Senate passes bill to strengthen state’s animal cruelty laws

  • The Humane Society of the United States works with the Wolfeboro Police Dept. to rescue approximately 70 Great Danes from a suspected puppy mill on Friday, June 16, 2017, in Wolfeboro, N.H. (Meredith Lee/The HSUS) Meredith Lee

Monitor staff
Friday, March 09, 2018

The New Hampshire Senate moved to strengthen the state’s animal cruelty laws Thursday, greenlighting a sweeping bill in the wake of a high-profile incident last year.

In a 19-5 vote, the chamber approved Senate Bill 569, which increases regulations on animal breeders and shores up the Department of Agriculture’s oversight powers.

Among the bill’s provisions is a requirement that a would-be pet vendor seeking a license from the department be required to submit to a site examination and a criminal background check. It also allows the department to deny, suspend or revoke the license in cases of a conviction for animal cruelty.

For those whose license is revoked, the department may remove the animals and relocate them to “a safe and sanitary place.” Those accused of cruelty to animals are responsible for paying the cost of boarding and treating the animals, even without a conviction – an area of contention in recent court battles.

The legislation comes in response to months of headlines surrounding the trial of Christina Fay, a Wolfeboro resident convicted of 10 counts of animal cruelty in December. Fay was found to have abused 84 Great Danes at her mansion after neglecting and keeping them in squalor. The dogs were seized by police last June; four later died under Humane Society care.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, who lives in Wolfeboro, said the language was drafted after consultation with residents of his town in the wake of the last year’s seizures and trial.

“It’s not just what happened in my town, it’s what’s happening in a number of your towns, too,” he said. “It’s very problematic.”

New Hampshire’s present regulations, he added, are weaker than its surrounding states, making it a destination for some of the more unscrupulous breeders. But he said that the bill was not intended to be overly punitive.

“We need to recognize what’s happening not by responsible dog breeders but by irresponsible dog breeders,” he said. “And unfortunately I don’t think we can sweep this under the rug.”

In a statement after the vote, Gov. Chris Sununu called the bill “a critical piece of legislation.”

“Animal cruelty will not be tolerated in New Hampshire,” he said. “I applaud the Senate for passing SB 569, which will ensure that the horrendous treatment of the Great Dane’s from Wolfeboro never happens again.”

The bill heads to the Senate Finance Committee before another vote on the floor.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)