It Took Six Years, But Ohio Humane Agents Now Need Animal Husbandry Training To Do Their Jobs
Evolution of A Cruelty Law
By: Norma Bennett Woolf Date: 01/9/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation | Shelter Issues |
After a six-year struggle, the Ohio State Legislature approved an animal cruelty law that requires training for humane agents and due process for owners accused of cruelty or neglect.
SB 221, a bill introduced by State Senator David Goodman, is a far cry from the original measure supported by the Humane Society of the US and many animal shelters. Ohio Valley Dog Owners Inc., an NAIA affiliate; the Ohio Association of Animal Owners, a coalition of farmers and exotic animal owners; and a group of cat fanciers led the drive for changes in early versions of a bill that allowed confiscation of animals without a warrant, gave shelters the right to dispose of animals prior to trial, and forced owners to pay for the care of impounded animals even if they were acquitted of the charges.
The original bill introduced in the 1997-98 legislative session by Representative Patrick Tiberi was so poorly written that it eliminated due process for animal owners and increased the work load for humane agents without providing any training to aid them in enforcing new standards. The bill passed the House Criminal Justice Committee in that session but was referred to the Agricultural Committee by a vote on the House floor. The Agriculture Committee did not schedule hearings and the bill died.
Tiberi was back the following year with another version of the bill that went through nine hearings and several reincarnations before it died at the end of the session. Tiberi was elected to Congress, and Ohio State Senator David Goodman took up the cause. Goodman’s SB 221 was an improvement: it included
- mandatory training in animal husbandry for humane agents;
- due process for animal owners;
- a modified version of a prepayment program for impounded animals;
- a provision that holds animal shelters responsible for unjustified impoundment of animals and for failure to return animals to owners who are acquitted of charges; and
- a requirement to use fine money for humane agent training.
The Goodman bill exempted hunting dogs from its provisions but failed to allow breeders, exhibitors, and trainers of performance and working dogs the same advantage even though many of the husbandry and training practices are the same as those used by hunters.
Representatives from OVDO and OAAO met with the sponsors of the House and Senate versions of the bill and with other representatives and senators to get changes that would protect husbandry practices that are often misunderstood by the general public and considered cruel by humane societies. We did not get across-the-board exemptions, but we did manage to eliminate some language that jeopardized the use of dog crates and received an exemption for the use of training collars and practices.
Farmers have a strong lobby in Ohio. Farmers do not want increased oversight of practices that are humane but are often misunderstood by the general public and targeted by overzealous humane agents. Therefore, farmers are exempt from the new law.
Hunters also have a strong lobby in the state and opposed any cruelty bill that did not exempt them.
Research scientists are already covered by federal law, so were exempted from the bill. The bill was therefore carefully crafted to define ‘companion animals’ as ‘all dogs and cats and all other animals kept as pets in residential dwellings.’ Owners who mistreat animals other than dogs and cats are not subject to the increased penalties if the animals live in detached garages or outbuildings on residential property or are kept in commercial or retail facilities and may not be protected by the due process provisions in the law that apply specifically to the abuse of ‘companion animals.’
The violence connection
SB 221 included two provisions triggered by recent research linking animal cruelty and violence to humans: it gives the court the authority to order counseling for those convicted of cruelty and it mandates cross-agency reporting between humane societies and social service agencies if investigations turn up evidence that animal or people are abused.
Proponents of the bill wanted felony penalties for something, but OAAO led the opposition to penalties that were the same or stronger than penalties for domestic violence against humans. The final bill includes a low-level felony for a second offense of deliberate animal torture, the same punishment meted out to those convicted of domestic violence with bodily harm, patient neglect, and failure to pay child support on a second or subsequent offense. The penalty is six months to a year in jail and up to $2500 in fines.
The various incarnations of Tiberi’s bills were written as if anyone accused of cruelty was guilty. They allowed animals to be confiscated without a court order, gave pre-trial payments for care directly to the impounding agency, provided for forfeiture of the animals if the owner failed to pay up front, allowed shelters to dispose of animals before trial, did not return money paid for the care of animals if the owner was acquitted of charges, and failed to hold shelters responsible if they disposed of animals in cases where owners were subsequently acquitted of the charges.
Due process was a centerpiece of Goodman’s bill. It
- required court orders and hearings to determine if impoundment is necessary;
- directed pretrial deposits for animal care to a court escrow account to be dispensed to the shelter only if the animal owner is convicted;
- provided compensation to the owner if the charges were not sustained; and
- changed current law that awards animal cruelty fines to animal shelters by sending the money to the county treasury to be used for humane agent training.
The amended version of SB 221 passed the House on December 5, 2002, after successful efforts to get last minute changes palatable to dog breeders and trainers by representatives Bill Seitz, Tom Brinkman, and John Willamowski. The Senate concurred with the changes five days later, and Governor Bob Taft signed the bill on January 6, 2003, and it went into effect in April that year.
This article appeared in the Winter 2003 issue of NAIA News. As of January 6, 2004, the Ohio Police Training Commission staff was still writing the curriculum for humane agent training. Ohio Valley Dog Owners, the Ohio Association of Animal Owners, and other animal use groups are represented on the review panel..
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |