As the Executive Director of Monadnock Humane Society (MHS) I have a unique appreciation for New Hampshire’s animal cruelty and neglect laws, which ensure animals who are cruelly mistreated in our state can be rescued, and that the offender can be prosecuted appropriately. But I’ve also felt the devastating drawbacks of one facet of our law that has been left unaddressed: when animals are seized in cruelty cases, who should pay the cost of their care while the case is prosecuted?
Currently, the city or town in which the cruelty occurs is legally responsible to cover the cost of the care. The defendant can argue their financial capabilities during the civil trial and a judge will consider that in his/her decision. In a case where an owner can’t or won’t pay, the animals would be surrendered and able to find adoptive homes thereby ending the cost to care for them long-term. Think of this policy as a fee, not a penalty. If someone’s stray dog comes to MHS, an owner pays a reclaim fee to cover the costs to care for the dog for the time and care they received at MHS.
In cases where neglect is a result of a lack of economic resources, it is incredibly rare that any or all of the animals will be returned anyway because of the lack of resources to care for them. The owners in these cases have been charged with criminal animal cruelty and while we work to try to support low-income families, those without resources have a legal obligation to provide care or to relinquish their animals/ask for assistance before a situation reaches the level of cruelty.
Monadnock Humane Society has been involved in several neglect cases in the past 3 years and it has resulted in MHS housing neglected animals as evidence for months until the case can be resolved. We provide veterinary care, shelter, necessary medications, food, water and exercise – pulling from our staff and financial resources. As a non-profit, MHS recognizes the financial burden placed on towns and we work to offset upwards of 50% of the true costs to care for animals because we support law enforcement in pursuing cruelty charges when appropriate. Unfortunately, even though we provide this service to our local towns, we have seen situations in which the costs to care for the animals long-term posed a significant hindrance to a town’s ability to fully apply the animal cruelty law.
New Hampshire desperately needs a strong state law that will reliably result in agencies like ours, which receive no state or federal funding, to receive reimbursement for the costs to care for the animals before the outcome of a criminal case like this one. The fact is, this is not just a local problem: it is a problem for municipalities, animal shelters and taxpayers all over New Hampshire. In the past year, it is estimated that the total costs to towns and non-profit organizations to care for animals who were seized were over $700,000. If you take out the recent Wolfeboro case, the costs still reach almost $300,000, a staggering amount for taxpayers and non-profits to shoulder.
Legally, it is the New Hampshire taxpayer left with the bill and this policy is both unfair to our citizens and to the other animals who could benefit from our limited resources. The majority of states agree, and have a law to address the significant cost of animal care in cruelty cases. The most effective laws require defendants charged with animal cruelty based on probable cause of the evidence to pay a reasonable portion of the costs to care for their animals throughout the disposition of the case. Thankfully, Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) intends to introduce similar legislation in New Hampshire to shift the financial burden of caring for animals from town governments, animal shelters and taxpayers to the animals’ owner, along with other important animal protection measures.
The cost of care portion of Sen. Bradley’s proposed law would not expand law enforcement’s authority to seize animals, or change the definition or the scope of animal cruelty. The law is fair to the owner: any animal seizure must be based on evidence of illegal animal cruelty, and the owner can challenge the legality of the seizure and the reasonableness of the bond requested at the bond hearing. If the owner refuses or is unable to pay for the care of his or her animals, it is only appropriate that his/her animals have the opportunity to find a new home.
In states with cost of animal care laws, municipalities have seen a consistent increase in funds to care for animals and in cases where defendants did not pay, animal shelters were able to place the animals into homes quickly after the seizure freeing up space in the shelter and giving the animals a better life.
Cost of care legislation is a smart, sensible solution, which will allow non-profit organizations like Monadnock Humane Society to continue to do great work for animals, without exhausting our budget and turning away other animals in the process. I am grateful to Sen. Bradley for taking on this important legislation.
Executive Director, MHS