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New Hampshire bills that seek to allow members of the public to enter vehicles to rescue animals they suspect of being in danger have been scheduled for legislative committee consideration.  On Thursday, February 20, 2020, SB 608 will be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a public hearing, while HB 1542 will be decided by the House Judiciary Committee in executive session on March 4, 2020.  The American Kennel Club (AKC) strongly encourages those who reside in New Hampshire to contact the committees to express significant concerns with these bills.

Generally, under New Hampshire law, a person is guilty of criminal mischief who, having no right to do so nor any reasonable basis for belief of having such a right, purposely or recklessly damages property of another (RSA 634:2).  The state’s current animal cruelty law (RSA 644:8-aa) also prohibits confinement of an animal in a motor vehicle or other enclosed space in which the temperature is either so high or so low as to cause serious harm to the animal.

SB 608 would further amend the state’s animal cruelty law by providing any person the right, without legal consequences, to purposely take any necessary action upon a belief that assistance will not arrive in time.  It is unclear who would be responsible for any personal or pet injury upon breaking into a vehicle and if this authority could be used inappropriately.  Bill Sponsor Senator Tom Sherman has shared that he filed this legislation based on a letter explaining the fears of a constituent high school student fulfilling an advocacy writing project.

HB 1542 attempts to accomplish this same objective by inserting similar animal rescue authority for the public into a new section of New Hampshire law regarding the rescue of confined children and vulnerable adults.  In addition to public safety concerns and vague definitions, the AKC believes that adding dogs to the state’s “victim protection” laws is redundant and an inappropriate attempt to impact the legal status of animals in New Hampshire.

POINTS TO BE MADE: There are actions the public can take without interfering with the enforcement of current laws.  If there are businesses nearby, the public can ask business staff or security guards to make an announcement to find the car’s owner.  Many people are unaware of the danger of leaving pets in hot cars and will quickly return to their vehicle once they are alerted to the situation.  If the owner can’t be found, members of the public may call the local police or animal control and wait by the car for them to arrive.  Public service announcements regarding enforcement of current NH law could include instructions to take down the car’s make, model, and license plate number, and report those to law enforcement officials.