CONCORD, N.H. — A bill aimed at preventing animal cruelty and sparing towns from spending a fortune on seized animals will protect both animals and taxpayers, supporters said Tuesday. Opponents, however, worry it would harm hobby breeders and violate defendants’ rights to due process.
Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley sponsored the bill after a breeder in his hometown of Wolfeboro was accused of keeping 84 Great Danes in filthy conditions last year.
The bill would redefine what constitutes a commercial breeder, broaden the circumstances in which someone could be convicted of felony animal cruelty and require unannounced inspections of pet stores, animal shelters, rescue shelters and commercial breeders every two years.
It also would relieve the financial burden on taxpayers when animals are seized in cruelty cases by setting up a hearing process in which a judge would determine the reasonable cost for caring for such animals within a few weeks of an arrest. If a defendant doesn’t pay, the animals can be adopted rather than being held as evidence.
“It’s not like a computer or drugs or anything else that might be seized that can just be stored in a box somewhere,” Bradley told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
In the Wolfeboro case, breeder Christina Fay was convicted in December of 10 animal cruelty charges, six months after the dogs were removed from her home. The Humane Society of America has spent roughly $800,000 caring for the animals, a cost that otherwise would’ve fallen to the town.
“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” said Wolfeboro Police Chief Dean Rondeau. “It just isn’t working, and it’s awfully expensive.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire opposed the cost provision, saying it would allow animals to be forfeited in a civil hearings process while the criminal case was ongoing without any finding that animal cruelty had occurred. Gilles Bissonnette, the organization’s legal director, noted that lawmakers rejected a bill that would’ve created a similar system in 2015.
Under current law, the Department of Agriculture only licenses businesses that sell 10 or more litters of puppies or 50 puppies in one year. Vermont defines commercial breeders as those that sell three litters per year, while Maine licenses any business with five breeding female dogs.
The proposed legislation would mirror Maine’s law, and would not apply to someone with five or more unspayed female dogs that are not used for breeding purposes.
Shawn Jasper, the agriculture department’s commissioner, said he believes five is too low, but also urged lawmakers instead to consider a threshold based on total number of animals, regardless of breeding females.
“Someone could have four breeding females and continue to increase that number and get to that 84 and still not meet the definition,” he said. “What we should be caring about is how many animals, how many dogs, cats, ferrets, does a person have.”
Joan Eversole, who breeds and shows Dalmatians, opposed the bill, saying she could exceed the threshold of five breeding female dogs in one litter. She said she agrees with some parts of the bill but overall feels it unfairly targets hobby breeders.
“What justice is there when people can have their animals taken for not necessarily a good reason?”