Discussion: Cost of Care Laws

So-called “cost of care” legislation, pushed by get-rich-quick-via-one-eyed-shivering-puppies-commercials groups such as the ASCPA and HSUS, are sometimes referred to as “civil forfeiture” or “bonding” laws.  They are on the books in some form in most states with Georgia currently considering such a bill.  These laws basically require someone accused of animal cruelty to pay whatever amount the agency that seized their animals, usually the public shelter, tells a judge they have already and will in future spend on their care while awaiting trial.  This care is likely to include such things as housing, food and veterinary procedures.  If the accused is unable to pay, he forfeits his animals and the seizing agency/shelter is free to sell them.

Those in favor of this type of legislation frame it as “making animal abusers pay” which sounds – you know, good.  And if they can’t come up with the money, which could be $50,000 a year or more for a dozen dogs, well hey, we don’t want abusive jerkwads getting their animals back anyway so yay, right?  The ASPCA tries to justify requiring the presumed innocent owner to pay up front this way:

The imposition of a bond is not a punishment for committing a crime. It is a requirement to continue paying for the costs of caring for his or her animals when there is sufficient evidence of cruelty and the owner chooses to maintain ownership—costs which, in theory, the owner would be incurring already if he/she was taking proper care of his/her animals. We are all legally responsible for the care of our animals, and taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay the costs of such care for an owner who faces cruelty charges.

Sufficient evidence of cruelty is of course, open for interpretation. Since the accused has not yet had his day in court, the evidence may consist of an ACO telling a judge about pets with long toenails and/or fleas, accusations we’ve seen numerous times in cruelty cases.

As far as $50,000 a year (or whatever amount is requested by the seizing agency/shelter) being the amount of money an “owner would be incurring already if he/she was taking proper care of his/her animals”, I can anecdotally dispute that. I’ve never made $50,000 a year, I’ve always had a group of pets and they’ve all been properly cared for. I’m not saying they get rushed to the emergency clinic every time they crinkle a whisker but they get neutered, vaccinated, receive heartworm medication, etc. Sometimes their toenails get long, sometimes they get fleas. Maybe I’m just a terrible person.

In any case, the Georgia bill at least addresses the fact that some of those accused of animal cruelty are not going to be convicted:

Under the act, if the owner is found innocent, they would be reimbursed.

Gee, was keeping the money an option?

And for those owners who couldn’t produce a platinum card to pay the seizing agency/shelter? Well your animals were long ago sold. Sucks being you.  But you can cling to your innocence and celebrate the fact that you are now free of this tremendous financial burden of having family members who love you unconditionally and who get dirt on your sheets and stuff.  You’re welcome.

What other ways could a shelter pay for care of seized animals without depriving citizens of due process?  Are cost of care laws acceptable because many, or even most, of those accused of animal cruelty will eventually be found guilty?  How much money could you come up with on short notice to pay your local shelter to cage your animals for months while you await trial?

22 thoughts on “Discussion: Cost of Care Laws

  1. Well let’s see, I spend roughly $750 a year (sometimes more depending on emergency needs) on one cat and one dog so… carry the two… yes, 750 times 6 is definitely 50,000 *nods*

  2. see the Paul Upton case on FB and elsewhere . He runs a training center and raise GSD’s for police work protection and pets. he was raided and all of his dogs taken in November he is being charged 6 thousand dollars PER MONTH while his dogs languish in animal control “care”. Two bitches were pregnant and were “temperament tested” right before and after giving birth . 6 puppies have died .. one bitch has been killed because her treatment for a wound ( I suppose was inflicted in their care) was “too expensive”.. Did I mention the Uptons Training Center has been in business for 30 years with routine inspections and not ONE violation until now.. 6 THOUSAND dollars a month.. he goes to trial on May 9.. they of course have delayed the trial a few times.. I hope they do not get away with this. The videos of the ASPCA “evaluators” obtained by FOIA will give you nightmares

    1. Do not forget to mention that the prosecution in that case has petitioned the court (successfully) to put a “gag order” on the Uptons so that they cannot talk about this travesty of justice AND the prosecution is trying to stop the Uptons from using crowd sourcing to help them pay for the extortion fees set monthly to care for dogs that they no longer know if they even exist in the care of the agency that is supposed to be holding them! It is INSANE – what the courts are allowing to be done to this family and the business that they ran for so long!

  3. I’ve been reading your blog for many years. I stopped commenting a long time ago when the rescue fanatics got very upset with me for saying things then that you are saying now. I’ve been quiet and lurking, but I’ve never stopped reading and being a fan. Keep up the great work.

  4. Depending on the wording of the legislation, this has already been found in Federal Court to be unconstitutional. This was in Louisville KC v Metro Louisville (Civil Action #: 3:07-CV-230-S) . As this opinion is only binding on the West KY District it certainly can be cited by the attorneys in subsequent cases elsewhere. Despite the fact that HSUS wrote the law for the Metro Louisville gov’t, they never appealed the ruling. That would have made it binding on the whole 6th Appellant Circuit and attracted a good bit of interest.

      1. I suspect that the case is used more than we think. I send reference to it frequently. A few times the prosecution of the case just sort of dries up and fades away. I think that Judge Simpson’s ruling may be why the Georgia legislation is drawn as it is … refund when found innocent.

      2. Sadly, it usually ends up that the defendant’s money dries up before a court decision is made. Usually the defendant is overwhelmed with offers to “plea deal” just to keep him from proceeding. I do not believe that defense attorneys value the weight of what it means to successfully fight this kind of injustice – especially in civil court. There is very little money in it for them. It seems the only ones that benefit from these cases are the agencies that promote and execute these raids. There is NO ACCOUNTABILITY for their actions and a HUGE incentive to execute raids on properties that house animals of high value – regardless of the level of care that the animals are receiving. NO ACCOUNTABILITY!!! The accused end up in ruin (no money left to fight and no animals left to take home).

    1. Maryland Appeals also found this type of law unconstitutional. Since Legislative and Judicial functions are separated, this does not automatically repeal the law which is still active. This is like requiring a robbery suspect to pay for copies of the bank surveillance film and tire mark specialists. If he doesn’t pay, does he walk away free because the state can’t afford the investigation? It’s already allowable to add restitution to a sentence which means in a horrific case in which care of animals was costly and a conviction results, the owner can THEN pay up.

      1. I beg to differ. A judicial finding of unconstitutional does void that portion of the law in question. There may be other parts not covered by the ruling or the legislature may try again with a slightly different construction. However, that section covered by the ruling is dead within the appropriate jurisdiction.

        How have you been? We used to chat on the NAIA section of Yahoo.

  5. In Paul Upton’s case,it appears that Indiana law does not make provisions for the accused owner to be reimbursed for cost of care if he is found not guilty, or the charges are dropped. He can sue for reimbursement, however. Seems this is the case more often than not.
    I understand that a big confiscation can overwhelm animal control, but most are skilled about asking for donations to care for a big influx of animals and the irresponsible public is more than willing to shell out.
    The cost of care laws are tipping the balance in favor of the owner losing the pets without due process. One reform option would be to require animal control to JUSTIFY the amount requested, with itemized costs. The costs should be approved by a third party who is not affiliated with animal control. As it is now, animal control is apparently able to just pull a figure out of the air, and call it “cost of care”.

  6. @bbdane, you offer good suggestions. If the accused is not convicted, then animals (living “property”) should not have been relinquished permanently for lack of payment, nor should a “presumed innocent” have to pay up front. Some states require the accused to pay a bond for care (limited to a certain amount by law) and that bond is refunded if the accused is not convicted. Some (very wise) states have a hearing scheduled immediately to within 10 days of animal confiscation to determine probable cause. If a judge dismisses the case, then animals are returned to owner and there’s no lengthy boarding & care to pay for. Having these checks and balances in place forces law enforcement (i.e., animal control) to be very careful about collecting evidence and confiscating animals. It also forces judges to be more judicial about issuing search warrants for such cases. Some states to look at re: animal seizure laws: TX, VA, MN, SC, WV, CT, OH. It’s hard to believe in this day and age that illegal search and seizure, hiding behind loose animal welfare laws, still happens.

    1. In addition, didn’t Minnesota recently change their civil forfeiture laws across the board, not just for living property? Civil forfeiture as part of the “war on drugs” has been badly abused, and these abuses triggered MN’s re-evaluation.

  7. There was a recent Federal court decision in Colorado addressing this exact situation. Robbins filed a Section 1983 claim and was granted summary judgment. In that case the court said: “Ms. Robbins lost her dogs because she could not pay the City of Greeley $11,250 by 12:30 p.m. on August 17, 2012, even though their seizure on August 14, 2012 was made by an illegal traffic stop and Ms. Robbins was never found guilty of any unlawful treatment of those dogs. That application of the relevant Greeley Municipal Code provisions was a violation of the procedural Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It is so egregious an injustice as to shock the conscience of this Court and is thus also a violation of the Substantive Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

    Doesn’t bring her dogs back, but it is something.


  8. BEWARE!!! This could happen to you or ANYBODY who owns any animal that has any value to it!!! There have already been a number of precedents set that have proved that even an innocent person, who has been proven COMPLETELY INNOCENT of ALL charges of animal abuse, will still be REQUIRED to pay ALL COSTS of keeping their animals with any agency tasked with that job! To make matters worse, there is NO GUARENTEE that they will even be able to get their animals back!!! FOLKS – WAKE UP!!! THIS IS WRONG – on so many levels!!! PLEASE – SHARE THIS INFORMATION!!! Send this information to your state’s Attorney General, state representatives, state Governor, federal representatives and even the President!!! Maybe even your local chapter of the ACLU needs to become involved with this HUGE injustice and breech of Constitutional Rights!

  9. Rather than “raid and seize” in every case of any animal abuse – how about IMPOUNDING INPLACE! Authorities should NOT have the right to take all animals from any site until the court has made a decision and the accused is found guilty! The only exception might be animals that are suffering from an eminent threat of death due to abuse or neglect – and that evaluation should be made by a licensed veterinarian not affiliated with the raiding agency and not made by any animal advocate group (i.e.: A$PCA or H$U, to name a few) involved with the seizure. Allow the owner to continue to keep and care for his animals with the strict ruling that no animals shall leave the premises, without express written permission by the court, until the case has been tried and a verdict handed down. The accused would be charged with the cost of regular oversight and inspection by a qualified animal expert (a.k.a.: veterinarian) during the impoundment period. IF the owner refuses to cooperate THEN the authorities should have the right to seize the animals, if the courts (under the advisement of a licensed veterinarian – not an animal advocate group or ACO) determine the need to do so. It cannot be that complicated to enact laws that would contain this kind of speech.

    1. If the authorities were forced to use “impounding in place” rather than seizure and relocation for abuse cases, maybe then, it would be incentive for the prosecution to move quickly with the case! Impounding in place would also allow the owner to record and prepare a defense without the prosecution going in and destroying all the evidence – which is what happens to the accused when his property has been raided and animals seized! All the owner’s evidence for defense is ruined and all that is left is the authority’s claim of abuse and/or neglect. While the court case proceeds, the owner will be tasked to continue to care for his animals at his expense (unless he willingly gives them up to the court as part of a “deal”). This owner would also have the opportunity to make any improvements to his management system, with documentation from the overseers – if animal health and safety is an issue during the impoundment.

      Of course – there are zoning and code issues that may require the removal of some or all of the animals. Those violations do not necessarily constitute abuse or neglect and should be handled separately from charges of abuse or neglect.

  10. I DO rush my pets to the vet every time they crinkle a whisker (or sneeze or look at me the wrong way.) Jonas recently graduated to his second file at the vet because the first had gotten so thick and heavy. And I still think $50,000 is absolutely absurd.

    1. That would be an instance in which Judge Simpson ruling in the Louisville case really, really should be given to the attorneys. TN and KY are both in the 6th Appellant district so the Simpson ruling is something of a precedent for TN cases.

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