S. 1142/H. 1718: An Act relative to the humane protection of animals
MSPCA Position: Support
Sponsor: Senator John Velis; Representatives Ted Philips and Jessica Giannino
Status: Referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary; hearing held April 4, 2023.
This legislation contains a collection of measures which work to strengthen and finesse our animal cruelty laws. This omnibus legislation will give law enforcement, animal control officers, judges, and district attorneys more options when it comes to addressing animal situations before they become life threatening, and then provide pre- and post-conviction options during trial and sentencing for animal cruelty charges.
Prohibiting the sale of puppies and kittens under 8 weeks old
Separating puppies and kittens from their mother and littermates early can result in health and behavioral problems, including disease susceptibility and aggression. For puppies, these weeks include their primary socialization developmental stage—when they learn important species-specific behaviors such as bite inhibition, submissive postures, and the development of proper social relations with their littermates. Behavior problems caused by early separation can make dogs in particular more difficult to adopt and, in worst-case scenarios, can contribute to the likelihood of dog bites and can be a public safety threat. Pet shops and shelters already are prohibited from selling or adopting animals at this young age; this section would close a gap by prohibiting anyone from doing this.
Facilitating mental health evaluations and treatment to prevent recidivism and protect animals
The primary purpose of mental health evaluation and treatment is to rehabilitate the offender and prevent recidivism, which can help protect animals from future cruelty as well as save the state future prosecution and sentencing costs. When appropriate, court-ordered treatment is an effective way to address the roots of animal cruelty and provide sustainable solutions and rehabilitation for convicted offenders. Such treatment may include counseling or anger management classes, for example. As of 2021, 16 states statutorily authorize the court in its discretion to order psychological evaluation and, if necessary, treatment for convicted animal abusers. An additional 22 states require psychological evaluation/treatment for certain convicted animal abusers.
Allowing a phone call in detention to care for a pet (or dependent)
This section will ensure a person who is arrested has a chance to make an additional phone call to arrange for the care of a pet or dependent person.
Prohibiting the roadside sale of animals
This section would prohibit the sale, exchange, or commercial display of any dog or cat on any roadside, park, recreation area, flea market or outdoor market, or parking lot. Selling animals in such places by individuals often provides no recourse for consumers who may purchase a sick animal. The prohibition would not apply to the transfer of a dog or cat by, or to, a shelter, animal control, or animal rescue; or to the display of a dog or cat as part of a state or county fair exhibition, a 4-H program, or similar exhibition or educational program.
Including animals as a public safety consideration in dangerousness determinations*
This section adds the consideration of protecting animals in the dangerousness statute so that the safety of an animal, in addition to that of a person and the community, is considered when a judicial officer determines whether or not a person is a danger and whether they should be released pending trial, when charged with certain offenses. These important additions are based on the documented link between animal abuse and violence toward humans. There has already been an indication that the existing language, without mentioning animals, could result in the safety of an animal not being considered in this determination. One judge stated that “The conditions of release the court has to consider under (the bail law) do not include conditions that will reasonably assure the safety of pets and animals…”. This section would additionally include a newly created law prohibiting sexual contact with an animal in the list of offenses eligible for the filing of a request for detention based on dangerousness, building upon changes made in the 2018 PAWS law that included animal cruelty as a predicate offense for a determination of dangerousness.
Expanding use of citations for the keeping of animals in cruel conditions***
This section allows animal control and law enforcement officers to issue citations for domestic animals kept in cruel conditions, which will facilitate earlier intervention and provide a common-sense middle ground between a verbal warning and felony cruelty charges. It would extend protections that are already in place for dogs to other domestic animals—providing a tool to assist animals suffering under cruel conditions, such as exposure to excessive animal waste, garbage, non-potable water, excessive noxious odors that create a health threat to people or animals, dangerous objects or other animals that could injure or kill an animal upon contact, and other circumstances that could cause harm to the health or safety of animals based on the animal’s species, age, and physical condition. Addressing these conditions with a civil citation provides a financial incentive for correction of such conditions and prevents the situation from escalating to cause the needless suffering and death of animals.
Restricting the possession of animals after a cruelty conviction**
This section would prevent a person convicted of certain animal cruelty crimes — including torture, mutilation, and dogfighting — from possessing, adopting, fostering, or otherwise accessing an animal for a period of time determined by the court. It establishes a petition process wherein a first-time offender may appeal their possession ban status if they can demonstrate rehabilitation in a number of specific ways, including that they do not present a danger to animals, they have the ability to properly care for an animal, and they have successfully completed relevant classes and counseling deemed sufficient by the court. This section would not create any new crime and would not alter jail time for any crimes. It would complement Massachusetts’ strong cruelty code by providing an additional tool to help prevent recidivism and animal cruelty in their communities. In fact, the legislatively-created Animal Cruelty Task Force recommended in its 2016 report that the legislature consider such a provision.
Misdemeanor Task Force
Massachusetts is the only state that does not have a misdemeanor penalty for animal cruelty, only a felony. The limitation of only having a felony penalty has been considered to result in fewer convictions, causing reluctance among some judges to sentence someone with a felony (and all of its collateral consequences) for all but the most egregious acts. This task force would evaluate relevant factors related to whether or not to create a misdemeanor statute (in addition to the current felony statute) which may be a more viable option in certain cases.
Creating alternate pathways to ensure animals are safe without a felony charge
Massachusetts only has a felony animal cruelty penalty. However, there are times when such a penalty may not be appropriate or helpful (when mental health may be an issue, for example) but animals are still suffering or otherwise kept in violation of the cruelty statute. This section would allow animals, when other resolutions have failed, to be removed for their health and safety – and without animal cruelty charges. The goal is to ensure animals are safe from cruel situations – allowing the need for cruelty charges to be evaluated depending on the situation and what would be most effective and just.
Providing additional funds to the Massachusetts Animal Fund*
This section would allow fines issued by the state’s Department of Agricultural Resources for violations of certain animal health laws to be deposited in the state’s Mass Animal Fund to be used for spaying, neutering, and vaccinating homeless animals and animals living with families who cannot otherwise afford these health services.
Clarifying that dogs are not livestock**
This bill would clarify that dogs and cats are not “livestock.” This section was prompted by a superior court decision in January of 2021 that ruled that, for the purposes of zoning, that dogs can be considered “livestock” under the statutory definition of “farming” and “agriculture.”
*Only appears in the House bill / ** Also was filed as a stand-alone bill / ***Only appears in the House bill and was also filed as a stand-alone bill