Bill responding to animal cruelty case gets House hearing
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire lawmakers still are trying to tighten the state’s animal cruelty laws in response to the seizure of dozens of Great Danes in Wolfeboro nearly two years ago.
Authorities seized 84 dogs from Christina Fay’s 14,000 square-foot mansion in June 2017. Fay argued she took care of the animals, which she compared to an art collection, but prosecutors said they were unhealthy and living in filth. Fay was later convicted of 17 animal cruelty charges and ordered to reimburse the Humane Society of the United States for the nearly $2 million it spent taking care of the dogs.
Had the Humane Society not stepped in, the town would’ve had to bear that cost, Sen. Jeb Bradley told the House Environment and Agriculture Committee. Bradley, a Republican from Wolfeboro, is the lead sponsor on a bill aimed at expediting the court process so communities aren’t on the hook for the cost of caring for animals for months. In the Wolfeboro case, the cost exceeded 10 percent of the entire town budget, he said.
“I would submit to any of you, if this happened in your town, you’d be sitting here, too, fighting for the taxpayers of your town because at some point in time, animal rescue organizations are not going to be able to continue to fund this cost of care,” he said.
The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously, would require an initial court hearing within 14 days of animals being seized. Further, a court could order those convicted of cruelty to pay a $2,000 bond per animal within 14 days or they would forfeit ownership. Current law already allows such bonds but without a deadline. The bill also changes the penalty for felony animal cruelty charges to specify that someone convicted of such a crime would be banned from owning animals for five years.
The bill is supported by rescue organizations, the New Hampshire Municipal Association, police chiefs, and the Governor’s Commission on the Humane Treatment of Animals. It also has the support of the state Department of Agriculture, though Commissioner Shawn Jasper said it doesn’t address a key problem: the reluctance of law enforcement to seize animals in the first place because they don’t want to be stuck with the bill. He described a recent case where inspectors from his office recommended all horses be removed from a rescue farm, but said state police initially resisted.
“Finally, I just put my foot down and said these people who are working for the department care very, very much about animals. I cannot in good conscience continue to send them in there and watch these animals further deteriorate,” he said.
″(Senate bill) 77 is a good piece of the puzzle, in my opinion,” he said. “However, we may not get to that conviction in these cases if we are unable to get the initial seizure of animals. I do support the bill, but I ask you not to forget the rest of the puzzle.”
Stacy Ober of the American Kennel Club opposed the bill. She asked lawmakers to add a provision prohibiting anyone caring for animals during such cases from spaying or neutering them, and a second provision saying courts must take into account the interests of any co-owners of the animals.
Former state Rep. Jay Phinizy of Ackworth, who raises hunting dogs, also spoke against the bill, saying it focuses on what is expedient for the state and communities, while abridging the rights of those accused. He also objected to the ban on owning animals, suggesting instead that those convicted of animal cruelty be sentenced to volunteer at animal shelters.
While the Wolfeboro case was the most expensive, animal cases in other communities also have resulted in significant costs, from $20,000 for Chihuahuas in Croydon to $500,000 for German Shepherds in Bristol.