Humane Societies Defeat Replacement Bill that Includes Standards for Shelters

Humane Societies Defeat Replacement Bill that Includes Standards for Shelters

By: Norma Bennett Woolf  Date: 01/9/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation | Canine Issues | Shelter Issues |

The Minnesota Council of Dog Clubs and the American Dog Owners Association joined forces to fight the state's cruelty to animals law as unconstitutionally ambiguous and vague, and Hennepin County District Court Judge Thomas H. Carey agreed with their interpretation of the statute in a decision filed March 27.

The challenge was based on the unusual scope of the law, which could penalize innocent pet owners as well as those who are guilty of cruelty.

"Since it permitted seizure of animals without judicial hearing, the law allowed law enforcement authorities, including animal wardens, to enter private property and take dogs or other pets from owner's homes without giving the owner a meaningful opportunity to challenge the action," said Marshall H. Tanuck, an attorney in the case. "This could lead to abuse of the rights of ordinary owners of animals who are mistakenly subject to having their animals seized, perhaps as retaliation by hostile neighbors, retaliatory law enforcement authorities, or others bent on mischief."

Judge Carey agreed.

"The defendant may seize your animals (and) dispose of them, all without your knowledge or consent," he wrote. "Secondly, even if you find out about it, there is no process at all by which you can secure the return of your property and otherwise guarantee that it will not be destroyed before you are given an opportunity to be heard in court. Lastly, there is no procedure by which you can get your property back. The only protection you have in the statute is the ability to keep the animal alive for 30 days by posting bond or security (and even then, it may be destroyed at the end of the 30 days)."

The judge also pointed out that a pet may be a person's most valued treasure and that the law included possible destruction of that treasure absent of any process, let alone due process. Pets confiscated under the statute could be sold, adopted, or destroyed after seven days, and there was no requirement for a hearing on disposition of the animals. Owners could save their pets for 30 days by posting bond, but the animals could be sold, adopted, or euthanized following the 30 days, again with no notice.


New law fails, so state has no protection for abused pets

Before the judge rendered his decision in the case, MCDC had supported House File 1440 and House File 1369, replacement anti-cruelty bills that provided for written warnings before an animal could be seized unless it is "in immediate peril to its well-being ..." and allows owners an opportunity to correct any violations within 10 days. If the warden or officer judged that the animal was in immediate peril, he was required to obtain a warrant before entering the owner's premises. The warden could only seize the animal or animals specifically described in the warrant, and a licensed veterinarian was required at the execution of all warrants.

The bill was drafted as a joint effort of the MCDC, the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, and pet industry trade groups. Following a meeting with MCDC, the health board, and three legislators, officials of the Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County refused to accept the provisions requiring that animal shelters be held to the same minimum standards of care as all pet owners and dealers. The bills were withdrawn by the sponsors following a campaign of death threats and other harassing telephone calls to the sponsors

Judge Carey signed the court order declaring the old anti-cruelty law to be unconstitutional for failure to protect due process under both the US Constitution and the Minnesota State Constitution on March 27. On March 29, MCDC distributed a press release that announced the withdrawal of the replacement bills. Minnesota dogs and cats have less protection now than they did before. Not only are authorities now prohibited from confiscating animals that may be imperiled, but animals in humane societies have less protection than animals in pet shops and puppy mills. Current law allows the formation of "humane societies" that are exempt from conformity to the standards that govern other large scale pet suppliers.

"The Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County, which appears to have orchestrated this negative campaign, in its own publicity releases and statements reports to traffic in more animals every day of the year than all the puppy mills and pet shops in Minnesota combined, refuses to guarantee to the families that purchase pets from them the standards of health for puppies and kittens that are required by every pet shop in the state," said the MCDC press release. "Under existing statutes, any unethical individuals might be able to file for non-profit status and declare themselves a 'humane society' and thereby become exempt from all current humane and consumer protection laws."


The law that failed

Here are some highlights from the two withdrawn animal welfare bills.

House File 1440 included . . .

  • Training in animal care for animal control officers;
  • Strict requirements for probable cause, written notices, and warrants before an animal can be seized unless it is in "clear and present danger."
  • Assignment of a licensed veterinarian, on each warrant service.
  • Animals confiscated under this section may be euthanized only if they are suffering and beyond cure through reasonable care and treatment.
  • The animal owner retains rights of ownership until the court determines that he has violated this law.
  • No bond is required to keep an animal alive during the custody.
  • Proceedings against the owner must begin within 20 days of the date the animal is seized.
  • Conviction of violation of this law can include a limit on pet possession, confiscation of additional animals, a probation period with no animals, and behavioral counseling.


House File 1396 included . . .

  • Prohibition of the sale of dog or cat meat for human consumption.
  • Licensing for brokers, commercial breeders, and retail pet dealers.
  • Inspection of licensees' premises and records.
  • Detailed records of animal purchases and sales.
  • Inclusion of " humane societies, and animal control agencies" in the definition of retail pet dealers.
  • Definition of "hobby breeder" that allows sale or transfer of up to 50 animals per year.
  • Complete records on each animal received or sold by retail pet dealers.
  • Completion of a statement by the retail pet dealer and a veterinarian that the animal is free of health problems or has been diagnosed with a problem, if the latter, what treatment has been recommended.
  • A requirement that the broker and the retail pet dealer he sells to must use different veterinarians.
  • Protection for the purchaser of a sick puppy.
  • Recourse for retail pet dealers who challenge a customer's demand for refund.
  • Statements of consumer protections available to buyers and sellers of animals.
  • Minimum standards for shelter for dogs and cats kept outside.

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