Massachusetts passes historic comprehensive anti-cruelty law

By on August 6, 2018 with 10 Comments

As a Massachusetts native, I’m excited about my home state’s latest positive action for animal protection, the passage of a comprehensive omnibus anti-cruelty bill, “PAWS II,” a few days ago by both chambers of the state legislature. PAWS II, which awaits the signature of Governor Charlie Baker, represents a true “next-generation” measure in state-level animal protection law, and raises the bar for other states seeking to build upon their own basic anti-cruelty statutes. I’m also happy to report that our state director and other supporters have played a strong role in getting PAWS II over the bar.

Over the last three decades, many of my colleagues at the Humane Society of the United States have spent time and energy working to build out the nation’s anti-cruelty framework, state-by-state, measure-by-measure, year-by-year. We’ve helped to secure several thousand state laws during that time, and we’ve made significant progress.

That said, there are few examples of a state doing so much, so deliberately, and so rapidly to make its animal protection laws stronger, more comprehensive, and more consistent with the public sentiments that exist about cruelty to animals as a social problem. In that sense, with PAWS II, Massachusetts has taken an action with national implications.

PAWS II emerged from the deliberations of an animal welfare task force formed after the Massachusetts legislature passed the first Protect Animal Welfare and Safety (PAWS) Act in 2014 in the aftermath of a highly visible case of vicious cruelty to a dog named Puppy Doe. Sadly, Puppy Doe did not survive the starvation, beating, and torture she’d undergone at the hands of a man also convicted of stealing $130,000 from a 95-year old Quincy woman with dementia, and $4500 from a New Bedford church that had once taken him as an act of mercy.

The task force appointed by the legislature via the passage of PAWS I met nearly two dozen times and the result is a pioneering effort to ensure the protection of people and animals. Among other things, PAWS II facilitates and seeks to improve cross-reporting of animal cruelty to law enforcement agencies by officials responsible for the protection of seniors, children and the disabled; prevents the automatic euthanasia of animals confiscated from the animal fighting industry; and modernizes the state’s prohibitions against animal sexual abuse. The measure also requires property owners and other responsible parties to inspect properties for the presence of abandoned animals, and includes a mandate that insurance companies collect relevant data in the event of a dog-related incident (The collection of such information for three years beginning on January 1, 2019 will allow policy makers and others to evaluate the factors bearing upon dog-related insurance claims in Massachusetts, especially in regard to effective dog bite prevention—without breed discrimination—in the future). Finally, PAWS II explicitly lists drowning animals as a violation of the law, to address the fact that countless animals, particularly wildlife, are intentionally drowned in what amounts to a cruel and inhumane death.

The Bay State has a long and distinguished tradition of animal protection work, and this year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Massachusetts SPCA by George T. Angell, a tireless promoter of kindness-to-animals (MSPCA also worked hard in support of PAWS II). In recent years, Massachusetts has ranked number three in our assessment of the most humane American states, as we’ve seen steady progress in advancing good animal protection policy, whether by the passage of laws or the successful approval of ballot initiatives like the farm animal protection measure we championed in 2016.

The details of Puppy Doe’s sad life make for grim reading, and it isn’t pleasant to think of her pain and suffering at the hands of a heartless and emotionally deadened individual. But as sometimes happens, the tragedy of Puppy Doe also set the stage for an ambitious overhaul of Massachusetts’s anti-cruelty laws, one that we can celebrate and advance as a powerful example for the nation. It is our hope that other states will follow suit with commitments to expand their anti-cruelty states, taking the comprehensive approach to animal cruelty that the problem deserves. That would be the best tribute to the little dog whose life and death set these powerful developments in motion.

TAKE ACTION: If you are a resident of Massachusetts, please call Gov. Baker at 617-725-4005 to ask him to sign PAWS II into law. After the call, Massachusetts residents can also send a follow-up message. And if you’re not a Massachusetts resident, you can still help by sharing this opportunity with your friends and family in the Bay State.

Animal Rescue and Care, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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