The New Jersey Assembly could consider a bill as soon as Thursday, June 22, that allows for the seizure and permanent forfeiture of animals taken pursuant to an allegation –but without a conviction—of animal cruelty.
Assembly Bill 772 requires that an agency seizing animals provide within seven days of impoundment a “custodial care notice” that includes, among other items, an itemized account of the actual costs of care of the animal for those seven days, as well as an itemized account of the “projected reasonable costs” for caring for the animal for each 30-day period going forward until the case is resolved.
The AKC agrees that anyone found guilty of cruelty should be punished appropriately, including being responsible for the care of animals seized. AKC also appreciates that the account must be itemized, and supports the provision that allows the owner the opportunity to contest the costs in court. The bill also states the court may consider facts and circumstances including the defendant’s ability to pay.
The AKC is concerned that the measure does not require the court to consider whether the defendant is able to pay, and that costs are a lien against the animal until all payments have been made. Moreover, the bill requires that “notwithstanding a court order authorizing the defendant to resume care and control of the animal”, the agency holding the animal shall not release it until all payments have been made. If payments are not made in the time allotted by the court, then the agency assumes permanent ownership of the animal.
Even if it is later determined that the animals were wrongly seized, charges against the owner are dropped, or the owner is found not guilty of charges, the owner remains liable for the costs of boarding and care during the time the animals were under control of the state, and the animals will not be returned to the owner until all costs of care have been paid.
AKC believes the provisions of this proposal disproportionately harm disadvantaged dog owners who may lack the resources to board one or multiple pets for months on end during a trial, particularly while also mounting a legal defense. Such owners could be forced to give up their animals before a verdict is reached, even if the court finds them not guilty.
Further, the measure seems to assume the guilt of an individual before a conviction has been reached, and may legitimize frivolous accusations and harassment of breeders and pet owners by anti-breeder radicals.
What You Can Do:
All who reside or participate in events in New Jersey are encouraged to contact the Assembly and express your concerns with Assembly Bill 772. Visit the AKC Legislative Action Center and type your address in the “Find My Elected Officials” box to get the name and contact information for your State Assemblymember.
Read AKC’s article “Guilty Until Proven Innocent?” for talking points and more information on this issue.
AKC Government Relations will continue to closely monitor this bill and provide more information as it becomes available. For questions, please contact AKC GR at firstname.lastname@example.org.