon to follow.

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