S. 2672: An Act addressing investigations of reports of animal abuse and neglect
MSPCA Position: Support
Provisions Sponsored by: Senators Chang-Diaz, Moore, and Montigny; Representatives Khan, Nguyen, Puppolo, and Hill.
Status: Referred to Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
Introduction: This omnibus legislation is a combination of bills that highlight different facets of animal cruelty and how to address them. These bills were combined by the Joint Committee of the Judiciary and released favorably from that committee to produce this legislation. Below are provisions of the bill.
Protecting Animals from Convicted Animal Abusers
Placing reasonable restrictions on owning or accessing animals following an animal cruelty conviction can help end the cycle of animal cruelty.
Massachusetts law already prohibits convicted animal abusers from working with animals (Ch. 272 §77). Further, the law relating to animal sexual abuse explicitly allows courts to prohibit ownership of, or contact with, animals after a conviction of animal sexual abuse (Ch. 272 §77C). However, a legal gap exists because the law currently does not allow a prohibition on ownership or contact after other kinds of animal cruelty convictions. This legal gap can lead to increased recidivism rates and needless suffering for animals.
This legislation would establish that a person convicted of an animal cruelty crime may not harbor, own, possess, or exercise control over an animal or adopt or foster an animal for five years post-conviction, or a greater length of time that the court deems reasonable. Additionally, the bill 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.
This legislation does not create a new crime. It is a preventative measure that places reasonable restrictions on those convicted of animal cruelty crimes, such as torture, mutilation, or dogfighting. Additionally, it gives the court the discretion to consider each case individually.
These bills complement Massachusetts’s strong cruelty laws by providing an additional tool for law enforcement to help prevent cruelty in their communities. In fact, in its 2016 report, the Animal Cruelty Task Force highlighted the value of such a provision.
At least 39 states have post-conviction possession ban laws, 17 have mandatory possession ban laws and 22 have permissive possession ban laws.
Supporting the Massachusetts Animal Fund
This legislation would also direct certain funds to the Homeless Animal Prevention and Care Fund (“Mass Animal Fund”). The Mass Animal Fund provides spay, neuter, and vaccination services to animals in need, including homeless dogs and cats and those living with low-income families. The financial challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic have turned many assistance requests into urgent pleas for help due to housing issues or medical emergencies. Many animals are going unserved, lacking critical health services. This funding will help animals in families impacted by COVID-19 and the related economic downturn.
Reporting Suspected Animal Cruelty
This part of the bill would improve laws relating to the reporting of suspected animal abuse by human services agencies by removing the time limitation by which they need to make such reports.
Allowing the Issuance of Civil Citations for Certain Cruel Conditions
Currently, M.G.L. Chapter 140 Section 174E’s prohibition against cruel conditions is limited to dogs. This bill would extend protections to all domestic animals to prevent them from suffering under cruel conditions. Allowing animal control and law enforcement officers to address cruel or dangerous conditions for animals with a civil citation would permit local law enforcement to more readily address these situations with owners, provide a financial incentive for correction of such conditions, and help avoid the needless suffering and death of animals.
In July of 2016, municipal and special state police officers responded to a 70-acre parcel in Westport. Over 1,000 animals were found on the site, some dead and others in such poor health that on-site euthanasia was required. Cows, goats, and pigs were found in filthy makeshift pens with little access to clean water and food. Some animals foraged for food amid piles of garbage while other animals lay dead near the food source. Rabbits were kept crammed in small cages, one on top of another, while severely dehydrated calves stood nearby with dirty matted coats.
This incident occurred at a time when there was—and continues to be—evidence of interest in higher welfare standards for farm animals. This bill will allow for a broader consideration of factors which can adversely impact animal health and welfare.
The passage of this bill, which would allow intervention by local animal control officers and certain special police officers, might prevent situations such as Westport from developing to the point where animals are suffering beyond veterinary help. Further, this citation ability would be helpful in addressing issues with other domestic animal species, such as cat hoarding cases. A financial citation can be effective in changing behaviors, and some situations could be resolved without having to charge felony animal cruelty, which might take months to reach a disposition.