Last week, the Massachusetts Joint Judiciary Committee reported (i.e., took action) on three dog-related bills that received a public hearing on May 19, 2021. At that time, the American Kennel Club (AKC) issued an alert expressing support of five proposals and opposition to four.
COMMITTEE RE-WRITES HB 1824, FAVORABLY REPORTS IT OUT AS SB 2672 – AKC SUPPORTS
Under HB 1824, a court could 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. In such cases, wider court discretion would be appropriate.
The text of HB 1824 has been added to SB 2672, which was reported favorably by the committee. Additional provisions in SB 2672 seek to expand the authority of animal control officers (ACOs) to issue civil citations when domestic animal/livestock are not being provided adequate shelter or sanitation. Current law only authorizes action if domestic animals or livestock are seriously neglected warranting animal cruelty criminal charges. Civil fines collected would go to the Homeless Animal Prevention and Care Fund that provides money for ACO training and the state spay/neuter program.
COMMITTEE OPPOSES, SENDS TO STUDY SB 1099 and SB 1131
SB 1099 DOGS OUTSIDE AND UNATTENDED – AKC OPPOSED
SB 1099 would have significantly amended the current law that restricts how and when someone may 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 regardless of size; and (2) the proposed definition of “outside and unattended” would prohibit outdoor kennel use for longer than 5 hours or from 10pm to 6am.
Dog owners bear a special responsibility to their canine companions to provide proper care and humane treatment at all times. The AKC believes that dogs should never be tethered in a manner that could cause harm to them nor be left in conditions where health and safety are in danger. We opposed SB 1099 because a one size fits all approach to dogs fails to acknowledge different needs for different canine breeds.
SB 1131 PROMOTING PET SAFETY – AKC OPPOSED
SB 1131 would have held 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 have been 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, allowing non-economic damage awards in cases involving injury to pets will likely have many unintended consequences, including potentially impacting the legal treatment of animals as property, and in the long run may actually harm pets. For this reason, AKC believes it is crucial that animals continue to enjoy the protections afforded by their traditional legal treatment 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.
The AKC will monitor the Judiciary Committee for updates on remaining dog-related bills under consideration and provide additional information as necessary. For more information, contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at 919-816-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or the MassFed at email@example.com.