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Animal cruelty bill dies as House, Senate fail to reach agreement

State House Bureau

May 16. 2018 9:49PM
A bill inspired in large part by the fate of 84 Great Danes rescued from a filth-filled mansion in Wolfeboro last summer has died after the NH House and Senate could not reconcile competing language. (COURTESY)

CONCORD — A bill aimed at tightening up New Hampshire’s animal cruelty statutes died on Wednesday, as House and Senate negotiators could not reconcile competing language and declared an impasse.

Senate Bill 569, inspired in large part by the fate of 84 Great Danes rescued from a filth-filled mansion in Wolfeboro last summer, would have changed the definition of a commercial kennel, subjected more breeders to inspection, and required animal owners charged with cruelty to pay for the animals’ care while awaiting trial.

When the bill got to the House, it was changed into something completely different, with no liability assigned to owners prior to conviction and a call for a study committee.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, was visibly angry at the outcome.

“They were just totally unwilling to compromise on anything,” Bradley said of the House negotiators.

“We offered to take out the most controversial part, cost of care, but they don’t want inspections; they don’t want the money for the Department of Agriculture; they wanted to undermine anonymous reporting. There was nothing to agree on, and unfortunately animals are the losers.”

Christina Fay was convicted of 17 counts of animal cruelty in connection with the Wolfeboro case, which generated more than $1 million in expense for care of the animals. She had moved to Wolfeboro with the animals from Maine, where authorities were enforcing tougher animal welfare laws.

“Irresponsible dog breeders are protected now, but animals are the losers,” said Bradley. “The status quo, we saw in the Wolfeboro case, is weak New Hampshire laws leading to New Hampshire cruelty. That’s the problem we have to address.”

State Rep. Peter Bixby, D-Dover, one of the House negotiators, disputed Bradley’s claim that the House was uncompromising.

“That’s not true. There were a number of issues we compromised on and we had others that we didn’t get into discussion on. We would have been willing to accede to the Senate position on the way reporting is handled,” he said. “But the Senate wanted the public to be able to inspect pet vendor records without exception.”

In addition to liability for the care of abused animals, the definition of a commercial kennel was also a key stumbling block.

“We wanted to ensure that people who have a large number of dogs, but who are keeping those dogs in a hobby capacity, whether mushing or breeding them for dog shows, would not be swept up as commercial kennels,” said Bixby.

New Hampshire State Director for The Humane Society of the United States, Lindsay Hamrick, had worked closely on the bill with Bradley.

“We’re incredibly disappointed that after all the months of work on this legislation by all stakeholders that the House seemed completely unwilling to compromise on the ability to make sure we have a system that is going to prevent animal cruelty at unlicensed commercial breeding facilities,” she said.

She said the goal was to address “the suffering and death of dozens of dogs at unlicensed kennels in New Hampshire.”

A similar bill that would have made animal owners charged with cruelty pay for their animals’ care while awaiting trial failed in the House in 2015.

“We were hoping for a robust study commission, and our version of the bill provided for that,” said Bixby. “It would have studied the cost of care to set up a state fund, as opposed to trying to get it out of the accused with bonding, which only works if the accused is rich enough to cover it.”

Both sides said they plan to file legislation in the fall for consideration in the 2019 session.

Gov. Chris Sununu said he supported the Senate bill and is disappointed it won’t move forward.

“I think Sen. Bradley really had it right and I think It would have been a great bill and a great opportunity for New Hampshire,” he said. “The legislature battled back and forth for months and couldn’t come to a resolution. It’s unfortunate, but you have to accept it, move on and hopefully build on that for a better bill next time around.”

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