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Dog breeders protest pet protection bill at State House

By Dave Solomon
State House Bureau

February 13. 2018 8:52PM
A group of dog breeders tried unsuccessfully to get an audience with Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday to press their case against a new law on animal cruelty. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

CONCORD — Dog breeders concerned about proposed changes to the state’s animal cruelty laws crowded into the office of Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday to make their case against Senate Bill 569.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, creates new rules for commercial kennels and requires owners whose animals are confiscated after abuse allegations to pay for the animals’ care while the case is pending, whether or not the owners are eventually found guilty of abuse.

“Requiring payment before conviction incentivizes some entities to seize animals for financial gain,” said Diane Richardson, who raises tracking dogs with her husband, Rob, in Georges Mills.

“I understand the Wolfeboro case has many people up in arms, but New Hampshire already has excellent laws on the books. What is needed is the money and manpower to enforce the laws we have.”

Richardson was alluding to the widely publicized case of breeder Christina Fay, who was convicted in December on 10 animal cruelty charges six months after more than 70 Great Danes were removed from her Wolfeboro home.

That was just one of several high-profile animal abuse cases in the past year that have lawmakers considering the tougher regulations.

Also in 2017, a 48-year-old Croydon woman was sentenced to six months in jail after being convicted of more than a dozen animal cruelty charges, and Berlin police arrested a local couple on 44 counts of animal cruelty after seizing 15 dogs and a cat from their home on Jericho Road.

Just last month, officials at the N.H. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Stratham took in 21 abandoned animals after residents were evicted in Exeter, and a Bristol woman pleaded not guilty to 20 animal cruelty charges that allege she kept German Shepherds in a frigid Alexandria barn.

“New Hampshire has become a magnet for animal abuse problems,” says Bradley. “Headlines like Croydon, Berlin, Bristol, Alexandria, Exeter and Wolfeboro illustrate the size of the problem.”

Bradley’s bill, which enjoys bipartisan support in the Legislature and the backing of the governor, attempts to address the problem by stepping up the inspection requirements for commercial kennels and putting the financial burden of animal abuse cases on the kennel operators.

The bill also broadens the definition of “commercial kennel” to embrace a larger number of New Hampshire dog owners.

Closure of loopholes

The bill attracted widespread support at its first public hearing on Feb. 6, when it was endorsed by chiefs of police and town managers, the current chair of the Governor’s Commission on the Humane Treatment of Animals, the N.H. Humane Society and the NHSPCA.

They argued that the bill will strengthen regulations and close loopholes in current statutes, while protecting communities against the high costs of animal abuse cases.

Many opponents didn’t get a chance to speak, and a second hearing was scheduled for this past Tuesday, after which the group of breeders took their petition to Sununu’s office where they were received cordially by a staffer.

The bill defines a property housing five or more “breeding female dogs” as a kennel, subject to new inspection and licensing requirement.

If a cruelty case is reported and the animals confiscated, the shelter or rescue organization housing the animals will have the right to ask a judge to order payment of up to $2,000 per animal for room and board.

If the animal owners are eventually found not guilty, they could still have to forfeit their animals if they were unable to pay the room and board charges, so the animals could be sold and some of the costs recouped.

Alternate proposal

Breeders like Nancy Holmes of New Boston and many of those who accompanied her to the governor’s office worry they could become targets of self-appointed animal rights advocates.

“There is a need to have more people involved in inspections,” according to Andrea Corger of Chelsea’s Footprints in Grantham, which provides mobility carts for disabled pets and supports the bill. “Animal advocates should be allowed to be authorized inspectors and can help the Department of Agriculture conduct inspections.”

That’s the prospect that worries Holmes.

“Do you really want to give animal rights activists a legal incentive to falsely charge New Hampshire citizens in order to seize their animals for resale or get a huge payday?” she said in written testimony. “Can you ensure this will never happen? It has elsewhere.”

If a main purpose of the bill is to protect local property taxpayers from the cost of medical treatment and boarding for abused animals, Ara Lynn, a breeder from New Ipswich, suggested an increase of 50 cents to the cost of a dog license.

“That will bring in $90,000 a year that can be dedicated to a rainy day fund to help care for animals in abuse and neglect cases,” she said.

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