Animal Cruelty and Veterinary Care

H. 1848: An Act to Ensure Adequate Care of Animals in Cities and Towns

Representative Kafka

Status: Sent to the Municipalities Committee

This bill would clarify the already existing parameters of the Massachusetts’ animal cruelty laws.  It would explain, rather than expand, the current law.
It would give unequivocal clarification to animal owners that they have an obligation to address their animals’ unnecessary suffering, eliminating any uncertainty that might be alleged or exist in the current statute. 

This bill was carefully drafted with specific language to distinguish the more egregious cases where it is obvious that veterinary care is necessary to relieve an animal’s unnecessary suffering, and not to other circumstances where an animal’s suffering may not be reasonably obvious or apparent.

Currently, a term in many states’ cruelty statutes, including ours -- necessary sustenance -- has been interpreted to not include veterinary care, leaving animals to suffer with limited ability for law enforcement to address cruelty cases when suffering stems from the lack of this type of care. Many states have remedied this legislatively.

While the wording varies from state to state, over twenty states have some kind of provision in their animal cruelty statutes mandating that pet owners and caregivers provide necessary medical or veterinary care. Some statutes create more defined responsibilities than others. For example, both Maine and Vermont expressly define depriving an animal of “necessary medical attention” as violations of their animal cruelty statutes. This bill would prohibit knowingly and unjustifiably failing to provide the animal with veterinary care that results in unnecessary suffering.

Cases of this nature do occur.  For example, in one case, MSPCA law enforcement officers discovered a dog who had a tumor growing from her external genitalia that had been ignored by her owner, and had actually grown to the size of a small grapefruit.  The tumor dragged on the ground and interfered with the dog’s ambulation. Although this case was resolved in the dog’s best interest without criminal prosecution, this particular factual scenario, and others like it, regrettably is not unique.  If this bill is enacted, cases involving extreme neglect will occur less frequently as a result of express responsibilities clarified for animal caregivers.

Additionally, this bill will require the animal control officer to maintain a list of resources for residents (many already do) who are unable to care for animals to help prevent these types of cases.