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CT Alert: HB 6690 Could Limit Rights of Dog Owners

(Friday, May 03, 2013)

House Bill 6690 is a legislative proposal in Connecticut that seeks to create special “animal advocates” in the state. These advocates, similar to court-appointed advocates for children (aka guardians ad litem), would represent the interests of animals in court cases separate from their owners. The American Kennel Club (AKC) is concerned with unintended consequences that may result from the legislation, including the possibility that individual ownership rights could be diminished in ways similar to states that have animal “guardianship” instead of animal “ownership”. The AKC urges Connecticut’s responsible dog owners to contact the members of the legislature and urge them to more closely study the issues brought forward by HB 6690, including the potential detrimental impact on animal ownership rights.

HB 6690 DETAILS: House Bill 6690 seeks to permit courts to order that a separate, independent volunteer be assigned to advocate for the interests of an animal in any court proceeding in which the welfare or custody of the animal is at issue. The bill also will:

  • Require the animal advocate to conduct an independent investigation of a case, permit the advocate to present pertinent information at a hearing, let the advocate to be cross-examined, and guide the advocate’s consideration of prior arrangements made for the animal.

  • Direct the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture to maintain a list of individuals with expertise in animal welfare or legal advocacy to serve as volunteer animal advocates. It specifies that the list may include, but will not be limited to, veterinarians, students and faculty members of law schools, attorneys and law firms.

AKC POSITION ON HB 6690: The American Kennel Club has no tolerance for animal cruelty, and supports full enforcement of Connecticut’s already strong cruelty and negligence laws, which not only punish but also deter violators. However, AKC is concerned that the creation of court-appointed animal advocates, as provided in HB 6690, will create legal controversies about who is responsible for an animal, and will ultimately impact the ability and rights of pet owners to freely choose the most appropriate course of care and treatment for their pets.

Based on the long-standing legal traditions of both the United States and the State of Connecticut, pets are considered the property of their owners while also benefitting from laws governing their care and treatment. Traditionally, animal owners have the sole rights and responsibilities over the care of their animals. However, under the provisions of HB 6690, individual owners would lose this prerogative by having to share those rights with courts and third parties. As a result, court-appointed advocates could use the courts to force a person to make decisions that they believe to not be in the best interest of their animal. Additionally, providing for advocates—which is usually done to protect the interests of minors or other people lacking legal capacity—may fundamentally impact the legal status of animals as property. The AKC supports reasonable and enforceable laws that protect the welfare and health of all dogs and do not restrict the rights of breeders and owners who meet their responsibilities. We believe that current law does not confuse the roles incumbent to animal owners and governments, and ultimately better protects animals and their owners than if HB 6690 were enacted and its unintended consequences were allowed to impact dog owners’ rights.

Click here to scroll down to a customizable sample letter you can use in opposing HB 6690.

ARGUMENTS: When the bill was considered by the Joint Judiciary Committee on Friday, April 5, many arguments were made in support of the legislation. Here are major substantive arguments, along with AKC’s responses:

  • Argument: HB 6690 will end animal suffering.
    AKC Response: Law enforcement officials, like police, will still be responsible for investigating suspected cases of animal cruelty and for making arrests. As proposed in HB 6690, “animal advocates” will not be law enforcement officers, but instead will only be empowered to represent an animal, independent of their owner, after a case has been initiated against a defendant. A better way to reach the goal of ending animal suffering is to provide law enforcement with the resources to enforce laws to the best of their ability.

  • Argument: Research has established, and even the FBI believes, that there are strong links between animal cruelty and even more violent behaviors, like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary.
    AKC Response: The American Kennel Club agrees that the unfortunate events that transpired in Newtown, Connecticut, last December are a national tragedy. In fact, AKC dogs were brought in to provide comfort to the Sandy Hook victims. However, the creation of animal advocates, as provided by HB 6690, could not help with identifying criminal or sociopathic behavior and deter violent behavior before it happens. Those already able to work in the Connecticut justice system, like judges, prosecutors, and social service personnel, are already empowered and are best able to address indications of problematic behavior.

  • Argument: Animals, like children, cannot advocate on their own behalf.
    AKC Response: That’s right, but there is an important difference between children and animals. Children are considered persons under the law, while animals are considered property. As legal persons, children can have legal representation to advocate for their interests in cases where their interests are different from their parents’ interests. As property in legal systems, animals are not subject to direct legal representation different from their owners. To separate the two is an infringement of an individual’s property rights. Furthermore, Connecticut law already provides means to protect animals, including court orders protecting animals.

  • Argument: Animal advocates could overcome a lack of animal control enforcement.
    AKC Response: Under HB 6690, animal advocates are not empowered to enforce the law. Duties to enforce the law are left up to law enforcement officers, not officials of the court system (which animal advocates would be).

  • Argument: Animals are feeling, caring beings that unfortunately cannot speak up for themselves when bad things happen to them.
    AKC Response: Of course the AKC believes that animals are special. However, any discussion about whether people should no longer be treated as legal owners of their animals but instead be considered their legal guardians, or whether animals should be afforded a nontraditional (i.e., non-property) classification under Connecticut law, should occur explicitly by the legislature. Such significant changes should not occur as a secondary consequence of HB 6690.

  • Argument: The creation of animal advocates by HB 6690 could be done at no cost to taxpayers.
    AKC Response: Perhaps if fiscal analysis is limited to a description of advocates as “volunteers”, it would be described as “no cost”. However, maintaining the list of advocates will require some hours to complete and maintain. Also, the potential for some impact on court dockets, either increasing the number of cases or increasing the length of time to resolve cases, will increase costs incurred by the state.

  • Argument: Current records show that most animal cruelty cases result in Accelerated Rehabilitation that allows a perpetrator to have no record.
    AKC Response: This is an issue of prosecution. Animal advocates would not be able to raise cases on their own and therefore would not be able to cure this concern. A better alternative may be to limit access to Accelerated Rehabilitation of certain criminal offenders.

  • Argument: Please join other enlightened states—such as our neighbor Rhode Island—and extend justice to those animals who give us so much and who expect nothing in return (except our compassion and protection).
    AKC Response: Rhode Island already has guardianship language in its animal ownership laws, while Connecticut is a pure property state. When used by legislatures to describe the relationship between people and animals, guardianship gives rise to a lack of complete ownership and legal representation. While Rhode Island’s laws may permit such advocates, Connecticut’s laws are not set up to create legal advocates for animals, which under the law are considered property. Again, any discussion about whether animals should be treated as something other than property under the law should occur explicitly by the legislature and not incidental to the merits of HB 6690.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: The AKC urges Connecticut’s responsible dog owners to contact their elected officials in the legislature and urge them to more closely study the issues brought forward by HB 6690, including the potential impact on ownership rights, prior to further consideration of the bill.

Click here for a sample letter you can customize and use when contacting legislators.

Connecticut residents, click here to find the contact information for your state representative and state senator.

NEXT STEPS: The American Kennel Club will continue to provide updates on HB 6690 as developments become available. For more information, contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at (919) 816-3720, or email doglaw@akc.org.

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