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Monday, March 30, 2015

Connecticut House Bill 6187, which will be considered by the Connecticut Joint Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, April 1, seeks to permit courts to order that a separate, independent advocate be assigned to represent the interests of an animal in a criminal proceeding in which the welfare or custody of the animal is at issue.  The American Kennel Club (AKC) has concerns regarding the legal pragmatism of HB 6187.  These include the potential for legal confusion about who will be ultimately responsible for making decisions impacting animals if an advocate participates in a case, and providing advocates akin to guardians ad litem that are traditionally used to protect the interests of minors and other people lacking legal capacity.  All concerned dog owners in Connecticut are encouraged to contact the members of the Joint Judiciary Committee and express their concerns. 

If enacted as currently written, HB 6187 would:

  • Give courts the power to order, or the legal counsel for any party to request, that a separate advocate be appointed to represent the interests of the animal.   

 

  • If requested, the court will be required to appoint an advocate from a list of individuals required to be maintained by the Agriculture Commissioner (including but not limited to students and faculty of law schools, attorneys and veterinarians). 
     
  • Mandate that the animal advocate conduct an independent investigation of the case, permit the advocate to present pertinent information at a hearing, allows the advocate to be subject to cross-examination, and guide the advocate’s consideration of prior arrangements made for the animal. 

AKC’s POSITION ON HB 6187:

The AKC abhors any type of negligence or cruelty to animals and supports full enforcement of existing negligence and cruelty laws.  However, AKC is concerned that the creation of court-appointed animal advocates as provided in HB 6187 will result in legal controversies about who is responsible for an animal, and 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 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 6187, individual owners could lose these ownership rights over their animals by having to give up those rights to third parties.  As a result, appointees 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, such advocates are usually reserved to protect the interests of minors or other people lacking legal capacity.  Animals do not fall into those categories. 

Neighboring Rhode Island already has guardianship language in its animal ownership laws, while Connecticut is a pure property law 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.  Any discussion about whether animals should be treated as something other than property under Connecticut law should occur explicitly by the legislature and not incidental to the merits of HB 6187. 

The American Kennel Club believes that not only does Connecticut’s current law protect animals and their owners well, but also that it does not confuse the roles incumbent to animal owners.  Furthermore, the AKC believes this measure should not move forward without a clear statement of intent that the bill shall have no impact on the legal status of animals as property as provided in Sec. 22-350 of Connecticut’s General Statutes.     

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Connecticut dog owners concerned with the unintended and potentially far-reaching consequences of HB 6187 are urged to contact the members of the Joint Judiciary Committee and express their concerns with the bill.  The committee will consider the bill on Wednesday, April 1, at 10:30AM, in Room 2C of the Legislative Office Building, 300 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT 06106. For more information on the committee hearing, click here.   

Please address concerns to:

Sen. Eric D. Coleman and Rep. William Tong, Chairmen
Joint Committee on Judiciary
Room 2500, Legislative Office Building
Hartford, CT 06106
Phone: (860) 240-0530

Letters of concern may be emailed to judtestimony@cga.ct.gov

For more information, contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at (919) 816-3720, or email doglaw@akc.org

The American Kennel Club (AKC) has concerns regarding the legal pragmatism of HB 6187. These include the potential for legal confusion about who will be ultimately responsible for making decisions impacting animals if an advocate participates in a case, and providing advocates akin to guardians ad litem that are traditionally used to protect the interests of minors and other people lacking legal capacity.

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