Comment from Senator Brownsberger, June 3, 2019
Thank you, Ben for this great work.
I think that readers can see from your work that there are many overlapping bills being offered in the legislature in this session as in prior sessions.
Each of these bills requires careful vetting as to their effectiveness and that work needs to be done by the committees that the bills are referred to.
I am comfortable making the following general statements about the categories of bills below:
- I am generally supportive of Bills concerning regulation of animal facilities and importation. I am concerned about pet overpopulation and the conditions that pets experience in breeding facilities.
- I am usually happy to support Bills establishing studies and commissions, provided that people are actually ready to do the work.
- I am generally supportive of Bills regarding animal cruelty. I am particularly concerned about the abuse of animals as curiosities in circuses and other travelling shows. I am generally not supportive of bills that increase criminal penalties — these are usually just intended to make a statement and they are inconsistent with our efforts to reform criminal justice.
- I cannot generalize about Bills increasing litigation, penalties, and/or enforcement. I will note that I am not comfortable with bills creating a new kind of registry for animal abuse offenders.
- I am generally supportive of Acts regarding homeowners insurance and housing — insurance companies should not be able to discriminate against dog breeds
- I am a little uncomfortable with Bills regarding the use of funds, tax credits, and general fees — especially uncomfortable with new tax credits: Tax credits are very hard to use effectively.
Hi all. My name is Benjamin Green. As an intern in Senator Brownsberger’s office, I’ve compiled a report on the animal rights bills up for discussion this session. Below I’ve listed these bills, sorted into categories, along with research and a discussion of their possible implications.
Bills concerning regulation of animal facilities and importation
S.114, H 1774: An Act protecting the health and safety of puppies and kittens in cities and towns
This bill would require the Department of Agricultural Resources to establish reasonable rules and regulations for boarding and day care facilities for cats and dogs. It would update some language in kennel licensing laws and prohibit the sale of puppies and kittens under 8 weeks old. It requires the promulgation of rules and regulations for boarding facilities and breeders and prohibits roadside sales of animals.
Advocates say separating puppies from their mother and litter prior to 8 weeks can result in behavioral problems. 25 states currently have statutory or regulatory laws against these sales while 13 have laws that apply to any individual selling underage animals. There is a solid consensus among veterinarians that 7-8 weeks is the ideal time for a puppy to be adopted. However, The Humane Society says that 12 weeks is the earliest kittens should be separated from their litter, while Cats International says 10 weeks is the earliest.
The benefit of this bill is that it would hopefully prevent the sale of puppies before they are developmentally ready to leave their liter. However, it seems as though 8 weeks may still be too early for kittens to be separated. It is also unclear if the state has the personnel, budget, or time to implement these new rules on kennels, doggie daycare, and boarding facilities.
S.175, H.800: An Act banning the retail sale of cats and dogs in pet shops.
This bill prohibits commercial sales of puppies, kittens, and rabbits in pet shops unless they come from shelters or rescue organizations. Advocates say many pet shops obtain animals from substandard breeding facilities and puppy mills, leading to ill pets. Puppy mills have been shown to be inhumane and this bill seems to address the issue well, especially given the large number of rescue and shelter dogs that are never adopted. The only potential downside to the bill is that it could negatively affect pet shop owners’ businesses, but this seems relatively unlikely given the low price of rescue dogs.
S.502: An Act relative to privately operated animal shelters and rescue organizations
Currently, all individuals who operate a pet shop must obtain a license that must be renewed by the December 31st following the date of issuance. This bill would explicitly exclude privately operated animal shelter or rescue organizations from this requirement. The benefit of this bill is that it will cut costs and reduce bureaucratic oversight of these organizations. The downside is that it is unclear if this may reduce the quality of these facilities. It would be helpful to hear from experts on how this bill would affect health and safety standards of these facilities.
S.503: An Act requiring the supervision of animals at day care services
This bill would require any commercial boarding or training kennel used for day care services to ensure continuous supervision of all animals on the premises and be subject to inspection and license revocation. The downside to this bill is that it does not seem to really change or “do” much. While these facilities are not explicitly required to ensure continuous supervision right now, it seems as though, in order to run a successful day care service, they would have to supervise the dogs in their care. Additionally, this would be a difficult provision to enforce given the fact that when an individual comes by to inspect the location, they have no way of knowing how continuous the supervision has been prior to their arrival. The inspection and possible license revocation may, however, increase the quality of care at some sub-standard facilities.
S.504: An Act to prevent animal suffering by irresponsible breeding practices
This act requires inspections of kennels at least once a year to ensure safe, humane conditions. It also withdraws the ability for individual municipalities to freely determine the price and frequency of kennel license renewal and issuance. It mandates that renewal and issuance cannot cost less than $100 and that a kennel license cannot be valid for more than 1 year. It also mandates that no dog or cat be sold at less than 8 weeks of age.
Increasing the consistency and quality of kennel inspections seems to make sense to promote animal welfare. However, controlling the price and frequency of license issuance and renewal doesn’t seem to provide much benefit. Additionally, while veterinarians generally agree that 7-8 weeks is an ideal time for a puppy to be adopted, most say 10-12 weeks is ideal for cats. This part of the bill may therefore be beneficial for dogs but not helpful to the wellbeing of cats.
S.510: An Act protecting dogs at boarding kennels and daycare facilities
bill requires the promulgation of rules and regulations for boarding
kennels and daycare facilities for dogs, “including, but not limited to staff
qualifications and development, provider/dog ratios and interaction, group
sizes and supervision, minimum housing and care requirements, indoor and
outdoor physical facility requirements, utilities, dog handling, body language
interpretation, breed familiarity, emergency response training, insurance, and
penalties for violation.”
Similarly to H.D. 668 and H.812, the benefit of this bill is that it may increase the quality of care dogs receive at boarding kennels and daycare facilities. The only questions are the state’s capacity to implement these new regulations given the large number of such facilities and the possible burden placed on these facilities to demonstrate compliance to these regulations.
H.755: An Act relative to the importation of animals for rescue, shelter, foster, adoption or remote sale
This act requires that all organizations importing domestic animals into the commonwealth for rescue, adoption, foster care, transfer or remote sale apply for an import registration. It also requires that all professional animal transport organizations transporting domestic animals into the commonwealth apply for a carrier registration. The organizations seeking an import registration must have detailed pre-import animal processing plans that reference housing conditions, isolation procedures, vaccination procedures, health screenings, testing, or treatment that have taken place for each animal that is being imported. These plans must be reviewed and approved by the Department of Agricultural Resources prior to importation. The bill also requires that all dogs and cats imported into the commonwealth be accompanied by an animal identification and certificate of veterinary inspection. It also says that no dog or cat can be offered for sale, advertised, or transferred if it is below 8 weeks of age.
This bill may provide greater state control over the import of domestic animals. However, the increased red tape may place a significant burden on these organizations and encourage them to avoid Massachusetts generally. Additionally, requiring a plan be written and reviewed for each imported dog or cat may place a large burden on the Department of Agricultural Resources and the organizations importing animals. It also may not make sense to prevent the advertisement of an animal prior to 8 weeks of age. The bill also bans sale until 8 weeks, so advertisement beforehand would just enable the organization to be more prepared for sale or adoption. Additionally, most organizations recommend the minimum age a cat be between 10 and 12 weeks, so an 8 week minimum will not be as helpful for them as it will be for dogs.
H.812, H.3603: An Act protecting dogs at boarding kennels and daycare facilities
These bills require the promulgation of rules and regulations for boarding kennels and daycare facilities for dogs “including, but not limited to staff to dog ratios, group sizes and supervision, minimum housing and care requirements, indoor and outdoor physical facility requirements, dog handling, insurance, and penalties for violation.”
The benefit of these bills is that they may increase the quality of care dogs receive at boarding kennels and daycare facilities. The only questions are the state’s capacity to implement these new regulations given the large number of such facilities and the possible burden placed on these facilities to demonstrate compliance to these regulations.
H.1823: An Act relating to the remedy for the sale of sick puppies and kittens
Currently, the law guarantees refunds for diseased pets. However, it doesn’t provide reimbursement for veterinary bills incurred by the purchaser. This bill provides a few new options for individuals in this situation. If someone purchases a diseased pet, as determined by a veterinarian, they may return the animal to the seller for treatment at no cost, provided the animal will be returned after it is healthy. They also may return the animal for a refund of the purchase price, the sales tax paid, and any additional point of sales fees paid along with the reimbursement for veterinary fees not exceeding the original purchase price and sales tax. A third option provided is to receive a replacement animal plus reimbursement of veterinary fees up to 150% of purchase price plus taxes and fees. Finally, one may keep the animal and receive reimbursement for veterinary fees up to the original purchase price of the animal plus taxes and fees. If such an animal has died due to a condition or illness present prior to purchase the owner can receive compensation for veterinary bills up to the purchase price and may receive a full refund or a replacement animal. If the seller disagrees with the assessment by the veterinarian of the purchaser they may pay for a second veterinarian to inspect either the animal if it is still alive or the animal’s medical records if it is deceased. The bill excuses shelters, nonprofit organizations, animal control facilities from these provisions.
The benefit of this bill is that it protects pet-buyers from having to suffer financially if they are sold an animal with a disease or illness that is not disclosed (or known) by the seller. A downside to the bill may be its impact on sellers. Also, in this bill sellers can have the animal inspected by a veterinarian of their choice if they disagree with the first veterinarian’s determination that the animal was unfit for sale. While this provision may give sellers greater opportunity to combat faulty findings, it may also provide an out for sellers to choose biased vets who will side with them. There is also no guidance on what will occur if the two veterinarians are at odds and the purchaser and seller both disagree with the findings of the other’s veterinarian choice.
H.1757: An Act relative to puppy mills
This bill requires all commercial breeding facilities to receive licenses from the towns in which they are located. It says that when a breeder gives or sells a dog to a person they must attach a collar or harness with a tag marked with the name, address, and license number of the breeder. They must also give this person a certificate with the license number, a description of the dog, and the date of purchase. The new owner of the dog must then, within two weeks, either return the dog with the tag and certificate or the tag and the certificate signed by the clerk of the town or city where the dog is being kept certifying that the dog has been licensed in the name of the purchaser or some other person. The bill also states that the commissioner, an animal control officer, or an approved veterinarian may inspect the commercial breeder kennel if the commissioner believes the location is not being maintained properly or is not complying with the proper standard of care. The benefit of this bill is that it will provide more oversight on commercial breeder kennels. It may also dissuade people from purchasing dogs from breeders because of greater regulatory requirements. However, many commercial breeders are humane and care for their dogs well. This may encourage those looking to purchase purebred dogs to look out of state for them and lead to commercial breeders moving.
H.1773: An Act to protect pets in the Commonwealth
This bill requires that kennels and catteries, locations where a pack or collection of dogs or cats are being kept on a single premise, be inspected at least one time per year. If the person operating such a facility refuses to allow an inspection this is grounds for denial, suspension, or revocation of their license. The bill also changes the penalty for operating one of these facilities without a license from not more than $250 for any violation to not more than $250 for a first offence, not less than $500 to a second offense, and not more than $1500 for any subsequent offenses. The bill also requires that individuals not sell dogs or cats under 8 weeks old.
If a veterinarian determines that a puppy or kitten is unfit for sale after purchase due to an existing illness, parasitism, congenital or hereditary condition that the purchaser was not aware of at the time of purchase, this bill provides a number of options for such a purchaser. Firstly, they may return the animal to the seller for treatment by a veterinarian at no cost, provided their animal will be returned once healthy. They may also return the animal for a full refund of the purchase price or receive a replacement animal along with reimbursement for veterinary fees not exceeding the original purchase price, sales tax, and any additional point of sale fees paid. They can also keep the dog but receive reimbursement for veterinary fees up to the same level I mentioned above. However, if a seller disagrees with the veterinarian’s determination they may have the animal inspected by a veterinarian of their choice at their own expense.
The bill also requires that pet shops not purchase for resale, or sell generally, a dog or cat that originated from a breeder, person, firm, or corporations that is not in possession of a current USDA license, has had its license suspended in the last 5 years, was found to have committed a critical violation of the Animal Welfare Act in the past 3 years, or has been cited on the two most recent inspection reports prior to purchase to have committed no-access violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Pet shops must maintain records of compliance with this requirement for two years after the acquisition of an animal. Additionally, pet shops must post a clear sign stating the date and place of birth of each dog or cat, or if not known, the approximate age. The sign must also contain the sex, color markings, and identifying information of each animal. The bill also prohibits the road side sale of animals and requires that pet shops and rescue organizations implant dogs and cats with a microchip for identification with the purchaser’s information.
Requiring the inspection of kennel and cattery facilities at least once a year will provide more oversight of these facilities. Additionally, the bill provides a number of options for recourse when an individual purchases a sick pet. However, in this bill, in contrast to S.1204 and H.1823, purchasers will receive slightly less generous compensation for veterinary bills and there is no exemption for rescue organizations, animal shelters, or animal control facilities. This will probably have a harmful effect on the financial health of those organizations. Additionally, in this bill sellers can have the animal inspected by a veterinarian of their choice if they disagree with the first veterinarian’s determination that the animal was unfit for sale. While this provision may give sellers greater opportunity to combat faulty findings, it may also provide an out for sellers to choose biased vets who will side with them. There is also no guidance on what will occur if the two veterinarians are at odds and the purchaser and seller both disagree with the findings of the other’s veterinarian choice. Additionally, as I have stated before, while an 8-week minimum age for sale seems to be appropriate for dogs, it may still be too early for kittens. On roadside sales, some rescue organizations use large vehicles to transport their animals and sell such animals from their vans within parking lots. Finally, requiring microchip implantation and veterinary bill reimbursement may harm rescue organizations that already operate as non-profits. Also, the MSPCA (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal) opposes this bill, and believes that it is les strong than some other bills that attempt to solve the same issues. The Animal Rescue League of Boston also opposes this bill. They believe it was crafted by the pet shop industry and would impose undue regulations on animal rescue organizations. The greatest strength of this bill is that it is comprehensive and addresses a number of concerns in one, despite the weaknesses contained in its solutions.
Bills establishing studies and commissions
S.118: An Act relative to the licensure of dog trainers
This act establishes a Dog Trainer Board of Examiners, whose members are to be appointed by the Governor. The board will adopt a seal, prescribe rules pertaining to examination of applicants for licensure, examine and pass on qualifications of applicants, and maintain records. Individuals who receive a license must be at least 18, have a high school diploma or GED, complete at least 300 hours in dog training, and pass an examination administered or approved by the board. The board will also create continuing education credits and requirements.
The benefit of this bill is that it would create a standardized, state-mandated method of certification for dog trainers in the state. However, requiring a high school diploma or GED seems irrelevant to the ability for an individual to train a dog. Additionally, creating an examination administered or approved by the board seems as though it will cost the state and/or dog trainers a significant sum of money. Requiring continuing education also seems unnecessary. There are currently a number of independent dog trainer certification programs.
S.1820: An Act relative to pet fees
This bill would require the formation of a special commission to study pet fees in rental properties. The commission must examine the use of pet fees by landlords, what additional services are provided in exchange for them, the proportionality of pet fees to actual average pet damage to property, the extent pet fees encourage landlords to accept pets, the extent pet fees discourage pet ownership, and whether pet fees ought to be subject to greater regulation.
The benefit of this bill is that it would hopefully provide greater clarity on how pet fees act in the marketplace, and whether or not the government ought to be regulating them. The only downside is the potential financial cost of the commission.
H.725: An Act instructing the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to study the feasibility of establishing an animal shelter and dog park on state-owned property in the city of Quincy
This bill would require the Department of Conservation and Recreation to study the feasibility and value of establishing a new animal shelter and dog park in Quincy. The benefit of this bill is that it would provide greater clarity as to the value of establishing these new facilities. The drawback is that it seems as though the Quincy Animal Shelter, whom this bill will hopefully benefit, could easily write a report on its benefits themselves. Additionally, it seems as though the major drawback would be money, time, and used state-owned property. Because of these factors, requiring the department to conduct a report may be an unnecessary waste of resources.
H.757: An Act to study the health of the Blue Hills Forest and ecology to inform long-term reservation management
There is a hunt of deer annually in Blue Hills Forest due to concerns about deer overpopulation negatively affecting forest ecology. The hunt allows for bow hunting, which often injures but does not kill the animals, causing unnecessary pain. Proponents of this bill question whether estimates of the deer population in the forest are accurate and suggest the true number may be lower. They also question whether or not the deer population is causing the ill health of the forest. The bill supports a study and survey of the reservation to determine the causes of poor forest health. It would also implement a moratorium on the deer management and hunting program currently in place until the study is completed. The Department for Conservation and Restoration say that high deer populations cause damage to forests and that the 2013 and 2017 Deer Abundance Reports are clear that the Blue Hills Forest is overpopulated with deer.
The benefit of this bill is that it may provide closure on the exact cause(s) of the ill-health of Blue Hills Forest. However, it seems like the DCR has high quality science behind their deer hunt and further research may just waste money. Additionally, a moratorium on the deer management may cause further damage to the forest if the deer population is unable to be controlled for a significant period of time. The bow and arrow portion of the hunt does seem unnecessarily cruel, but this bill does not address that issue directly.
H.868: An Act establishing a commission on livestock shelter requirements
This bill would require the Commissioner of Agricultural Resources to convene a Commission on Livestock Shelter Requirements. This commission will develop standards for the appropriate sheltering of livestock from weather elements. This seems as though it could improve standards of living for livestock in Massachusetts. The only downside is the cost of such a commission. It is also unclear whether this is currently an issue that needs to be addressed within the state.
Bills regarding animal cruelty
S.169: An Act prohibiting inhumane feline declawing
This bill prohibits declawing and tendonectomies (the cutting or modifying of a cat’s tendons so his or her claws cannot be extended) of cats unless the procedure is undergone in order to improve the cat’s health due to some existing issue. When this occurs, the veterinarian performing the procedure must keep a record of the procedure for four years after last contact with the animal including information about the cat, the date and time of the procedure, the reason the procedure was performed, and any diagnosis, analysis, or test that supports the performance of this procedure. These records are subject to audit. Additionally, anyone who performs these procedures must report the number annually to the board of registration in veterinary medicine. Whoever violates this law will be subject to a maximum fine of $1,500 for a first offence and a maximum fine of $2,500 for any subsequent offence.
The benefit of this bill is that it will most likely end elective declawing in Massachusetts. This procedure is considered inhumane and banned in many countries. It can cause pain, infection, tissue necrosis, nerve damage, and increased biting. The downside of this bill is that many pet owners use these procedures to prevent their cat from injuring people with their claws. It can be valuable when cats are not responsive to training.
S.496, H.772: An Act relative to ivory and rhinoceros horn trafficking
The illegal ivory trade means the death and maiming of thousands of elephants a year. The US has a near-total ban on commercial ivory trade but it only applies to interstate commerce, not trade within a state. This bill applies the federal law within the state itself. It imposes heavy fines on traffickers. It establishes a conservation and education fund from penalties. It does not criminalize possession of ivory already owned or prohibit gifts.
The Boston Ivory market was ranked fourth in the country via a survey conducted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and seventh by a British and Kenyan Report. The sale of legally imported ivory is still allowed but the obligation is on the seller to make sure that the goods they are selling are not illegally imported. People can make new ivory look like old ivory which makes it hard to detect what is legal or illegal.
The benefit of this law is that it may decrease the volume of ivory sales within the state of Massachusetts by strengthening restrictions on ivory sales. However, it still allows for the sale of products with less than 200 grams of ivory, legally acquired antiques over 100 years old, and musical instruments (with less than 200 grams). A large issue with these exceptions is that the way many sellers are skirting current regulations is by making new ivory look old artificially. Additionally, the reason so much ivory trade occurs illegally under current law is because there is little enforcement and no system to determine the legality of ivory. It is questionable whether this bill will help the situation if the laws already on the books are not being enforced.
S.989, H.1822: An Act enhancing the issuance of citations for cruel conditions for animals
The current civil prohibition against cruel conditions is limited to dogs. This would extend protections to all domestic animals. It also bans individuals from chaining, confining, or tethering their dog outside and unattended for longer than 5 hours or between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Advocates say allowing animal control and law enforcement to use civil citations would help the situation. They say this bill will help resolve situations more quickly because right now they need to charge felony animal cruelty for all cases other than those involving dogs. This is a high bar and makes enforcement more difficult.
This bill seems like it would help animal control and law enforcement take greater action against animal cruelty by allowing civil citations to be used more widely. A possible downside to this bill is that it might de-incentivize law enforcement and animal control from pursuing cases of felony animal cruelty when they have an easier way to prosecute it by simply issuing civil citations. This could allow some violators to skirt by with a fine rather than a felony. Additionally, a dog may enjoy being outside for extended periods of time during the early fall, spring, or summer, particularly if the owner has a deck or outdoor furniture. They also may need to go outside after 10 p.m. Therefore, it does not make sense to outlaw this behavior. It would also be very hard to enforce this provision within private, fenced-in yards.
S.990: An Act relative to improving enforcement for tethering violations
This bill would make it illegal for people to chain, confine, or tether a dog outside and unattended for longer than 5 hours or from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. This includes fenced-in yards. However, as I stated earlier, a dog may enjoy being outside for extended periods of time during the early fall, spring, or summer, particularly if the owner has a deck or outdoor furniture. They also may need to go outside after 10 p.m.
S.2028, H.2934: An Act relative to the use of elephants, big cats, primates, and bears in traveling exhibits and shows
This bill bans the use of elephants, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, mountain lions, non-human primates, and bears in any traveling animal act.
Elephants are highly intelligent animals that exhibit mirror self-recognition, a sign of self-awareness seen in only the most cognitively advanced animal species. They have excellent memories and are capable of using tools. They exhibit signs of grief, learning, altruism, compassion, cooperation, and language. Lions have also shown signs of cognitive complexity and long-term memory.
Various former circus employees have testified that they have witnessed repeated abuse of animals in training. A former animal trainer with Ringling Brothers, Archele Hundley, alleged that she saw a handler ram a bullhook into an elephant’s ear for refusing to lie down. A former handler, Tom Rider, said in a statement, “In White Plains, when Pete did not perform her act properly, she was taken to the tent and laid down and five trainers beat her with bullhooks. After my three years working with elephants in the circus, I can tell you that they live in confinement and they are beaten all the time when they don’t perform properly.” Sometimes as a result of psychological stress these animals will hurt their handlers. There is precedence for this bill in other states and in certain municipalities within Massachusetts.
Most evidence on this issue points to the fact that many of the large animals used in circuses, like elephants and lions, are animals with well-developed cognitive capacities. It is easy to see why being kept in cages and being made to perform in front of large crowds might be distressing for these animals. Testimonies about abuse of circus animals have also been compelling. It seems like this bill would help put an end to this issue within the state of Massachusetts. Its downsides are that it may hurt the circus industry and decrease the variety of entertainment found within the state. The bill, additionally, does not ban the use of these animal for performances in permanent institutions provided the animal is not transported there for the purpose of the performance.
H.834: An Act relative to coyote bait trapping
This act prohibits individuals from using traps, nets, or snares for the purpose of taking or killing any bird or mammal within three hundred feet form a public roadway, pathway, or trail. It also prohibits any traps, nets, or snares from being maintained for longer than seven consecutive days. The benefit of this bill is that it may decrease the use of these devices for animal culture by increasing the difficulty hunters must undergo in order to legally use them. The downside is that when these devices are discovered it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to determine who they belong to.
H.1353: An Act banning glue based rodent traps
This bill would outlaw glue or adhesive-based traps for rodent control. Use of these traps will be punishable by a fine of no more than $50. Additionally, any person who attempts to poison rodents and leaves the poison in a location where it may cause injury to humans or domestic animals will be punished with a $25 fine. Advocates argue that glue and adhesive-based rodent traps are unnecessarily cruel to the animals. This bill may decrease the presence of these traps in the state. However, a $25 fine seems like it will do little to improve safety precautions around rodent poison.
Bills increasing litigation, penalties, and/or enforcement
S.507, H.773: An Act further regulating the enforcement of illegal hunting practices
Massachusetts has just 110 Environmental Police officers for the entire Commonwealth. This bill increases penalties for those hunting illegally i.e. using illegal weapons, using illegal hunting methods, killing animals outside of the legal hunting season, or hunting in a wildlife sanctuary. Advocates argue increased penalties will deter crime further. It will also bring MA into the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, a nationwide law enforcement network that would prevent wildlife violators from coming to MA to circumvent their loss of hunting privileges elsewhere. The only potential downside to this bill is the question of whether or not increasing penalties will result in less crime.
S.958, H.1561: An Act relative to the wrongful death or injury of animal companions
This act ensures that any person who leads to the death of a pet on purpose or due to negligence or recklessness will be financially responsible for both the economic and non-economic (loss of companionship etc.) costs of the animal’s death. Those who lead to the injury of a pet will likewise be responsible for both economic and non-economic damages. In both cases non-economic damages are capped at $25,000. It seems that this bill will help individuals whose pets have injured or died due to the actions of another person. The downside may be the possibility of individuals filing these suits looking for money without a significant case.
S.1027: An Act relative to protecting animals from cruelty
Currently, the law says that any individual between the ages of 14 and 18 who has committed an offense involving the infliction or threat of serious bodily harm may be charged as a juvenile. This bill would change the language of the law to include harm to animals. The upside is that it toughens the possible consequences for minors who have harmed or killed animals and clarifies the language of the law. Some might argue, however, that minors should not be charged for offenses regarding harm to animals, solely harm to humans.
S.1037: An Act relative to the ownership of pets by convicted animal abusers
This bill ensures that individuals convicted of animal cruelty will be prohibited from caring for animals for a period of time determined by the court. This bill makes sense. It seems illogical that individuals convicted of animal cruelty would be permitted to care for or own another animal immediately after their conviction. The only downside is that it may decrease the courts’ discretion in sentencing, but the period of time the individual is barred from pet ownership is fully up to the court
S.2158: An Act relative to protecting veterans with service dogs
This bill requires that the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development prepare and make available to businesses decals stating that service dogs are welcome and that misrepresentation of a service dog is a violation of state law. They also must make available brochures detailing permissible questions a business owner may ask to determine whether a dog is a service dog, acceptable answers, and guidelines defining unacceptable behavior. The bill also makes misrepresenting a pet dog as a service dog a civil infraction that is punishable by 30 hours of community service and a fine of no more than $500. This bill seems as though it will provide clarity to situations where pet owners misrepresent their pets as service animals. The only downside of it is the cost of enforcement and the creation and distribution of the decals and brochures.
H.1435: An Act relative to pet adoption safety
This bill says that no person may care for an animal once they have been convicted of an animal abuse crime and that no animal shelter, pet store, or breeder may knowingly give an animal to such a person. While it is clear that this bill is attempting to decrease pet ownership by convicted animal abusers, it provides no logistical means of doing so. Without a registry or required background check for pet stores, owners, and breeders to view or conduct, it seems as though this bill has little mechanism to prevent the sale of animals to these individuals.
H.1444: An Act changing the legal status of “pets” from personal property to “companion animals”
This bill requires that guardians of companion animals, meaning pets, have a duty to protect the health and safety of their animal. It says that any person who abuses their “companion animal” will have the animal seized and be punished by a period of imprisonment between 6 months and 2 ½ years and by a $2,500 fine. These abusers are not permitted to own another animal. A second offense will lead to imprisonment of between 1 and 2 ½, a $5000 fine, and placement on a “do not adopt to” list published publically. A third offense will lead to imprisonment for 2 ½ years and a $10,000 fine.
The benefit of this bill is that it is much stricter on animal abusers than the current law. However, the change in language seems to be a meaningless, purely semantic change. Additionally, mandatory minimum sentences are questionable policy. Many would argue that sentencing decisions should be left to the courts given the unique nature of each case. Additionally, leaving one’s animal outside or not properly caring for a pet can lead to this punishment. It is possible individuals who do this may, at a later time, be better suited to own a pet and should not be barred permanently from pet ownership.
H.1445: An Act relative to establishing an animal abuse registry
This bill would require the Department of Criminal Justice to establish and maintain a computerized registry of all persons convicted of an animal abuse crime. Those who are convicted in Massachusetts must register within ten days of their release from prison or their conviction date and must remain on the registry for five years after either their conviction date or release from prison (whichever date is most recent). Out-of-state offenders moving to the state must register with in ten days of moving. Failure to register, verify registration information, provide notice of a change of address, or provide accurate information will lead to imprisonment and/or fines. The registry will include name, address, description of offense, and a photograph. Individuals on the registry will pay $50 annually and may appeal the registration requirement to their district court. This registration will be kept confidential and used solely by animal shelters, pet stores, and animal breeders in the state in order to determine whether any individual attempting to adopt a pet is registered. Individuals on the registry may not adopt any pet.
The benefit of this bill is that it should ensure that animal abusers are not sold new pets within five years of their release from prison or conviction. The only questions are the enforcement of registration requirements, especially for individuals moving into the state who have committed their crime in another state.
H.1758: An Act relative to further increasing the fines for cruelty to animals, and establishing a fund dedicated to improvements for local animal shelters
This bill increases the maximum fine for first-time animal cruelty offenses from $5,000 to $5,500 and for subsequent offenses from $10,000 to $11,000. It says that money from these fines must be used solely to fund improvements to the local municipality’s animal shelter or, if the municipality has no animal shelter, in some way that “benefits local groups, nonprofit organizations, or public entities dedicated to the humane treatment of animals and/or the promotion of the adoption of shelter animals.” Increasing the maximum fines for this crime and directing the money towards organizations that aid animals seems to make sense. However, when it is up to the individual municipalities to determine where they will give this money it is important that they properly vet and research the organizations they are considering.
H.3258: An Act to promote safe dog ownership
This bill would require that when an individual negligently permits their pet, companion animal, or service animal to cause injury to any person or any person’s property, that individual be punished by a fine of no more than $2,500. This fine can also serve as evidence of liability when the injured party seeks compensation. However, the bill also says that this liability cannot be found if the injured party was trespassing, teasing, or abusing the dog.
The benefit of this bill is that it might increase the incentive for owners to prevent their dogs from causing injury to others and raise money for the state. However, given the potential for being found financially liable for damages that exists already, it is questionable whether or not this will make a difference in the behavior of dog owners. Additionally, proving negligence in each case might create some trouble for the state.
Bills regarding the use of funds, tax credits, and general fees
S.501: An Act to provide additional funding for animal welfare and safety programming.
This act ensures that money collected from fines due to animal cruelty is deposited in the Homeless Animal Prevention and Care Fund, rather than the general fund. It seems to make sense to direct money collected due to animal cruelty towards a fund that promotes their well-being. The only questions are the efficiency of this fund and the financial impact this will have on the general fund.
H.1815: An Act known as the companion animal protection act of Massachusetts
This act requires that no shelter or animal control officer deny an owner the right to reclaim their lost pet because of an inability to pay the fees, fines, or cost of vaccinations. They must offer reasonable payment plans to owners. It also requires shelter or rescue organizations to assume all liability for an animal in their custody.
The benefit of this bill is that it should help low-income pet owners whose pets are in the custody of animal control or a shelter organization. The only potential downside is the possibility for a negative financial effect on animal control or shelter organizations.
H.2573: An Act providing tax credits to promote the adoption of a dog or cat from a shelter
This act creates a tax credit for the adoption of a pet from a public animal control facility, office, agency, or shelter as well as any humane society shelter or rescue group. The credit will be $400 for a dog over 7 years of age, $200 for dogs between 1-6 years old and cats over 7 years old, and $100 for cats between 1-6 years old. 20% of the tax credit will be distributed in the first year of ownership, and 40% will be distributed for each of the following two years. In order to pay for this tax credit, the act creates a fund called the Adopt a Shelter Pet Fun. To pay for this fund, the department of motor vehicles will offer to drivers specialized registration plates that say “I’m Animal Friendly” for an extra fee of not less than $30. The portion of the total free remaining after the deduction of the costs of production will go towards this fund.
The benefit of this bill is that it will hopefully increase the adoption of rescue animals, and create an environment where more animals are adopted rather than euthanized. One issue with the bill is the lack of definitive numbers on its financial impact. Projections on the amount of money that the fund will take in and the cost of these tax credits would be helpful in accessing the bill. Additionally, there already exists a specialty license plate that says “I’m Animal Friendly.” The proceeds from the plate go towards efforts to spay and neuter animals.
Acts regarding homeowners insurance and housing generally
S.595, H.1037: An Act concerning the use of certain insurance underwriting guidelines pertaining to dogs harbored upon the insured property
This bill prevents companies offering homeowners insurance from canceling policies, denying coverage, or charge higher premiums due to the breed of any dog who lives on the property. Supporters of this bill say genetic makeup is only one of a number of factors for aggression and that studies done studies conducted on the issue have shown no significant identifiable relationship between breed and attack prevalence. The lists of banned breeds insurance companies use appear to be created from research studies as well as some anecdotal evidence. They argue that limiting their restrictions of dogs solely based on history of aggressive behavior means that it will be too late, most times, to know.
The benefit of this bill is that it protects responsible pet-owners from being denied homeowners insurance due to the breed of their dog(s). Additionally, similar bills have been passed in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Some arguments against the bill, however, are that there have been correlations drawn between dog breed and severity of attack and there is a fairly strong consensus that genetic makeup is a factor in aggressiveness. It could also be argued that because this bill concerns private insurers, it should be left to experts within the firms to decide their own exposure to the risk of dog attacks.
H.1038: An Act to prohibit housing discrimination against responsible dog owners
This bill ensures that certain types of housing agreements and public housing authorities cannot discriminate against tenants or potential tenants based on size, weight, or breed of a dog owned. It also bans homeowners insurance providers from discriminating based on the breed of any dog(s) living on the property.
The positive side of this proposal is that it will prevent dog owners from being denied housing based on the size or breed of their dog. However, while it may make sense for this to be enacted within public housing, dogs are a liability for private landlords and may cause damage to their property. Therefore, it is questionable whether this behavior should be banned. The bill may just encourage landlords to ban all dogs if they cannot choose which types will be permitted to live within their properties. It may also have negative animal health implications by limiting a landlord’s ability to prevent owners from housing large dogs in small spaces.
Additionally, supporters of a ban on dog-breed-based insurance discrimination say that genetic makeup is only one of a number of factors for aggression and that studies done studies conducted on the issue have shown no significant identifiable relationship between breed and attack prevalence. The lists of banned breeds insurance companies use appear to be created from research studies as well as some anecdotal evidence. They argue that limiting their restrictions of dogs solely based on history of aggressive behavior means that it will be too late, most times, to know.
The benefit of this bill is that it protects responsible pet-owners from being denied homeowners insurance due to the breed of their dog(s). Additionally, similar bills have been passed in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Some arguments against the bill, however, are that there have been correlations drawn between dog breed and severity of attack and there is a fairly strong consensus that genetic makeup is a factor in aggressiveness. It could also be argued that because this issue concerns private insurers, it should be left to experts within the firms to decide their own exposure to the risk of dog attacks.
Bills regarding cemeteries
S.1300: An Act to preserve the eternal bonds between people and their animals
This act says that, notwithstanding any laws to the contrary, cemeteries may allow the burial of humans and animals together. This law seems as though it does not do anything. If there is no law currently against this, then by default cemeteries are able to do this. Because this bill allows for laws against this practice to continue, it does not seem to create any new action.
H.1855: An Act relating to pet internments in certain cemetery corporations
This act says that cemetery lot owners can keep their cremated pet remains in the cemetery only when this does not affect human burial and when the cemetery has given written authorization. The cemetery also must provide a list of charges for the internment of these remains. The bill does not apply to cemeteries controlled or operated by religious organizations. The actions contained within this bill seem to bring clarity to conflicts between pet owners and cemetery corporations in the cases described above. However, it is unclear how pertinent this issue is to the state or the public.
Bills to prevent euthanasia
S.534, H.758, H.764: An Act protecting research animals.
This bill requires any research dog or cat be offered to a shelter, rescue organization, or private placement before he or she is euthanized. A number of states have passed similar legislation. The benefit of this bill is that it may save the lives of some research animals. It seems like it will have little to no adverse effects, but one downside is a potentially small impact. 95-98% of animals used by researchers are mice, rats, and other rodents.
H.1816: An Act known as the animal rescue access act of Massachusetts
This bill requires that before the euthanasia of any impounded animal and within 24 hours of the animal being impounded, an animal control officer or shelter provider communicates with all rescue and shelter organizations that have previously requested to be notified. This communication should include a detailed description of the animal, a photo, and hours of availability to meet, evaluate, or take possession of the animal.
The benefit of this bill is that it might mean that more animals saved from euthanasia and taken to a rescue or shelter organization. The only downside is the possibility that it might increase workload for animal control or animal shelters who must notify these organizations.
S.505, H.823: An Act concerning the use of animals in product testing
This bill requires organizations conducting ingredient or product testing to use alternative testing methods or strategies rather than animal testing in any scenario where such methods or strategies exist. The benefit of the bill is that it may prevent some animals from being used for research when alternative methods of testing exist. A potential downside, however, is that alternative methods of testing may be significantly more expensive and these testing organizations might move out of the state to conduct their testing rather than actually change their behavior.
S.1431: An Act allowing humane transportation of K9 partners aka Nero’s law H.2037: An Act providing for the care and transportation of police dogs injured in the line of duty
While slightly different in wording, both of these bills allow for law enforcement dogs injured in the line of duty to be transported and cared for in an ambulance as long as there is no human who needs emergency transport at the same time. The benefit of these bills is that they will improve the care and safety of police dogs. The most significant downside seems to be the possibility that while transporting a dog, there would be a human requiring the ambulance’s services that must wait until the dog has arrived at the veterinary hospital.
S.947: An Act relative to dog training areas in the Commonwealth
This act requires that all owners of sporting dog training areas be exempt from civil action or criminal prosecution related to noise provided that they are in compliance with any applicable noise control laws or ordinances in existence at the time the training area was established. While this bill seems reasonable, it is unclear what change it actually will bring. If a facility is not in violation of any noise control laws then they would not likely be receiving prosecution or civil action already, so outlawing such action/prosecution seems to serve no purpose.
H.2669: An Act designating the month of October as adopt a shelter dog month
This bill requires that the governor issue a proclamation every October that the month is adopt a shelter dog month. This seems as though it could bring more awareness to the issue, but it might make sense for the proclamation to include mention of rescue dogs in addition to shelter dogs.
Please comment any thoughts or concerns you might have about the bills I’ve reviewed above.