Discussion: NH Bill Backed by HSUS

In New Hampshire, HSUS is promoting House Bill 624 which would require owners charged with cruelty to pay for their seized animals’ care while waiting for their day in court.  If the accused can’t afford to pay, they lose all rights to their animals, regardless of the outcome at trial. HB 624 would change the current law from requiring those convicted of cruelty to pay court costs to those accused. So much for presumed innocent, I guess.

The bill reportedly has support from the state’s animal shelters, which often house the seized animals and determine the fees associated with their care.  The officers citing the owners for cruelty are typically closely affiliated with the shelters.  The cruelty citations, seizure, cost determination and forfeiture would potentially all be handled by a very small, tightly knit group of individuals.  All without the accused ever receiving the benefit of a trial.

HB 624 is scheduled to come before the House Environment and Agriculture Committee on Friday.

Anyone see any possible up side to this bill?  Nothing jumps out at me.

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38 Comments

  1. Unfortunately, the HSUS is trying the same here in Maryland:

    Here in MD it is HB362/SB393
    http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2015RS/bills/hb/hb0362F.pdf
    http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2015RS/bills/sb/sb0393F.pdf

    Reply
  2. already passed in uber liberal CA.. guilty guilty guilty unless you beat the rap.. and you never do

    Reply
  3. bealsie2

     /  February 10, 2015

    And in NY it is A01107/S00445A

    http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&bn=A01107&term=2015&Summary=Y&Actions=Y&Votes=Y&Memo=Y&Text=Y

    http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&bn=S00445&term=2015&Summary=Y&Actions=Y&Votes=Y&Memo=Y&Text=Y

    New York actually already has an unconstitutional seizure bond law on the books – passed a couple of years ago. This is just an amendment to further tighten the screws. In NY, if you can’t come up with the bond you lose the animals and it is quite possible that you will never be charged. Not only that, but the “impounding organization”, which is almost always a private corporation, can use the offices of the district attorney, a public official, to to apply for the money. In direct contravention of both US and NY constitutions.

    Quite a few NY owners have lost animals in this way.

    Reply
  4. There isn’t a good answer on this one IMO. I can definitely see the downside from both sides. It’s a tough situation for sure — because animals aren’t used stereo equipment that can be stored in a closet while someone waits for their day in court.

    Last year our shelter took in 120 animals that were seized by animal control for a cruelty situation. We incurred a cost of more than $100,000 in the care of these animals (not even counting time) and held them for 3 months — and this doesn’t even count the liability that is potentially incurred when treating dozens of very sick animals that are owned by someone else.

    The animals were eventually signed over with no restitution. It can be very costly for shelters to care for animals in these situations and many are already operating on a shoe-string. In many ways, having owners pay for the boarding of the animals is not a lot different than them being forced to post bond to avoid being in jail. But I can certainly understand why people get anxious about the idea of government entities potentially profiting off of seized animals when many governments seize for not-so-legitimate reasons (not to mention breed-specific reasons).

    I get both sides to be sure….but from someone who runs a large shelter that has been on the paying side of this, I completely get why they’re doing it.

    Reply
    • I think it’s actually quite a bit different than posting bond. If you can’t post bail you have to wait in jail until your trial date, yes, but it does not change the outcome of the trial itself. Here, if you can’t pay you can’t win. The consequences for being found guilty vs. innocent at the same…you lose all of your pets. If you think a humane society or shelter has trouble with those big fees…how in the world would a lower or middle class family handle it?

      Reply
    • Some quick math shows that for your shelter to maintain 120 animals for an estimated 100 days at a cost of about $100,000 comes to $8.33 per animal per day. Goodness knows it does not cost an average animal owner $8 per day to feed an average dog, so I am assuming that all/most of the seized animals required some amount of medical care, including s/n before being made available for sale to the public. I’ll assume the owner of the animals you sheltered was negligent and would not have been paying for as much medical care as the dogs needed. The owner would not have been paying to s/n these animals either, though. So the shelter provided food and medical care, and probably some creature comforts, while the animals were in custody, then eventually paid to have them altered (that was not done while the animals belonged to the owner, right?).

      You say that staff time is not included in the cost of care, but I am assuming the shelter would have had the same staff complement during those “100 days” regardless of what dogs were on the premises – if it had not been seized dogs, it would have been other ones. Did the cost calculated by the shelter include “rent” for the amount of space these dogs took up while being maintained there, or is that also in the some-dog-would-have-been-in-those-kennels category? Or even if unoccupied, the kennel would be there anyway and be part of the shelter’s overhead.

      I am asking about costs because in many places, the shelter claims the “cost of care” is $15-20 per day. That is more than many commercial boarding kennels charge their clients. Granted, boarding businesses do not incur medical costs for the animals, but these are pretty much one-time costs for a shelter dealing with confiscated animals. I could see that a shelter’s costs might come to $15/day for the first week or so, including appropriate food and medical care the owner should have been providing. Your shelter cared for these dogs for a long period at an average daily cost that is half (or less) of what many shelters claim to incur.

      I have no quarrel with a shelter seeking reimbursement for the actual cost of food, supplies, and medical care provided for each animal in its custody. I do have a problem with shelters claiming all their overhead (staff and space) is attributable to the seized animals, and seeking compensation for a daily fee that is as much or more than a for-profit business charges its clients.

      From what I read, most dogs seized on Friday are ready for resale Monday or Tuesday if the owner chooses to, or is coerced into surrendering them. They are groomed, spayed or neutered (and probably given dentals while anesthetized for sterilization), given boosters of core vaccines, HW tested and started on preventive medication as appropriate, and, of course, fed during the weekend. Never mind what I think of putting the dog through all that over the weekend, but I’ll cheerfully grant that for any size dog, $15/day for the first 3-4 days is reasonable. But $15/day for weeks on end is not, except in the case of a dog that has an injury or illness requiring long-term treatment. For probably 100 of your shelter’s 120 seized dogs, even $8-9 per day for over three months is somewhat questionable to me, unless these were REALLY big dogs. And most shelters get some food donated, and some food and supplies at a deep discount, and some at the same retail price pet owners pay. Same for veterinary care. The boarding kennel gets volume discounts, but no donations of supplies and no financial support from the community at large.

      So where does the money go? How is the daily cost of caring for a confiscated dog figured? I am not critical of your shelter, just trying to understand. If a seized dog costs $15-20 day, then a stray or a we’re-moving-and-can’t-keep-it dog would cost the same. If a shelter has intake of 5000 dogs a year, what is the average stay, and how many dog-days are there over the course of a year? Does its annual report show that the shelter spent $15-$20 per day on EVERY dog that came in, for all of the days it was there? I think many shelters seek to force the owners of confiscated dogs to subsidize the overall operation of the facility, and the courts are complicit. Is that a false conclusion?

      Reply
      • I guess I’ll start by noting that I think it’s a sad day when people who are charged for animal cruelty are being given more of a benefit of the doubt than an animal shelter. Thanks for reminding me again why I almost never comment here any more.

        And yes, as one would expect, animals seized from a cruelty situation all needed medical attention, including giardia & parvo, khaleesi and a whole host of other issues. None were altered. We also had one litter of large-breed puppies that basically went through their early development in the shelter that involved extensive work in maintaining their socialization.

      • Catherine Samardza

         /  February 11, 2015

        Brent, while I understand your comments, and agree that shelters should be paid for sheltering abused animals, but the question some of us seem to have – regardless of what started this stream – is questionable impound procedures leading to those shelter fees. Especially where the enforcement agency is ALSO the impound agency. Owners caring for a chronically ill animal have no recourse in some states, except to leave their animal in care, racking up kennel fees while waiting for a court date, or to relinquish the animal and cut a deal – even those who believe they are innocent.

      • Catherine — I get that. As someone who owns bully breeds I get the concern about law enforcement agencies that might abuse power. On the flip side, as someone who works in an organization that has a municipal contract, I can see how shelters can often be caught in the middle and suffer significant financial burden with few ways to raise money to cover costs (usually there will be a gag order of sorts if the animals are part of a court hearing).

        I just always think it’s important to understand that almost any time we make laws to prevent the bad seeds from gaming the system, the same laws also impact good shelters that are trying to do right by the animals. I understand both sides of this, and I’m not sure there is a perfect solution, but I’d favor this bill in my state.

      • You make some good points, but surely the municipality, not the contracting humane shelter, should be required to cover these costs, since the governmental entity has brought the seizure action. It is a seizure (& often destruction) of private property without due process, pure & simple. These laws & proposed laws beg for a constitutional challenge — I can think of several good arguments I wish people would make. On the local level, the owners/rescuers are often poor (from caring for their animals) & are eligible for court-appointed counsel for their criminal charges. Maybe we could develop materials for those attorneys to make them aware of the other aspects of their cases.

      • Catherine Samardza

         /  February 11, 2015

        We’ve noticed that here, Marianna, that people who may be innocent of cruelty are the ones who can least afford high shelter fees, let alone attorney fees. And without a hearing, the Attorney General’s Office relies on the officer report – which may not represent all the facts in the case – to decide whether or not to move forward. This isn’t a simple problem, because paying for shelter care is so tied in to the impoundment process and the length of time a case may take to go to court.

      • Much of the problem could be solved if cases involving animals were somehow expedited through the court system. But it’s not uncommon for some cases to take more than a year to process….which is just too long.

      • Catherine Samardza

         /  February 12, 2015

        I agree Brett….part of the problem is government bureaucracy that refuses to see the urgency of dealing with living creatures, nor is willing to acknowledge that the system is flawed.

      • Tell me about it! I have case w. a truly innocent rescuer/transporter which will finally be heard in April (a full year since the seizure). We have been trying to get it heard for many months but DA controls calendar. Fortunately no fees (animals so healthy & well adjusted they were turned over to another rescue immediately & adopted). Client has been horribly jerked around & her life wrecked for a whole year. Her big mistake was in signing them over, for which she feels great guilt. She was told that was the only way to keep them safe.

      • Catherine Samardza

         /  February 12, 2015

        That’s typical of the strong-arm tactics here, as well. Owners or rescue pressured to sign over the animals. No shelter fees, but then no status to reclaim animals. Even if case is dismissed or the person is found “not guilty” – the animals are gone.

  5. Eric Johnson

     /  February 10, 2015

    This form of seizure has already been found to be unconstitutional! In the Louisville KC vs Metro Louisville case of about five years ago Judge Simpson laid out the arguments against pre-verdict seizure so clearly that the Metro government, backed by HSUS, didn’t even file an appeal to the 6th Circuit.They were afraid that they’d lose and the Simpson argument would hold over the entire Circuit. I don’t understand why this nonsense keeps rearing its head. In a jurisdiction where it exists, find a case and raise the issue using Judge Simpson’s decision from Louisville KC. It won’t be a precedent but the reasoning is unassailable.

    Reply
    • Found significant no. of cases involving Metro Louisville but not vs. Louisville KC. Can you post the cite, written opinion, any other reference? This could be important —

      Reply
      • Eric Johnson

         /  February 10, 2015

        The case is 3:07-CV-00230-CRS-JDM and is named Louisville Kennel Club, Inc et al v Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government. It was heard by Judge Charles Simpson in the Western District of Kentucky at Louisville. It’s in PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) which is pay wall. The first 50 pages are free however so it may be worth it to you.

      • Thanks so much– found it free on Google Scholar. What a wise, succinct, balanced opinion. Need to develop blog, position paper, etc. to inform people of this & other pertinent cases, don’t you agree?

  6. Catherine Samardza

     /  February 10, 2015

    Unfortunately, Delaware law is already written this way, and appeals to legislators and the Office of Animal Welfare (new to the scene, with a former HSUS state director as the lead) have so far fallen on deaf ears. In Delaware, the cruelty officers are employed by the sheltering agency, and the law spells out that the animal seized MUST stay at that shelter until the case is settled. Can you say conflict of interest? To be fair, OAW has just proposed legislation for a state enforcement agency to separate the officers from the shelter, but who knows if it will go through. And pet owners will still have to pay the shelter while the case drags out…… My research found a number of states that require or offer the owner a chance to request a hearing BEFORE charges are filed. And one that actually waives shelter fees if no cause of cruelty is found. NH pet owners and legislators should consider this carefully – because for an owner caring for a chronically ill animal, this can be a nightmare.

    Reply
  7. I am an atty. involved in fighting several of these cases (ProtectNCRescues.com). Such laws need to be fought very hard as they are clearly a violation of due process. The threat of such costs is used as a means of coercing rescuers to sign over the animals, whereupon they are promptly killed despite promises that “this is the only way to keep them safe”. How I wish there were a way to fight this on a broad scale — any ideas?

    Reply
  8. Anne Thomas

     /  February 11, 2015

    Prince George’s County, Maryland, requires that a bond of $150 be paid for a seized animal. The animal is then held until the Animal Control Board hearing (the owner is allowed to visit the animal five days each week while the animal is at the shelter). If the board rules in the owner’s favor (which they almost never do), the owner has to pay for the animal’s care; if the board rules against the owner, the owner doesn’t have to pay; I guess it’s some sort of consolation prize for nt getting your animal back.

    Reply
  9. Here’s the text of the bill: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2015/HB0624.html

    I can understand why shelters would be for it, I imagine its not cheap to hold these animals for the extended periods required for legal process (which is a whole nother problem). But it shouldn’t result in the owner loosing custody of the animal period…..

    Reply
  10. Sue

     /  February 22, 2015

    HSUS is getting this bill passed on it’s lies :( In NH, I have sent letters to House Committee Members stating the unconstitutionality of the bill (no due process and you are essentially “tried” before having a day in court) HSUS purports that towns and cities are “reneging” on their contracts to pay (and that’s our fault why?) shelters and rescues and these shelters and rescues can’t afford the costs. Well, I guess having puppies shipped in almost weekly from South doesn’t make them enough money lol
    This bill not only allows a bond to be set, the hearing for it is in a civil court and has to be heard within 10 days of “any person” or “entity” who has animals petitioning for same, long before a criminal trial will be heard. So double jeopardy. There is also no accounting required as to how money is spent – again, “any person” or “entity” in possession of the animals can withdraw amounts as “needed” The bond amount also has to be “redeposited” every 30 days until outcome of criminal trial and, if found innocent you don’t get your money back. IF (and that’s a big IF) there is any money left in Bond account, you get that back
    US District Court in Kentucky actually gave their opinion that this was unconstitutional and I am looking into other cases also. NH’s State Vet and a NH ACLU attorney opposed this bill at the hearing
    There was already 2 Governor’s Commission on Animals reports (2008 and 2009), the 2008 one which gave the suggestion that a separate fund (just for restitution) by set up (similar to the spay/neuter fund which gets a portion of the money from each town/city’s down licenses with funds from cases added (instead of going directly to shelter/rescue) and said the Governor’s office would with this “Commission” to investigate how to set up such funds. Guess that ball was dropped LOL
    Those of you where this bill has already passed need to contact your state’s ACLU local office and ask them for help in appealing this bill. It is definately a constitutional issue (which they love lol)
    Any of you who are in NH, please send letters to the Committee Members:
    http://nhdogs.org/legislation/legislative-committees/house-environment-agriculture-committee/

    Reply
  11. Sue

     /  February 22, 2015

    Also – to address the commenter above who said it’s a sad day when an animal abuser gets the benefit of the doubt, it’s an even sadder day when there are no laws protecting innocent owner from being wrongly charged. Rescue groups and shelters are known for making invalid seizures Did you know an law enforcement official can get a warrant to go and seize your animals based on an “anonymous tip”? Without even seeing the animals. Nowadays animal owners are the bad guys and every one of us is considered guilty by numerous groups
    On facebook, there are groups posting supporting stealing anyone’s dog that they think isn’t cared for well enough
    It’s time we all got together as pet owners, breeders, showers, farmers and fight these groups and their laws and get our rights back.

    Reply
  12. nhdogs

     /  March 3, 2015

    The NH Environment and Agriculture Committee voted 18-0 to recommend HB642 as Inexpedient to Legislate (killing it). Their recommendation will be voted on by the full House next week.

    Reply
    • Are more signatures needed to kill bill in full NH House or do they already get the message? If so, only NH voters? If more lobbying needed, please provide contact info. This is an all-too-rare example of legislative good sense on animal matters!

      Reply
      • nhdogs

         /  March 4, 2015

        Thanks for the offer. Usually the full House follows the committee recommendation, so it should be okay. Dog owners and breeders did a great job testifying as did members of the Farm Bureau. The NH-ACLU came in opposed to the bill and their attorney was very eloquent on the dangers of this bill including questioning its constitutionality.

      • Am so glad all bases are covered & that ACLU got involved. Is there a transcript or other record of that attorney’s remarks — did he provide a written statement to the committee? Am thinking this could be a sort of template for future efforts.

      • nhdogs

         /  March 4, 2015

        He provided written testimony and then did a follow-up letter. I don’t have a copy of either at the moment, but can obtain them. Much of it was New Hampshire specific – an indigent defendant would not be eligible for a court appointed attorney for the civil bonding trial. That may not be true in other states. He also mentioned the concern that statements made at the civil bonding trial could be used against the accused in the criminal trial.

        You can read our alerts and contact me through our web site nhdogs.org

      • Please gather those materials & I will contact you shortly — thank you so much. Of course no one wants to see real abusers get away with murder (literally or figuratively), but good owners/guardians/rescuers & their animals are being wrecked by these kinds of policies & procedures — & workshops are being carried out by certain groups on how to enact & implement them. People need to be educated about this.

      • Catherine Samardza

         /  March 4, 2015

        Wow! and good for them. OUR legislature passed it, but so far we can’t get anyone interested in protecting innocent pet owners by having a hearing before charging cruelty. And once relinquish or lose the animal for non-payment, the lawyers aren’t happy – even if you managed to get someone to take it on.

  13. nhdogs

     /  March 4, 2015

    Quick correction – it is HB 624 not 642.

    Reply
  14. If possible, please post the text of those documents here. If too lengthy, please send to me and I will upload them and share the links. I think they would interest many readers.

    Reply
    • nhdogs

       /  March 4, 2015

      It will be a week or so before I can get the ACLU’s letter and I would like to wait until the final vote by the House.

      Please remember every state is different and what works in New Hampshire may not work in other states. It depends on the text of the bill and what laws are already on the books. N.H. law already allows for those convicted of animal cruelty to have to pay for the boarding and care of the animals. N.H. shelters are private nonprofits and are not required to take in animals in cruelty cases and, in many cases, have contracts with local towns which cover the costs. Over the last five years, N.H.dog owners, through their licenses, have contributed between $2.7 million and $5 million to town budgets statewide which far outweighed the costs of the few cruelty cases which occurred in the same time period.

      Reply
      • Catherine Samardza

         /  March 4, 2015

        NHdogs – I think that says it all though – the law says that those CONVICTED of animal cruelty must pay, and the shelters are not required to take the animals. Some states allow the animals to be boarded at a vet rather than a shelter. But there are other places where the enforcement agency is the shelter agency, and you are at the mercy of laws written in such a way as to make an innocent owner and their pet(s) pay either way.

  15. The majority of states who have passed this bill have an “indigent” clause in it but it still does not address the constitutionality of the issue. As it was decided in Louisville case that it is unconstitutional, and the Constitution is for the whole United States, not just NH, these same arguments would apply to and can be used in every state.

    Reply

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