Recently introduced Senate bill 4058 would reintroduce third parties into the enforcement, seizure and relocation of companion animals based on alleged acts of animal cruelty after the legislature successfully ousted the quasi-governmental entity, the New Jersey Society for the Protection of Animals from enforcing animal cruelty laws.  Instead the legislators placed that authority squarely with County Prosecutors who can also delegate that authority to Municipal Prosecutors.

There are four new proposed sections in this bill (Sections 4, 5, 6, 7) which seem to be entirely redundant of existing Section 3 (Section 7 of P.L. 2017, c. 189) and which itself disproportionately impacts those of lower socioeconomic status, for whom payment for room, board and veterinary care at an animal shelter or other facility would not be affordable and therefore forfeiture of a pet, even before cruelty charges were proven, would be the only viable option.

This new sections define “animal care agency” to include an animal rescue organization, a humane society or other organization with temporary custody of an animal and “Enforcement agency” to include any organization . . . involved in the monitoring of animal welfare and animal cruelty violations.”

None of these entities are required to comply with regulations requiring sanitary operations of animal facilities which includes kennels, pet shops, shelters and pounds, unless animal care agency, as defined in the proposed bill would be included under the definition of “Pound” which means “any establishment of the confinement of dogs or other animals seized either under the provisions of N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 or otherwise.”  NJSC8:23A-1.1 (emphasis added).

Animals can be confiscated before any hearing is held.  The law would require that a hearing should be scheduled no later than 30 days after the date on which a complaint is filed with the court, but if the court fails to hold a timely hearing, it will not affect the disposition of the animal, and the costs of care would continue to accrue.  The accused has no access to or right to provide for an independent veterinary examination of a seized animal.  Another licensed veterinarian would be permitted to perform whatever veterinary procedures s/he deemed necessary, including euthanasia.  Certainly, animals should be provided with necessary veterinary care, but there can be significant disagreements amongst veterinarians about what constitutes necessary care in any given situation.  Regardless of the outcome of the case, the owner must reimburse the seizing or holding entity for the cost of that care, even if the prosecutor fails to prevail in court.

“If a person liable for the reasonable costs of care pursuant to this section is found not guilty of the allege criminal animal cruelty offense that led to the seizure of the animals, and if the person has made timely payments of the reasonable costs of care pursuant to this section, the person shall have the right to immediately repossess the person’s animal and to be reimbursed by the animal care agency for all of the reasonable costs of care, except those related to necessary veterinary care, that were paid by the person to the animal care agency.”  New Section 6(h)(emphasis added).

If the person cannot afford to pay for the reasonable costs of care during the pendency of the case, the person’s animal would be considered forfeited.

This bill suffers from at least these deficiencies:

  1. It would reintroduce non-profit organizations back into the animal cruelty enforcement scheme and would permit care provided to animal seized from an alleged cruel situation to a totally unregulated entity;
  2. It exacerbates the existing disparate treatment of pet owners with lower socio-economic status who may have failed to provide “necessary veterinary care” no matter how minor;
  3. It fails to differentiate between truly egregious acts of animal cruelty from those that are either frivolous or outdated;
  4. It fails to provide an accused access to due process by prohibiting access to seized animals by the owner or an independent veterinarian.