At its Wednesday, May 19, 2021, hearing, the Massachusetts General Court’s Joint Judiciary Committee will consider multiple dog-related bills. The American Kennel Club (AKC) supports five proposals and opposes four. AKC encourages all concerned Massachusetts residents to contact the members of the Joint Judiciary Committee to express support of H. 1656, H. 1824, S. 1111, H. 1563, and H. 1565; and to express opposition to H. 1669, H. 1670, S. 1099, and S. 1131.
The full agenda with links to bill text can be viewed here.
BILLS TO SUPPORT
These three identical bills mandate that the court prohibit any person convicted of animal cruelty from owning animals for a minimum of five years, in addition to other penalties allowed by law. However, for first-time offenders, the court would have wide discretion to waive this possession ban under certain circumstances. AKC abhors animal cruelty and supports the humane treatment of animals. Wider court discretion, as provided in these bills, may be appropriate in helping address cases that are the result of mental illness.
HB 1563 would establish a commission to study the use of service animals in the state, including the fraudulent misrepresentation of animals as service animals. Additionally, HB 1565 would penalize anyone who intentionally misrepresents their animal as a service animal and provide guidance to law officers on how to enforce the law. AKC strongly supports the rights of persons who require a dog to perform essential services to access as provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We strongly condemn characterizing dogs as service animals when they are not, or attempting to benefit from a dog’s service dog status when the individual using the dog is not a person with a disability.
BILLS TO OPPOSE
HB 1669 – CREATION OF A CRUELTY REGISTRY – OPPOSE
HB 1669 seeks to establish an animal abuser registry, which would publicly list Massachusetts residents who have been convicted of an animal abuse crime. Registration would remain in effect for five years, and those convicted of animal abuse would be required to pay $50 annually to be included. Those failing to fully comply with the registration requirements would be subject to prison terms up to five years and fines up to $5,000. All animal breeders in Massachusetts would be required to check the registry prior to transferring a pet and would be prohibited from transferring an animal to any person listed on the registry. Breeders failing to comply would be subject to fines of not less than $1,000 and imprisonment of up to five years.
AKC remains concerned about the creation and accurate maintenance of animal abuser registries. First, animal abuse registry requirements could easily be evaded. For example, convicted individuals could evade tracking by providing fake/altered names or false addresses; and animal sellers performing required checks under such circumstances could be fined through no fault of their own. Moreover, no evidence exists showing that registries deter or reduce the occurrence of animal cruelty offenses. AKC believes a better use of the Commonwealth’s resources would focus on and utilize enforcement activities that are actually proven effective at addressing animal cruelty.
HB 1670 – CHANGE LEGAL STATUS OF PETS – OPPOSE
HB 1670 would explicitly change the legal classification of pets from personal property to “companions”. This change would dramatically alter the current legal framework that actually protects pets and the public. Since its founding, America’s legal framework has regarded animals as property, which has resulted in a reliable system that protects animals and their owners. For instance, it allows the legislature to impose strict liability on an owner when a dangerous dog causes injury to another; to hold owners responsible for providing appropriate care, shelter, and nourishment for their animals; and to penalize individuals for theft of a dog. AKC is opposed to attempts by animal rights activists to change the legal status of pets. More details on the legal status of animals can be reviewed here.
SB 1099 – ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL TETHERING AND CONFINEMENT LAW – OPPOSE
SB 1099 would significantly amend current Massachusetts law that restricts how and when a person is permitted to tether or confine a dog. AKC agrees that no dog ought to be tethered with a pinch or choke collar (Sections 2 and 5). However, AKC is opposed to Sections 1, 4, and 6, because (1) a pen or secure enclosure would be required to provide at least 100 square feet per dog regardless of its size and (2) the proposed definition of “outside and unattended” would prohibit outdoor kennel use for longer than 5 hours or from 10PM to 6AM. To view how SB 1099 would amend current law, click here.
Dog owners bear a special responsibility to their canine companions to provide proper care and humane treatment at all times. AKC believes that dogs should never be tethered in a manner that could cause harm to them or be left in conditions where their health and safety are in danger. We oppose SB 1099 because a one-size-fits-all approach to dogs unacceptably fails to acknowledge different needs for different canine breeds. Dogs are equipped by nature to adapt to a wide variety of temperatures and conditions. Many working dogs, including search and rescue dogs, police K9s, guard dogs, military dogs, hunting dogs, and tracking dogs, are safely housed in outdoor kennels. Proper exposure to weather elements for these dogs is necessary to ensure their health in performing the functions for which they have been bred. Inserting arbitrary restrictions into statute could result in penalties absent any harm, or even discomfort, to the dog.
SB 1131 – ALLOWING NON-ECONOMIC DAMAGES – OPPOSE
SB 1131 would require a person responsible for the death of another’s cat or dog to pay the fair monetary value of the animal to the owner; reasonable afterlife expenses of the deceased animal; court costs and attorney’s fees; and “non-economic” damages for the loss of comfort, protection, companionship, and service of the deceased animal to its owner. The bill would cap non-economic damages at $30,000.
Our society and AKC hold dogs in very high esteem. Allowing non-economic damages may sound like a good idea and a simple reflection of the value people place on their pets. However, non-economic damages are traditionally only allowed in cases involving the close family of people who have died or who have been severely injured, not in cases involving injury to an animal. Moreover, allowing non-economic damages in cases involving injury to pets will likely have many unintended consequences, and in the long run may actually harm pets. For these reasons, AKC believes it is crucial that animals continue to enjoy the protections afforded by their traditional legal treatment. For more details on the negative consequences of this type of proposal, review AKC’s Issue Analysis: It’s All About the Dogs! Non-Economic Damages Claims Ultimately Harm General Animal Wellbeing.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Concerned Massachusetts residents are encouraged to contact the Joint Judiciary Committee to express support of H. 1656, H. 1824, S. 1111, H. 1563, and H. 1565; and opposition to H. 1669, H. 1670, S. 1099, and S. 1131. Submit your comments, addressed to Chairmen Eldridge and Day and members of the Joint Judiciary Committee, by email to Jacqueline.O.Manning@mahouse.gov.
Massachusetts residents are also encouraged to participate in the committee hearing, which is scheduled to take place from 10AM-2PM on Wednesday, May 19. Anyone wishing to speak at the hearing may sign up to testify before 5pm on Tuesday, May 18, by completing this form. The committee will provide further instructions directly to those wishing to participate.
AKC will attend the Joint Judiciary Committee hearing and provide additional information as necessary. For more information, contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at 919-816-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or the MassFed at email@example.com.