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Senators to weigh kennel oversight

New Hampshire Sunday News

February 03. 2018 9:32PM
The Humane Society of the United States worked with the Wolfeboro Police Department to rescue Great Danes from Christina Fay's Wolfeboro property on June 16, 2017. (Courtesy of Meredith Lee/HSUS)

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, says he hopes his animal cruelty bill may spare other New Hampshire communities from what his town has gone through in the now-infamous Great Dane case.

Senate Bill 569 tightens the rules on commercial kennels and requires owners whose animals are confiscated in cruelty cases to put up a bond to pay for their care. A hearing on the bill is set for Tuesday at 9:15 a.m. before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in Room 103 of the State House.

Similar measures have failed in the past. But this year's bill has half of the senators as co-sponsors, and strong backing from Gov. Chris Sununu.

Bradley believes what happened in Wolfeboro, and other recent animal abuse cases, has changed the public's perception of the issue.

Seven months after Wolfeboro police confiscated 84 Great Danes from their owner, Christina Fay, the giant dogs remain in the care of staff and volunteers from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Fay was convicted of 10 counts of animal cruelty in December, but appealed, so her dogs remain in a shelter that HSUS constructed to house them.

By state law, local communities are responsible for the cost of caring for animals in cruelty cases, Bradley said. By the time Fay's court case is over, the total cost of caring for her dogs could reach a million dollars, he said.

Had HSUS not stepped up to care for the Great Danes, Bradley said, it would have been "a huge burden" on taxpayers in Wolfeboro. And that could happen in any community, he said.

But not all dog lovers are in favor of the bill.

George Cook is a member of Dog Owners of the Granite State (DOGS). He breeds Siberian huskies at his Alkas'iber Kennel in Jefferson; his dogs compete in sled dog racing as well as conformation and obedience events.

Cook was part of a stakeholders group Bradley convened last year to explore how best to prevent another case like Wolfeboro's.

He said many dog groups oppose a proposed change in the definition of a "commercial kennel."

Current law requires anyone who transfers 10 or more litters or 50 or more puppies in any 12-month period to be licensed as a commercial kennel. SB 569 would add anyone who "keeps, maintains or owns 5 or more breeding female dogs" to that requirement.

That's the biggest problem with the bill, Cook said.

"This will sweep under potential commercial regulation show dog kennels, sled dog kennels, sporting dog kennels, bird dog kennels ...," he said. "There are any one of a number of different reasons why people would legitimately have a small kennel that might include five breeding females."

The fiscal note on Senate Bill 569 estimates the change would result in an additional 80 licenses for commercial kennels.

In the past, the state veterinarian has opposed such measures, which never included funding for the proposed inspections. This time around, Bradley included a $200,000 appropriation to hire two inspectors to inspect all commercial kennels on a biennial basis - or based on a complaint.

Cook said the bill's supporters have said it isn't meant to include "hobby breeders." But, he said, "That's too vague a promise."

He would like to see "more specific language that it is the commercial nature of the venture, not the number of dogs that are being transferred, that makes someone a commercial kennel."

Lindsay Hamrick, state director for HSUS, said adding the language about "breeding females" to current law would make it easier for local officials to detect commercial kennels.

"If someone moves into town and registers 20 unspayed female dogs, that is then an indication for town clerks to say to the Department of Agriculture, 'Hey, we think maybe somebody's ... going to breed dogs at a level that requires regulation,'?" she said.

Cook also objects to a "cost of care" provision in the bill that allows an officer who confiscates an animal in a cruelty case to petition a court for the owner to post a bond to pay for its care.

Requiring such a bond from someone who's accused but not convicted is "an infringement on civil liberties," Cook said.

Bradley said he's heard that argument. But he said law enforcement officers have to have probable cause to remove animals. And his bill sets up a hearing process for a judge to determine whether an owner must post a bond.

"I think it's fair to both sides," he said.

Bradley said he's gotten lots of letters and emails supporting his efforts. "I think most people in New Hampshire feel that animals shouldn't be subject to cruelty, and that inspection of facilities, whether it's pet vendors, pet stores, kennels or animal rescue shelters, should be inspected to make sure animals are being treated humanely," he said.

Cook said he's not opposed to inspections. "Personally, I think that some form of inspection is about the only way that things are going to get caught," he said. "But it's still trying to come up with what is that proper threshold.

"And this isn't it."

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