OVDO Wants Changes in Animal Cruelty Bill
By: Norma Bennett Woolf Date: 10/31/1997 Category: | Animal Legislation | Canine Issues | Shelter Issues |
Ohio Valley Dog Owners is in the unenviable position of opposing an animal cruelty bill in the Ohio House of Representatives because it does not make exemptions for customary animal husbandry practices, require training or adherence to due process for humane agents, or sufficiently protect the rights of animal owners accused of cruelty.
Ohio animal cruelty law is archaic. It covers only physical abuse of an animal and denial of food, water, and shelter. Therefore, animal owners who keep pets or breeding stock in filthy conditions without appropriate exercise or air circulation cannot be prosecuted as long as the animals have something to eat and drink and a place to get out of the weather.
House Bill 437 was written to change all that. It redefines cruelty to include such actions as disfigurement and mutilation and such conditions as accumulated waste and debris and it calls for housing that allows confined animals to stand up to their full height as well as stretch out and turn around. It also requires that fines collected for convictions be paid to humane societies and used for training of humane agents and increases the penalties for subsequent convictions of cruelty to a fifth degree felony.
However, the bill is seriously flawed. Although it gives humane agents increased power by expanding its authority, it does so without requiring that these agents have any qualifications or training for the job and without specifying that humane agents must follow due process and seek a search warrant before entering private property. It also continues to allocate fine money directly to humane societies involved in the case, even though fines for other animal law violations are directed to the county for disbursement for animal control services.
Ohio law requires that peace officers have training and follow due process, but humane agents are not considered to be peace officers. Dog wardens or policemen enforcing animal cruelty laws must be trained and follow due process, but humane society employees or volunteers acting as humane agents need no previous training in law enforcement or animal husbandry and are not required to get a warrant to enter private property. Although the majority of Ohio humane agents are trained and do follow the search and seizure protections in the US Constitution, the lack of a requirement for training and adherence to due process in Ohio law can lead to violations of the rights of animal owners.
Several animal owners have accused humane agents of confiscating animals without probable cause under the current law. A cat owner told the House Criminal Justice Committee that a humane agent was observed entering her property when she was not at home. The agent reportedly entered a fenced area, looked into a garage through the window, exited the fenced area, opened the garage door, and left the property. She returned later with a police officer; they looked into the garage through the open door and then entered and confiscated 23 purebred cats. The owner said she arrived home before the agent left the property, but the cats had already been loaded in the humane society van and were taken away.
The owner said she was later told that 19 of the cats had feline leukemia. She told the committee that she was denied the opportunity to have her own veterinarian test the cats until she complained to the mayor; then the agent allowed the tests. The veterinarian tested five of the 19 cats reported as positive by the agent; all five were negative.
The cat owner said she was pressured to give up her cats for the next several months. When she repeatedly refused, she was charged with cruelty - five months after the cats were taken. She told the committee that the humane society had euthanized at least 14 of the cats.
The second case presented to the committee on November 18 involved the confiscation of 12 draft horses from a farm when the owner was not home. The farmer said that the horses were pastured on 18 acres with a pond and some trees for shade; the humane agent said the horses were kept on 12 acres with no water or shade. The humane agent did not walk the property to see if a pond or trees were available to the horses. The farmer had a veterinarian's testimony that the horses were in good shape; the humane agent testified that they were in bad shape. The farmer was convicted of cruelty and the horses were given to the family that fostered them for the humane society.
Impoundment of Animals
The bill includes a provision for impoundment at the discretion of the humane agent and gives the agent 30 days to petition the court for a deposit to cover the care of the animals until the case is decided. The court must hold a hearing within 10 days, and if satisfied that probable cause exists, can order the owner to make such a deposit to the court or to forfeit the animal. If a deposit is ordered the owner must provide the money within five business days or forfeit the animals.
If the owner does not have the funds available or cannot get them within five business days, he may lose his animals even if he is subsequently acquitted of the charges.
If the funds are exhausted, the court may issue a second deposit order, and the owner must make a second deposit within five business days of that order.
There is no time limit included in the bill; authorities can conceivably ask for extensions and, if the court orders, the owner has to pay to care for the animals in custody. There is also no requirement for timely filing of charges once the animals have been impounded.
The Great Lakes Regional Office of the Humane Society of the US helped Representative Patrick Tiberi of Columbus, Ohio, write the bill. The original bill included livestock in its provisions, but farmers objected, so the bill was rewritten to include only companion animals. When livestock were included, so were exemptions for customary animal husbandry practices. Those exemptions were removed when livestock were dropped from the bill, leaving canine and feline husbandry practices such as cropping, docking, and declawing subject to interpretation by untrained humane agents.
Sandy Rowland, director of the HSUS office in Ohio, told the House committee that her organization favors training for humane agents, but that money for training is difficult to come by. She did agree to an amendment that allocates fines to humane societies specifically to fund training but without legislative oversight.
OVDO's Rick Foreman testified that in the current language of the bill, cropping and docking could be interpreted by overzealous humane agents as mutilation or disfigurement and that the provision requiring that confinement systems allow animals to stand up to their full height could result in charges against dog owners who ship dogs in crates or travel with large dogs in automobiles. Rowland scoffed at the idea that humane agents would charge owners with cruelty for transporting dogs in cars or crates that are not large enough for the animal to stand to full height. In a letter dated November 19, she also said that an exemption for practices such as cropping and docking is not necessary.
OVDO supports the concept of increased protection for animals in the State of Ohio. However, the organization does oppose the language in HB 437 and asks for the following changes that do not affect the protection for animals included in the bill:
An exemption for customary animal husbandry practices such as cropping, docking, and dewclaw removal;
An exemption for temporary confinement of animals in crates or vehicles for transport or a qualification that the requirement for "full height" be limited to permanent or primary housing;
A requirement that humane agents pass a training course in interpretation and enforcement of the law and in animal husbandry;
A requirement that humane agents get a search warrant before entering private property unless the animals are obviously in danger;
A requirement that charges be filed in a timely fashion if animals have been impounded and that the owner will not be held financially responsible for the care of the impounded animals if delays in the case are initiated by the prosecution;
A requirement that the total amount of any deposit be refunded if the owner is acquitted of the charges.
Ohio dog owners can work for these changes by contacting their representatives by letter or phone call.
HB 437 Goes Back to Committee!
On January 6, 1998, the Ohio House of Representatives voted 55-41 to send HB 437 back to committee for further consideration before a floor vote. The bill was reassigned to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee instead of the Criminal Justice Committee that considered it through nine hearings last year.
Before the vote to refer, the House approved several amendments by Representative Patrick Tiberi, the bill's sponsor, and one amendment by Representative Marilyn Reid. Tiberi introduced amendments to limit the section on confinement to the animal's primary enclosure to allow temporary confinement to crates and dog boxes; deleted the word "disfigure" from the definition of cruelty to remove concern that ear cropping and tail docking could be targeted; changed the section that allowed the judge to order forfeit of the impounded animals or a deposit for their care before a trial to put the burden on the owner to choose forfeiture or payment; and provided for return of the entire deposit and return of impounded animals or compensation for the animals if the owner was acquitted of charges.
Reid's amendment deleted the requirement for "adequate grooming" in the bill. She was prepared to introduce amendments to require warrants for humane agents to investigate cruelty complaints, establish a training program for humane agents, and clarify the definition of companion animals, but she was pre-empted by Representative Ron Hood's motion to refer the bill to the Agriculture Committee.
OVDO thanks the following Ohio individuals and groups for their hard work in fighting HB 437:
- Polly Ward, Ohio Association of Animal Owners
- Karen Stewart-Linkhart of the Ohio chapter of Putting People First.
- Neena Van Camp & Ohio Valley Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club
- Clermont County Kennel Club
- Queen City Dog Training Club
- OH-KEN-IN Akita Club
- Barbara Novick & the Miami Valley Labrador Retriever Club
- Dan Emmett Kennel Club
- Patricia Haines DVM, president of Cincinnati Kennel Club
These national groups also helped.
- National Animal Interest Alliance
- Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council
- Cat Fancier's Association.
And these representatives.
- Ron Hood (R-57)
- Marilyn Reid (R-76)
- Patricia Clancy (R-35)
- Johnny A. Maier Jr. (D-56)
- Darrell Opfer (D-53)
- Randy Weston (D-90)
- William Schuck (R-29)
- Joy Padgett (R-95)
The Agricuture Committee has not set hearings on the bill. Those interested in commenting further can obtain a copy of the bill as amended from Representative Joseph Haines, chairman of the committee, 77 South High Street, Columbus, OH 43266-0603; (614) 466-2038.
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |