Animal Cruelty and Protection Task Force
In August 2013, law enforcement personnel, including Lt. Alan Borgal, Director of ARL’s Law Enforcement, and others responded to a suspected cruelty matter when a puppy—who became known as “Puppy Doe”— was found to have been systematically and severely tortured over several months. She had to be humanely euthanized because her injuries were so severe.
As the facts of this investigation emerged, the public and the Legislature sought to take steps to ensure that the Commonwealth’s laws are sufficient to prevent animal cruelty and neglect and those perpetrators like Puppy Doe’s alleged abuser (and others who engage in such cruel acts) are penalized in a manner sufficient for the crime.
On August 20, 2014, Governor Patrick signed into law, Senate Bill 2345, An Act Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety (“PAWS”). The legislation increased the maximum penalties for animal cruelty from 5 to 7 years in prison and from a $2,500 to $5,000 fine and created enhanced penalties for repeat offenders (up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000); required veterinarians to report suspected animal cruelty; and created the Animal Cruelty and Protection Task Force to consider future protections for animals and ways to strengthen Massachusetts’ cruelty laws. The law took effect on November 18, 2014.
The statute directed that the Task Force consider a large number of mandated issues. The topics ranged from the current structure and use of animal cruelty laws to education, housing, training, seizure of animals, and the creation of an animal abuse registry.
As President of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, Mary Nee was a designated member of the Task Force. Other members included the attorney general or a designee; the president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association or a designee; the colonel of the state police or a designee; the commissioner of agricultural resources or a designee; a representative from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; a representative from the Animal Rescue League of Boston; a representative from the Massachusetts Bar Association; a representative of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council; and 2 persons appointed by the governor, 1 of whom shall be an animal control officer or representative of an association organized in the commonwealth for animal control officers and 1 of whom shall be a veterinarian or member of a veterinary medical association organized in the commonwealth.
Additionally, the Task Force sought to include other individuals who provided expertise and research on particular matters. Lt. Alan Borgal and Nadine Pellegrini, Director of Advocacy, were both included among this group.
The Task Force first convened on December 17, 2014 and formally met 23 times throughout the next nineteen months. Additionally, there were various sub-committees formed to address particular issues such as housing and animal hoarding. These sub-committees met numerous times throughout this period.
The Task Force report is divided into nine separate categories, each addressing a particular mandate of the statute. Each category addresses multiple issues and includes a summary; an analysis of the importance of each issue; the current practice(s); and the recommendation(s) of the Task Force. The recommendations vary, and may include, for example, amending current laws; urging creation of new laws; or recommendations of further analysis and study.
The Task Force’s Findings and Recommendations Report was voted on and approved by the designated Task Force members on July 12, 2016.
Overview of Task Force Recommendations
Importance of Updating Select Criminal Laws – to assess the adequacy, effectiveness and necessity of laws pertaining to animal cruelty
a. Amend current law so animals involved in animal fighting are not automatically euthanized;
b. Amend current law so law is applied to other entities, such as partnerships, as well as corporations;
c. No recommendation to change the primary anti-cruelty statute at this time;
d. Suggest new law or regulation expressly prohibiting drowning animals, including wildlife.
Animals Seized in Cruelty Cases – to identify and review existing services and funding and explore options for care and funding of animals
a. Amend the current statute to permit prosecutors to seek the posting of a bond (to ensure that there are will be funds to cover the cost of care and shelter of the animals incurred by municipalities and/or shelters) from a defendant whose animals have been seized;
b. Explore alternative sheltering options and funding to care for seized animals;
c. Explore ways to expedite criminal cases when custody of live animals is at issue.
Reporting Suspected Animal Cruelty – to examine methods by which animal cruelty is reported and explore additional methods of reporting
a. Amend statutes to remove barriers so that other organizations (for example, Department of Children and Families employees) can report suspected animal cruelty.
b. Promote a uniform and user-friendly reporting system and standardize reporting tools to facilitate reporting and standardize information.
c. Collaborate and share information. Suggest designation of governmental agency or entity to collect all suspected animal cruelty reports.
Animal Control and Statutes – Chapter 140 – assess adequacy, effectiveness and necessity of animal cruelty laws including issuing of citations under section 174E of chapter 140 of the General Laws
a. Amend current law (chapter 174E of chapter 140), known as the anti-tethering statute, to limit duration, time and manner in which an animal can be tethered;
b. Encourage municipalities to adopt comprehensive animal control bylaws to reflect changes in state law and ensure consistent and effective enforcement of local ordinances;
c. Amend current law so that first citation/violation is no longer automatically dismissed;
d. Amend current law, and add a new section, to authorize the Department of Agricultural Resources to regulate kennels and breeders;
e. Encourage municipalities to assign ACOs under the jurisdiction of the police department and have adequate budgets; and
f. Amend current law to increase the penalty for not having a kennel license.
Education and Training Opportunities – to evaluate approaches and offer recommendations as to education and training for law enforcement, ACOs, judges, veterinarians and other professionals
a. Develop training on animal cruelty and the link between cruelty and domestic violence for law enforcement personnel;
b. Expand the current ACO training curriculum;
c. Train and educate judges, appropriate court personnel, and prosecutors about animal cruelty;
d. Educate veterinarians about recognizing animal cruelty and understanding current law;
e. Create a state multidisciplinary team for animal hoarding that would develop an emergency response system and oversee a task force to focus on early intervention of hoarding including mental health counseling in all animal hoarding cases; and create a Department of Mental Health and Department of Corrections forensic assessment protocol for early intervention, sentencing, treatment, and rehabilitation; and
f. Develop and promote animal cruelty prevention, identification, training and screening tools among pet service providers, associations, and the commercial pet industry.
Education – recommend ways to develop and promulgate educational materials to children to educate them about animal abuse
a. Provide education to young children from basic care of an animal to prevention of animal cruelty is a cost-effective use of government and private resources.
Housing Issues – to assess the impact of housing issues, including homeowners insurance and abandonment in vacated housing, on the surrender or abandonment of animals
a. Create greater public awareness about existing services for animals and their families; increase or provide services to prevent relinquishment due to housing issues; alleviate landlord concerns about renting to pet owners by permitting refundable pet deposits; and consider financial assistance for those deposits;
b. Develop more pet-friendly housing through education and legislation; prevent insurance companies from discriminating based on breed; encourage public housing authorities, private owners, and property agents and managers to remove breed, height, and weight restrictions in housing and encourage responsible pet ownership through spaying, neutering and vaccination; and
c. Consider methods to identify animals during eviction proceedings to ensure that the court, the parties, and law enforcement identify and ensure care of animals during eviction; require landlords, owners, and assignees of vacated housing to inspect such properties as soon as reasonably possible to alert authorities to and assist animals abandoned in such properties.
Animal Abuse Registry – examine the feasibility and effectiveness of participation in a national animal abuse registry
a. Encourage the federal government to establish a national abuse registry; and
b. Create a future task force focused solely on examining the feasibility and utility of a state abuse registry if no federal registry exists.
The Link between Animal Cruelty and Other Forms of Violence – assess adequacy, effectiveness and necessity of laws pertaining to animal cruelty
a. Amend current law to include an animal sexual abuse (bestiality) conviction as a predicate offense for sex offender registration;
b. Amend current law so that crimes of animal cruelty and animal fighting are listed in the statute and can be the basis for a request for pre-trial detention of the accused;
c. Explore adding animal cruelty as a category of domestic violence which may offer multiple ways to charge crimes; and
d. Explore the use and awareness of the protective order for animals and ensure it is utilized when needed.