At its upcoming hearing on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, from 1PM – 5PM, the Massachusetts Joint Judiciary Committee will consider multiple dog-related bills . The American Kennel Club (AKC) supports two, requests amendments to four, and opposes three of the proposals. The full agenda with links to bill text can be viewed here.
AKC encourages all concerned Massachusetts residents to contact the members of the Joint Judiciary Committee to express support of H.1481 and H.1480, concerns with H.1718/S.1142 and H. 1703/S.1076, and opposition to H.1557, S.1056, and S.1126.
JUDICIARY COMMITTEE BILLS TO SUPPORT
HB 1480 would establish a commission to study the use of service animals in the state, including the fraudulent misrepresentation of them. HB 1481 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.
JUDICIARY COMMITTEE BILLS TO OPPOSE
HB 1557 CRUELTY REGISTRY – OPPOSE
HB 1557 would establish an animal abuser registry, which would list all those who reside in Massachusetts and have been convicted of an animal abuse crime. Abuser 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 for failure to comply.
AKC remains concerned about the creation and accurate maintenance of animal abuser registries. Animal abuse registry requirements could easily be evaded. For example, convicted individuals could evade tracking by providing fake or altered names, or false addresses. Animal sellers performing required check could be fined through no fault of their own. 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 proven effective.
SB 1056 DOGS OUTSIDE AND UNATTENDED – OPPOSE
SB 1056 would significantly amend current law that restricts how and when you are 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; and (2) the proposed definition of “outside and unattended” would prohibit outdoor kennel use for longer than 5 hours or from 10pm to 6am.
AKC believes that dog owners bear a special responsibility to their canine companions to provide proper care and humane treatment at all times. We oppose SB 1099 because a one-size-fits-all approach to dogs fails to acknowledge different needs for different canine breeds and is unacceptable. Dogs are equipped by nature to adapt to a wide variety of temperatures and conditions. Many dog breeds that perform various working purposes, such as search and rescue, police K9, guarding property, military, hunting, and scent work are safely housed in outdoor kennels. Proper exposure to weather elements for these breeds 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 1126 PROMOTING PET SAFETY – OPPOSE
SB 1126 would hold a person responsible for the death of another’s cat or dog to pay fair monetary value to the owner including, but not limited to, damages for the loss of comfort, protection, companionship, other special damages, services of the deceased animal to its owner; reasonable afterlife expenses of the deceased animal; court costs and attorney’s fees; and other reasonable damages. These non-economic damages would be capped at $30,000.
Our society and AKC holds dogs in very high esteem. Allowing these types of damages may sound like a good idea and a simple reflection of the value people place on their pets. However, doing so will likely have many unintended consequences, and in the long run may actually harm pets. For this reason, AKC believes it is crucial that owners continue to enjoy the protections afforded by the traditional legal treatment of animals as property. 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.
JUDICIARY COMMITTEE BILLS TO AMEND
Four bills would mandate that the court prohibit any person convicted of animal cruelty from owning animals, in addition to other penalties allowed by law. For a first-time offender, 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. Acts of animal cruelty are not always intentional and could be the result of mental illness. Wider court discretion would be appropriate in such cases.
For legal consistency, AKC believes the word “custody” ought to be reserved for children and not animals and therefore, all bills should be amended to insert the word “possession” instead. Additionally, both HB 1718 and SB 1142 would establish a taskforce to complete a systematic review of the laws pertaining to animal cruelty and protection. Including a licensed social worker and member of the judiciary on the taskforce is advisable to provide guidance in relation to cases of animal cruelty due to mental illness.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Concerned Massachusetts residents are encouraged to contact the Joint Judiciary Committee to express support of H. 1480 and H. 1481 and opposition to H. 1557, S. 1056, and S. 1126. Submit your comments, addressed to Chairmen Eldridge and Day, and members of the Joint Judiciary Committee, by email to email@example.com.
Anyone wishing to speak virtually at the hearing may sign up before Monday, April 3, 2023 at 5pm to testify by completing this form. You will receive further instruction on how to participate directly from the committee. Those wishing to testify in person must sign up at 1PM in Room A-2, 24 Beacon Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02133.