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State looks to toughen animal cruelty laws

New Hampshire Sunday News

August 17. 2017 12:52AM
One of the Wolfeboro Great Danes enjoys some attention at their emergency shelter. (File/LINDSAY HAMRICK/HSUS)

Two months after police and animal welfare investigators seized 84 Great Danes from a Wolfeboro kennel owner, political leaders are moving to strengthen New Hampshire’s animal cruelty laws.

Gov. Chris Sununu will be in Wolfeboro Thursday to announce his support for toughening those laws. Ben Vihstadt, spokesman for the governor, said Sununu “looks forward to working with advocates and legislators to pass common-sense legislation that protects animals, ensuring that the type of situation that took place in Wolfeboro never happens again.”

Sununu also plans to sign an executive order in Wolfeboro, revamping the Governor’s Commission on the Humane Treatment of Animals, Vihstadt said.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, who lives in Wolfeboro, plans to sponsor legislation to change the state’s licensing rules for commercial breeders.

Kennel rules

Lindsay Hamrick is state director for the Humane Society of the United States, which has been caring for the 84 Great Danes confiscated on June 16 from the Wolfeboro mansion owned by Christina Fay and from her veterinarian’s clinic.

HSUS joined Wolfeboro police in the raid that resulted in Fay’s arrest for animal neglect and cruelty. Fay, 59, is contesting those charges, and her lawyer is seeking to regain control over the placement and medical care of her animals pending her October trial.

Hamrick has been meeting with lawmakers, including Bradley, about sponsoring legislation to address two issues highlighted by the Wolfeboro case.

Under state law, the Department of Agriculture only licenses and inspects commercial kennels that sell 10 litters of puppies, or 50 puppies, in a 12-month period. Only five kennels currently are licensed; Fay’s De La Sang Monde Kennel was not one of them, according to the department.

Hamrick said the proposed legislation would instead base licensing on how many breeding females a kennel owner has. The rules would only apply to those “in the business of transferring animals,” she said.

That would exempt dog-sled mushers, a sticking point to getting such proposals passed in previous sessions, she said. “As long as they’re not selling puppies, they’re not commercial breeders.”

But it would have applied to Fay’s kennel, Hamrick contends. She said a large number of the dogs seized at Fay’s home and vet’s office were unspayed females, used to breed puppies that were transferred to others.

Who should pay

Another issue raised by the Wolfeboro case is who pays for the care of animals seized in cruelty and neglect cases while the court case proceeds.

Legally, the cost of such care falls on a local community, Hamrick said. However, she said, “Practically speaking, what actually ends up happening is your local humane society partners with the local police department to not only house the animals but to pay for the cost.”

The bill she envisions would require a civil hearing to be held within a few weeks of the seizure of animals. A judge would review the evidence used to seize the animals and determine who should pay for their care, Hamrick said.

“Our argument is that in order for law enforcement to seize your animals legally, they have to have probable cause of animal cruelty, which is a high bar,” Hamrick said. “There has to be a substantial amount of evidence pointing in that direction.”

The process could even work to a defendant’s advantage, she said, if a judge decides that the animals were seized illegally.

Jeb Bradley was vacationing and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But Rep. Stephen Schmidt, R-Wolfeboro, said the Senate majority leader has agreed to be the prime sponsor of the legislation sought by HSUS.

Schmidt said the bills will have bipartisan support. Reps. Edith DesMarais, D-Wolfeboro, and William Marsh, R-Brookfield, have agreed to join him as co-sponsors.

Schmidt said he doesn’t expect legitimate breeders will have a problem with the proposed licensing change.

“In fact, they ought to welcome it,” he said. “Because it just might get some of the ones who aren’t responsible out of business.”

And Schmidt said it seems unfair for HSUS to have to pay the costs of caring for Fay’s animals until her court case is resolved. “What we’re talking about is really hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost that’s going to be incurred,” he said.

But what if someone is later found innocent of the charges?

Hamrick said the animals still would have to be fed and cared for during the legal process. “Just because they’re in a new facility receiving care does not change that responsibility,” she said.

While similar bills have failed in the Legislature in the past, the Great Danes’ case has changed the conversation, Schmidt said. “It was just the magnitude of it.”

Police photos show rooms filled with urine and feces, he said. “The police were going in there basically in full hazmat suits,” he said. “It was the only way to do it.”

“Frankly, they almost had to destroy the house — all the walls were ripped out; it’s basically down to studs — to decontaminate it.”

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