The Death of NH's Animal Cruelty Bill: Part V, Inspections
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 Truth Isn't Always As Advertised
One thing revealed from cruelty cases and investigations is that the truth is not always as it seems. Just as we cannot judge a book by its cover, we cannot judge those who sell or transfer animals solely by their internet photos or advertisements. Most pet stores, breeders, shelters, and rescues, also have sectioned off areas, rooms, or even entire properties that are not accessible by the public. Although animals displayed by pet sellers may seem healthy and appropriately cared for, there may be cruelty occurring behind closed doors.
Because residents have limited access, we must rely on the State to be our eyes and ears when it comes to cruelty prevention. That, in great part, is accomplished by inspections.
NH Dept of Agriculture (DOA) Weakened Inspection Law In 2017
Previous NH law required inspection before granting a license to those who breed, shelter, sell or transfer animals. The law also required annual unannounced inspections of those licensees.
Unfortunately, the DOA proposed the removal of those requirements as part of the state budget for FY 2018. Those changes were passed by the NH state legislature, without a specific public hearing on the matter, and were made effective July 1, 2017. Under the current law, there are no pre-inspection requirements, nor a mandate as to how frequently the DOA must inspect licensees.
Granted, NH Agriculture Rule 1708.01 requires a pre-licensing inspection, but the rule is written relatively unclear, and it also can be removed by the DOA without an act of Congress. Along with the vital need for consistency, it is important that a pre-licensing inspection is mandated by actual law.
NH Pet Vendor Inspections - Previous & Current Law
Licensed Pet Vendor:
A licensed pet store, breeder, shelter, rescue, etc.
Before 7/01/17 (RSA 437:8):
Required annual unannounced inspections of all pet vendors.
Before 7/01/17 (RSA 437:3):
Required pre-licensing inspections.
Current law (RSA 437:3, II):
Requires unannounced inspections, but does not specify frequency; leaving routine inspection requirements unclear.
Pre-licensing inspections are not required under the law.
The Senate Proposed Common-Sense, Conservative Inspection Requirements & Appropriations
To rectify those ill-advised changes made in 2017, the Senate's SB 569-FN restored the pre-inspection mandate for licensees and proposed biennial unannounced inspections during reasonable hours (2027s, Pg 2, Lines 22-27 & Pg 2/3, Lines 37-2).
The Senate also proposed a $200K appropriation to the DOA, for the hiring of two additional inspectors.
Breeders Oppose Inspections Despite Current Inconsistent & Inefficient Laws
Many American Kennel Club (AKC) affiliated breeders testified in opposition to the Senate's version of SB 569-FN. They expressed umbrage over the concept that those who breed out of their homes would be inspected, asserting it would violate their privacy.
However, individuals who choose to breed and sell sentient beings, especially to the point that they would qualify for licensure, should be required of sensible oversight to ensure they're complying with state law, which mostly mandates the basic standards of care for animals.
Local humane societies and shelters have been adhering to those same standards of care, as well as inspection requirements for years, regardless of the number of animals they transfer. That includes approximately 80 licensed fosters who operate out of their homes.
Meanwhile, current law doesn't even require breeders obtain a license unless selling at least 50 puppies/10 liters per year, an issue the Senate also aimed to solve with their commercial breeder definition. The current law has led to the licensure of approximately 8 NH breeders out of thousands, and now doesn't even specifically mandate routine inspection frequency of those few, nor the other approximate 259 licensed pet vendors in the state.
Unfortunately, the AKC and affiliate, Dog Owners of the Granite State, fought against the Senate's solutions to those problems which would've helped prevent the cruelty of the very animals they consistently express their love for.
The House Opposed Inspections & Proposed Unnecessary Studies
In alignment with the AKC, the House's version of the bill utterly omitted the Senate's pre-licensing and the biennial inspection requirements.
During the Committee of Conference, Rep. John O'Connor (Derry, Rockingham-Dist 06) and Rep. Peter Bixby (Dover, Strafford-Dist 17) expressed that a thorough study is required to determine a proper inspection process and the necessary appropriations to do it. They removed those specific requirements and placed them in the study commission portion of their version of the bill (1976h, Pg 6/7, Lines 19-31). A small committee would be established to review the matter and make legislative recommendations for 2019.
Rep. O'Connor also noted that the DOA had newly appointed commissioner Shawn Jasper in November, and the study would give him the opportunity to analyze the Department and provide feedback.
The above arguments from the House almost seem convincing until one considers the facts.
1. The House's Recommended Study Commission Was Biased
The House's proposed study commission for researching and discussing inspections and appropriations to fund them (as well as cost of care, and the House's animal hoarding law), would've been comprised mostly of members who were opposed to the Senate's version of SB 569-FN, outnumbering those who supported it by at least 5-3.*
Additionally, four members of that commission would've constituted a quorum. The House's proposal created a biased commission, making an honest study and balanced results nearly impossible (1976h, Pg 6, Lines 29-36).
2. The DOA Was Conducting Annual Inspections With Existing Funds
For years, and up until only six months before Sen. Bradley introduced SB 569-FN, the DOA was conducting annual inspections with existing funds. The Senate proposed biennial inspections, cutting the DOA's previous inspection frequency in half.
4. Senate's SB 569-FN Would Cause An Increase Of ~70 Inspections
According to the DOA, there were 267 licensed Pet Vendors in NH (only 5 were breeders at that time). Because the Senate's bill also aimed to reduce the current breeder license threshold of 50 puppies sold per year, the DOA estimated SB 569-FN would result in an increase of 70 licensed pet vendors [40 breeders/30 rescues] (SB 569-FN as passed by the Senate, Fiscal Note, After Pg 9). That equals an estimated increase of 70 routine inspections.
5. The $200K Appropriations Could Fund Those 70 Inspections & Then Some
Sen. Bradley noted that the national standard is that one inspector can do approximately 100 inspections per year. Until July 2017, the DOA was inspecting about 267 pet vendors annually. The $200K in appropriations, which the Senate proposed for the hiring of two additional DOA inspectors, would cover the estimated increase of pet vendors and more, as shown in the math below.
267 (Current Pet Vendors) + 70 (~Incr. of Pet Vendors) = ~340 Pet Vendors
340 (Pet Vendors) % 2 (Biennial Inspections) = 170 Inspections Per Year
2 (Inspectors) x 100 (Inspections) = Capability of 200 Inspections Per Year
The Final Moments of the Conference, and SB 569-FN
At the start of the final meeting on May 16th, Sen. Bradley offered their last amendment (2027s), which was a combination of some additional compromises from House Agriculture Committee's proposal (1976h), and what the Senate believed they couldn't change. He recommended they take time during lunch to consider it, but the House members refused to give it even that.
"I believe we strongly have compromised considerably on what we had presented yesterday,” said Rep. O'Connor. “Each one of us has a different issue within the bill, and I can not see us going any further on what you have presented to us here Senator."
It is unclear what those compromises were. As referenced within each part of this series, the House Agriculture Committee stripped anonymous reporting of cruelty from current law, added unenforceable definitions and exemptions for breeders, removed an essential cost of care law, proposed a discriminatory hoarding law, and refused to include a mere clarification on routine inspection frequency.
"As I see it, we’re trying [with the House's proposal] to protect the irresponsible, at the expense of animals that can’t defend themselves," Sen. Bradley stated. He later added, "My police chief told me emphatically that inspections can head off problems. We inspect nursing homes, we inspect restaurants ... inspections are not something that are unknown to various departments in the state of NH."
Both Rep. O'Connor and Rep. Bixby referred to a separate animal welfare study bill (HB 1385), which would establish a study over the summer, similar to the study commission they proposed in SB 569-FN. "Unless you’re willing to give on what we are requesting today, we will be bringing this forward in the study" ... "and we really sincerely hope that you will work with us," said Rep. Bixby.
But Sen. Bradley stood strong and rightfully so. "All we’re asking for is enforceable definitions and starting the inspection process with an appropriation. What you’re asking for is to delay, perhaps indefinitely, with some promise that we’ll get to this in the future. I’m sorry, given the state of animal cruelty, I find that unacceptable."
Their conversation became more heated as they continued. "I resent the implication that we do not care about the welfare of animals," shot Rep. Bixby. "I think that you’re continually harping on how we are protecting the irresponsible, it’s really inappropriate."
"You know what, I’m calling it as I see it," Sen. Bradley fired back. He then expressed that their continued claims that the $200K appropriation wasn't enough to at least re-start the routine inspection process were untenable. "That’s hiding behind an excuse that people are fabricating,” he said.
Sen. Fuller Clark agreed stating, "I find it a little bit unconscionable to say we’re gonna put off starting a program that would maybe be improved because we haven’t got that improved inspection program in front of us right now. There’s nothing to prevent the legislature from going forward and further refining over the next six months to enhance the inspection program, rather than just saying absolutely no at this particular junction, when we have all this evidence that this is something that we should be addressing now."
Unfortunately, her words were not enough to change the minds of the House Agriculture Committee members. Rep. O'Connor finished with a rather futile statement that his committee took into advisement a 2007 report from the Governor's Commission on the Humane Treatment of Animals when they created their version of the bill. However, not mentioned was that the same commission supported the Senate's version of the bill in January 2018, as did Governor Sununu when he endorsed it. There was no official support of the House Agriculture Committee's version of the bill from the Commission as a whole, nor the Governor.
Recognizing that there was nothing left that could be said, Sen. Bradley brought the final meeting to a close. "I think we have all made our statements, so I assume the result of this is an agreement to disagree," he said. "We’ll all go talk to the public about it, and we’ll see who does the best with that one." And with the bang of his gavel came the death of one of the most comprehensive, and most vital animal cruelty prevention bills in NH history.
The Animal Cruelty Continues
Less than two months after the animal cruelty bill died, 52 Labrador retrievers and one cat were rescued from an unlicensed NH breeder in Malborough. According to court documents, the dogs were suffering from lack of potable water, untreated or inappropriately treated ailments, diseases, and injuries; some caused by overexposure to their own excrement. How many more meetings it will take for our house representatives to support laws that help prevent such cruelty remains unknown. Meanwhile, the mounting evidence of its grave necessity seems never-ending.
In This Series:
* House Agriculture Committee's Recommended Study Commission
(a) Two House Reps. from House Agriculture Committee (All 16 House Agriculture Committee members voted to completely gut SB 569-FN, which would've also weakened current cruelty law.)
(b) One member of the Senate
(c) DOA Commissioner Shawn Jasper (Jasper's verbal testimony was against SB 569-FN)
(d) One member from DOGS (AKC affiliate; testified against the Senate's SB 569-FN)
(e) One member representing a NH animal shelter facility
(f) The attorney general
(g) One member of the NH VMA (testified against the Senate's SB 569-FN)