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Friday, May 10, 2019

On Tuesday, May 14, 2019, the Joint Judiciary Committee will consider six dog-related bills at its upcoming hearing from 1pm – 5pm.  The American Kennel Club (AKC) supports with amendment one of the proposals, is concerned with two others, and opposes three more.  The AKC encourages all concerned Massachusetts residents to contact the members of the Joint Judiciary Committee to express support of S. 1037; concern with H.1445 and H.1435; and opposition to H. 1444, H. 1561 and S. 958.

JUDICIARY COMMITTEE BILL TO SUPPORT IF AMENDED

Senate Bill 1037 CONVICTED ANIMAL ABUSERS – SUPPORT IF AMENDED

This bill mandates that the court prohibit anyone convicted of animal cruelty from owning animals, in addition to other penalties allowed by law.  The AKC abhors animal cruelty and supports the humane treatment of animals.  Nevertheless, a court may absolutely deem a person guilty of cruelty incapable of proper animal care but could receive a plea of no contest.  The court would benefit from wider discretion in such cases.  Therefore, AKC recommends the court be authorized, but not mandated to prohibit animal ownership.

JUDICIARY COMMITTEE BILLS OF CONCERN

House Bill 1445 and House Bill 1435 CRUELTY REGISTRIES – CONCERNED

  1. 1445 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.  Similarly, H. 1435 would also prohibit all animal breeders from knowingly transferring a pet to any person convicted of animal cruelty.

The 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 checks could be fined through no fault of their own.  No evidence exists showing that registries deter or reduce the occurrence of animal cruelty offenses.  The AKC believes a better use of the Commonwealth’s resources would focus on and utilize enforcement activities that are proven effective.

JUDICIARY COMMITTEE BILLS TO OPPOSE

House Bill 1561 and Senate Bill 958 NONECONOMIC DAMAGES – OPPOSE

The AKC opposes these two identical bills, which would require courts to award new, noneconomic damages in addition to existing damages in cases involving the death or injury of a companion animal.  Currently, owners whose pets are negligently injured or killed can recover the economic value of a pet, the cost of any veterinarian bills resulting from an alleged injury, and in some instances, other reasonable and necessary costs arising out of the injury.  Long-standing legal principles limit the availability of noneconomic damages to only the close family of victims who have died or who have been severely injured.  Non-economic damages are typically not available in cases involving damage to personal property, including animals.  Legal scholars and animal experts agree that significant negative consequences would flow from allowing non-economic damages to be awarded in pet injury and death cases. The risk of increased legal liability will result in increased ownership costs to cover that liability for all parties in the animal care chain (which will ultimately be passed on to animal owners), while posing increased risks to public health. We believe the harmful unintended consequences of H.1561/S.958 for all owners will far outweigh the benefits for a few individuals if the bill is enacted. MassFed also OPPOSES H.1561/S.958.

For more information about this issue, read Issue Analysis: It’s About the Dogs! Non-Economic Damages Claims Ultimately Harm General Animal Wellbeing.

House Bill 1444 GUARDIANSHIP – OPPOSE

This bill would define “pets”, including dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals, as “companion animals”; and to change the legal classification of caregivers to “guardians”.  Despite existing animal cruelty laws already in effect in the Commonwealth, H. 1444 also seeks to impose punishments for guardians and any person who abuses a companion animal, with prison terms up to 2.5 years, fines up to $10,000, and placement on a “do not adopt to” list.

The American Kennel Club supports the use of the term “owner” rather than “guardian” because the term guardian may reduce the legal status and value of dogs as property, thereby limiting the rights and responsibility of owners to protect and appropriately care for their pets.  It could lead to frivolous and expensive litigation. The term guardian does nothing to promote more responsible treatment of dogs, but education does.  AKC has numerous public programs to ensure that all dogs receive the care, love, and attention they deserve.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Concerned Massachusetts residents are encouraged to contact the Chairs of the Joint Judiciary Committee to express support of S. 1037 if amended, and opposition to H. 1435, H. 1444, H. 1445, H. 1561 and S. 958.

Senate Judiciary Chairman James Eldridge
Phone: (617) 722-1120
Fax: (617) 722-1089
James.Eldridge@masenate.gov

House Judiciary Chairwoman Claire Cronin
Phone: (617) 722-2396
Fax: (617) 626-0285
Claire.Cronin@mahouse.gov

AKC Government Relations (AKC GR) will attend the Judiciary Committee hearing and provide additional information as developments warrant.

EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR ASSISTANCE DOGS APPROPRIATION
Last month, the House of Representatives adopted Rep. Ferguson’s budget amendment providing no less than $85,000 to the National Education for Assistance Dogs Services (NEADS) organization for the training of veteran therapy service dogs.  Now the budget bill, H. 3801, is being considered by the state Senate.  The AKC strongly supports this partnership with the Commonwealth and urges support for line item 1410-0010 in H.3801.

PLEASE CONTACT the Chairman of Senate Ways and Means, Senator Rodrigues and ask him to include funding for the NEADS veteran therapy service dog training in item 1410-0010.
Phone: (617) 722-1114
Fax: (617)-722-1498
Michael.Rodrigues@masenate.gov

For more information on these or other legislative issues in Massachusetts, contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at 919-816-3720 or doglaw@akc.org; or MassFed at info@massfeddogs.org.

 

 

 

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