In June, The HSUS partnered with the Wolfeboro Police Department in New Hampshire to rescue 84 Great Danes from deplorable conditions inside a lavish million-dollar mansion. Responders found the dogs neglected and living in filth, and the owner taking all kinds of moral shortcuts while on her way to selling the animals for thousands of dollars. They had eye infections, open sores, and an array of other serious health problems arising from her deficient care.
Our Animal Rescue Team engineered a remarkable turnaround in the lives of these animals. Since their seizure two months ago, we’ve been committed to their recovery. I’m glad to say that these big, beautiful dogs have been getting better every day.
In spite of the evidence of severe neglect and inattention to their well-being, the owner in this case is fighting the charges against her, arguing that all was well with the dogs. A trial awaits to determine who is right. The case won’t hit the courts until October and it may stretch into the new year.
Meanwhile, every day The HSUS bears the burden of caring for 84 dogs as big as small ponies. The cost has already run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that figure will swell in the weeks and months ahead, because we found them so ill and in such distress.
The breed type and the operation’s location were unusual, but the New Hampshire case is not unique in its imposition of extraordinary expenses in the care of animals. In 2013, after the second largest dogfighting case in U.S. history, for example, The HSUS, with other agencies, cared for many of the 367 dogs seized during a massive federal dogfighting bust spanning the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. It was more than two years before the dogs were cleared for placement into permanent homes. The cost of caring for so many dogs for such a long time, with animals who needed special attention to recover from their abuse, was staggering – well over $2 million.
Thanks to a burst of lawmaking, a majority of states do have some laws to address the cost of caring for animals seized by law enforcement officials in cruelty and fighting cases. In Georgia, quite recently, The HSUS worked with lawmakers to pass legislation to establish 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. The new law puts the financial burden of caring for a rescued animal where it belongs – with the owner – and spares local agencies in Georgia from having to incur huge costs in animal cruelty cases, saving tax dollars and animal lives.
When The HSUS began working on cost of care laws in 2015, there were 16 states with laws to help alleviate the cost of caring for animals seized by law enforcement agencies. Today, after the passage of laws in Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, and Washington, there are 20 states with effective laws on cost of care, and we continue to work on such laws in other states such as New Jersey and South Carolina.
The HSUS has worked for decades to help change the legal landscape for animals – making malicious cruelty and animal fighting not only illegal but also felony offenses. Now we focus on enforcement of those laws, including rewards programs, training of law enforcement agents, and undercover investigations. But if we don’t handle the cost of care issues, these kinds of cases could bankrupt animal welfare groups and local governments. (See where your state stands).
Next year The HSUS will advocate for new legislation in New Hampshire to provide for the care of abused and neglected animals. Gov. Chris Sununu and key lawmakers, led by Sen. Jeb Bradley, support this effort. Such legislation establishes a hearing process so that the prosecutor, agency who seized the animals, or agency caring for them, may file a petition to request a bond payment from the animals’ owners to pay for the animals’ food, shelter, and medical care.
Congress may also address the cost of care issue, related to federal animal fighting cases. Reps. John Katko, R-N.Y., Judy Chu, D-Calif., Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, have introduced the Help Extract Animals from Red Tape (HEART) Act, which will expedite the disposition process for animals seized in federal animal fighting cases and determine the financial responsibility for the cost of the animals’ care. This legislation will require claimants to reimburse the costs of caring for animals seized in federal animal fighting cases when the government prevails in civil forfeiture proceedings. After many years of working to strengthen federal law against animal fighting, and engaging federal authorities to pursue such crimes, The HSUS supports the HEART Act because it is critical in helping to address the financial cost of pursuing large dogfighting and cockfighting cases.
At all levels of government, we believe it is wrong for animal protection groups, counties, or federal agencies 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. These private and public agencies shouldn’t be placed at risk of being bankrupted in the course of doing their jobs and seeing that the animals seized in animal cruelty cases finally get proper care and medical treatment.