On Monday, March 14, the New Jersey Senate Environment and Energy Committee will consider two dog-related bills of serious concern to the American Kennel Club (AKC). Among many other provisions, Senate Bill 333 seeks to permit courts, upon conviction, to order the forfeiture of any animal owned by an animal cruelty offender and the transfer of forfeited animals to the “custody” of an animal shelter. Senate Bill 981, which would similarly require the forfeiture of animals, also seeks to impose cost of care requirements that may violate due process protections for dog owners. It is imperative that concerned New Jersey dog owners contact the committee members and urge them to vote against both S.333 and S.981 as introduced.
Click here to read AKC’s Due Process Protections for Dog Owners position statement.
Click here to view our new brief animated explainer video on “cost of care” legislation.
Click here to view talking points in AKC’s new one-page flyer on “cost of care” legislation.
S.333 – “MOOSE’S LAW”
This bill is a carryover from multiple previous legislative sessions. It seeks to prohibit persons convicted of criminal animal cruelty offenses from owning domestic companion animals and from working or volunteering at animal-related enterprises. AKC takes no position on that provision.
AKC is concerned, however, with section 2 of the bill, which allows a court to order (1) the forfeiture of any animal owned by an animal cruelty offender and (2) the transfer of such animal to the custody of an animal shelter. This section fails to protect the property interests of co-owners not in possession of a dog at the time of the offense. AKC believes S.333 must be amended to ensure the interests of co-owners (a common ownership relationship of competition purebred dogs) must take precedence over any other assignment of ownership or possession of a seized animal.
S.333 would also require the creation of an animal abuser registry. AKC believes that such a registry could easily be evaded by offenders. For example, an individual convicted of animal cruelty could easily evade tracking by providing prospective employers with fake or altered names, or by not providing updated addresses. We believe a better use of the state’s resources would be to instead focus on enforcement activities that are proven effective.
- Allowing animal care agencies with custody of a seized animal to file an action for reasonable costs of care. If costs are awarded, the person found liable then would have seven days after the court’s order to pay the agency the full amount for renewable 30-day periods until the owner voluntarily transfers ownership to the agency, ownership is immediately transferred to the agency due to failure to pay, the animal is euthanized, or the underlying criminal case concludes.
- Providing for any unexpended amounts paid to be returned to the person upon a change in a seized animal’s ownership.
- Mandating the immediate return of the seized animal if the person is eventually found not guilty and has made timely payments; and, except necessary veterinary costs, reimbursement for all reasonable costs of care.
- Permitting the agency to petition the court to order the animals’ forfeiture if the person is found guilty of underlying charges. In addition to the forfeiture, the court may prohibit the convicted person from having custody or control of any animals for a period of time it deems appropriate.
- Creating extensive definitions of “animal care agency”; “animal cruelty violation”, to include both civil and criminal violations; and “reasonable costs of care”.
CONCERNS AND TALKING POINTS
AKC shares concerns about the need to assure that local animal control agencies receive adequate public funding to achieve their public mandate. However, such funding mechanisms must not exist to the detriment of dog owners’ procedural and substantive due process rights. To that end, like S.333, S.981 must be amended to protect the interests of non-possessory co-owners. Additionally, S.981 must ensure that dog owners are not forced to forfeit ownership of their animals if they are unable to pay for mandated costs without regard of whether they are ultimately found not guilty. S.981 must be amended to ensure that no enforcement agency is motivated by financial incentives or financial self-interest in seeking forfeiture. The bill must explicitly limit costs to those based on a daily public—not private—care rate and directly related to the basic care of the animals.
Moreover, S.981 must also be amended to ensure that only medically necessary surgical procedures are permitted to be performed on a seized animal. Optional permanent alteration without the owner’s consent should not be permitted.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
AKC strongly encourages all New Jersey dog owners to contact the members of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and urge them to not allow either S.333 or S.981 to move forward unless and until both bills are amended to address the ownership and due process concerns noted above.
Senator Bob Smith
16 Stelton Road
Piscataway, NJ 08854
Ph: (732) 752-0770
Senator Linda Greenstein, Assistant Majority Leader
1249 South River Road-Suite 105
Cranbury, Nj 08512
Ph: (609) 395-9911
Senator Richard Codey
651 Old Mt Pleasant Avenue, Suite 195
Livingston, NJ 07039
Ph: (973) 535-5017
Senator Edward Durr
935 Kings Highway, Suite 400
West Deptford, NJ 08086
Ph: (856) 443-7391
Senator Jean Stanfield
8th Legislative District Office
668 Main Street
Lumberton, NJ 08048
AKC Government Relations will continue to provide updates on these bills and other New Jersey legislation as developments warrant. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
AKC GOVERNMENT RELATIONS ADVOCACY RESOURCES (www.akcgr.org)