In The Humane Economy, I look at the question of animal protection partly through an economic lens. I argue that the vast majority of dollars devoted to animal protection go to cleaning up the messes made by others – people who use animals for profit, but then abandon or discard them when they no longer consider them useful or valuable. Think of the homeless animals cared for by shelters. The former exotic pets taken in by big cat and bear sanctuaries when there’s no other place for them to go. The chimp sanctuaries and the parrot rescues that have to care for animals who will live for decades, long after labs or exotic animal dealers have discarded them. I wrote last week about the New York Blood Center abandoning chimps in Liberia, and now The HSUS is picking up the tab for caring for these animals.
This is our curse in the animal protection movement: cleaning up after callous people who exploit animals and leave them to rot. The cost to our cause is in the billions. And that’s precisely why we should have policies so that it is the people who exploit animals that pay the freight — not overtaxed, overburdened animal protection advocates and organizations.
Each year, The HSUS works with law enforcement on hundreds of animal cruelty and fighting cases, and we understand firsthand the heartbreaking cruelty endured by dogs, cats, horses, and other animals who depend on human care. We work with local agencies and organizations to help rescue thousands of abused and neglected animals and, since 2007, we’ve helped pass dozens of state laws to combat cruelty, including laws to make dogfighting and egregious animal cruelty felony offenses in all 50 states.
But there’s often an obstacle to enforcing state cruelty and fighting laws – the cost of caring for animals while the criminal case is prosecuted. When abused and neglected animals are seized by law enforcement, the very animals the state legislature wanted to protect when it passed anti-cruelty laws are often held hostage by drawn-out court proceedings. The rescued animals must sometimes remain in a shelter environment for months – or years – while prosecutors try to make cruelty charges stick in the courts. This long wait to find a new home is not only hard on the animals, but it is also needlessly expensive for taxpayers and animal agencies and organizations.
Tomorrow, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal is expected to take a big step to help abused animals in the state when he signs the State Taxpayer Animal Relief Act, SB 356. The legislation establishes a legal process so that anyone who has had his or her animals lawfully seized due to cruelty may be required to pay for the animals’ care while the cruelty case is prosecuted. If the defendant refuses to pay, he or she will have to forfeit the animals who can then be placed in a new home. It is a law that will serve well for animals, shelters, and taxpayers in Georgia.
Across the country, a patchwork of state laws inconsistently address the cost of caring for animals from cruelty cases. Sixteen states have sensible laws to help with a timely disposition of seized animals. About the same number have no such law. The rest have cost of care laws that simply aren’t effective. The HSUS is working to help ensure every state can take advantage of these smart laws that enable local governments to do the job of cruelty enforcement while saving animals and money.
Good cost of animal care laws shift the financial burden of caring for animals from town governments, animal shelters, and taxpayers to the animals’ owners. We believe it is unfair for local shelters and counties to have to pay the significant cost of caring for abused and neglected animals, when it is the owner who is legally responsible for their care.
In Georgia, there was a great coalition of groups coming together for the STAR Act – including the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, the Georgia Municipal Association, the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, and the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police. There were also shelters from across the state that supported the legislation and could attest to the extreme cost of combating large cruelty and fighting cases. We are especially grateful to Senators Jesse Stone, Michael Williams, and John Albers, and Representatives Rich Golick and Jimmy Pruett. We’ve seen similar legislation passed in Washington state earlier this year, and a very effective cost of animal care bill is now on the Alaska governor’s desk.
Cost of animal care laws are a smart solution to the often significant cost of caring for abused and neglected animals. States have good reason to adopt such laws and we look forward to seeing fast change on this issue in coming years. Doing so will help us build a more humane economy, free of the externalized societal costs of animal cruelty.