OLR Bill Analysis

sHB 7392

AN ACT CONCERNING SEIZURE AND CUSTODY OF NEGLECTED OR CRUELLY TREATED ANIMALS.

SUMMARY:

This bill changes the procedures for a state or local animal control officer (ACO) to seize an abused animal. Under the bill, (1) an ACO has three specific options for starting proceedings about neglected and abused animals, including seizure when the animal faces imminent harm; (2) an ACO must file a petition for court action, similar to current law, in all three instances; and (3) the court must decide whether temporary care and custody of such an animal is necessary and hold a hearing to make a final determination on the animal, similar to current law.

Specifically, the bill allows an ACO to take custody of any neglected or cruelly treated animal without a warrant, if it faces imminent harm. Under current law, an ACO may lawfully take charge of any animal found neglected or cruelly treated, but under current practice must obtain a criminal search and seizure warrant to do so. The bill conforms the law with this current practice by specifying the process for taking custody of neglected or cruelly treated animals with a warrant. It also establishes a hearing process to address the needs of such animals before or without taking custody. The bill makes changes to a required petition and hearing process and regarding court orders in such cases.

The bill eliminates a duplicate program established in 2004 under which the agriculture commissioner must, within available appropriations, promote schools and colleges at which at least 20% of the food they serve consists of farm products grown or produced in the state, certifying them as “Connecticut Farm Fresh Schools. ” PA 06-135 established a farm-to-school program within the agriculture department (see BACKGROUND).

The bill also makes minor, technical, and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2007

HANDLING CASES OF NEGLECTED OR CRUELLY TREATED ANIMALS

Lawful Charge and Imminent Danger

Under current law, a state or local ACO may lawfully take charge of any animal he or she finds neglected or cruelly treated. By law, animal cruelty includes various violations, from illegally cropping a dog's ears to torturing an animal. Under current law, the ACO must then file a petition to bring the animal into a court's jurisdiction. The law is unclear as to the meaning of “lawful,” but current practice and case law (see BACKGROUND) require the ACO to obtain a warrant to seize such animals.

Under the bill, an ACO may additionally take physical custody of any animal without a warrant when he or she has reasonable cause to believe that the animal is in imminent harm and is neglected or cruelly treated under the law. The ACO must then file the required petition, similar to current law's process, but the bill specifies he or she must do so within 96 hours of taking physical custody, with an exception for humanely destroying a sick or injured animal, similar to current law's.

Warrant to take Custody for Neglect or Cruel Treatment

The current practice for ACOs is to obtain a warrant to take charge of neglected or cruelly treated animals. Under the bill, any ACO may take physical custody of any animal upon issuance of a warrant finding probable cause that the animal is neglected or cruelly treated. The ACO must also file the required petition, with the humane destruction exception similar to current law's.

Petition Required and Humane Destruction Exception, Jurisdiction, Summons, and Notices

Under current law, after lawfully taking charge of an animal, the ACO must file with the superior court having venue over the matter a verified petition, which plainly states the facts for bringing the animal into the court's jurisdiction and requests appropriate action. When the ACO files the petition, the court must have a summons issued requiring the owner, owners, or person responsible for the animal's care (i. e. , owner or keeper), if known, to appear in court at the time and place it names. The summons must be served at least 14 days before the hearing date.

Under the bill, the ACO must similarly file a verified petition plainly stating the facts. The bill specifies (1) the facts concern neglect or cruel treatment and (2) that an ACO may file in either Hartford's superior court or in the relevant superior court. As under current law, the bill provides an exception for filing the petition, specifying when in the opinion of a licensed veterinarian the animal is so injured or diseased that it should be destroyed immediately, the officer may humanely destroy or cause such animal to be humanely destroyed. The bill specifies that the state veterinarian may provide this opinion and that the opinion can come at any time.

Under current law, if the owner or keeper is not known, notice of the time and place of the hearing must be published in a newspaper having a circulation in the town in which such officer took charge of the animal at least 14 days before the hearing. The bill eliminates this notice requirement for the petition hearing, but requires it for hearings where the court has reasonable cause to vest temporary custody of an animal to a public or private agency or appropriate person (see below). Current law requires the court to also notify the petitioner of the hearing time and place of an initial custody hearing at least 14 days before it. The bill eliminates this requirement.

Care after Petition and Hearing Before or Without Taking Custody

Under the bill, an ACO may file a petition with Hartford superior court or the relevant superior court to attempt to ensure the animal's welfare through court action if he or she has (1) reasonable cause to believe that an animal is neglected or is cruelly treated and (2) not taken physical custody for reasonable cause or upon issuance of a warrant. The petition must plainly state the facts concerning neglect or cruel treatment. The bill specifies that the court's actions include: (1) authorization of an ACO or a licensed veterinarian to provide care for the animal on site, (2) physical removal and temporary care and custody of the animal, (3) vesting the animal's ownership, (4) ordering the owner to post a bond to cover the animal's care, and (5) assessing costs. The same summons and hearing notice requirements for animals in custody apply in such cases.

RESULT OF REQUIRED PETITION, TEMPORARY CARE, AND CUSTODY DETERMINATION

Under current law, if it appears from the allegations in the petition required in all three methods of addressing neglected or abused animals (i. e. , imminent harm, with warrant, or after hearing without seizure) and other facts, or if it later becomes apparent, that there is reasonable cause to find the animal's condition or care require that someone other than the owner or keeper immediately assume its custody to safeguard its welfare, the court must take one of two actions. The court must either issue an order:

1. to the owner or keeper to show cause at a time the court designates as to why it should not vest the animal's temporary care and custody in a suitable state, municipal, other public or private agency, or another person pending a hearing on the petition or

2. vesting the animal's temporary care and custody pending a hearing on the petition with a suitable (a) state, municipal, or other public or private agency or (b) person.

Under current law, the petition hearing must be held within 10 days of the order and the order may be served by any officer authorized by law to serve process, a state police officer, or an indifferent person.

The bill requires the court to make the temporary care and custody order when an ACO has taken physical custody under the same circumstances, but allows the hearing to take place within 14 days of the order. The bill specifies that the order must be served, by the same individuals, but at least 48 hours before the time and date of the hearing. The bill provides that if the animal's owner or keeper is unknown, a notice of the vesting hearing's time and place must be published in a newspaper having a circulation in the town where the ACO took physical custody of the animal. Under it, the notice must be published at least 48 hours before the hearing.

Relinquishing Animal or Bond Required For Temporary Care and Custody

By law, if the court orders the animal's temporary care and custody vested to a suitable agency or person, the owner or keeper must either (1) give up ownership of the animal or (2) post a surety or cash bond with the agency or person to whom the court vested the animal's temporary care and custody. The surety or cash bond must be $ 450 and secure payment for the reasonable expenses of caring and providing for the animal until the court decides what will happen to the animal or for 30 days, whichever occurs first. The requirement that a bond be posted may be waived if such owner provides satisfactory evidence that he or she is indigent and unable to pay for the bond. The bill raises the bond amount to $ 500 and eliminates the 30 day threshold.

COURT FINDINGS AND VESTING CUSTODY

Under current law, if the court finds that the animal is neglected or cruelly treated after a hearing, it may vest ownership of the animal in any (1) public or private agency that is permitted by law to care for neglected or cruelly treated animals or (2) with any person the court finds suitable or worthy of the responsibility. The bill requires the court to vest ownership in such an agency or person.

Bonds and Payment for Costs

Current law provides that the agency or person having the bond must return its balance to the owner if (1) the court finds, in less than 30 days after issuing the temporary care and custody order, that ownership should be permanently vested in someone else's care or the animal should be destroyed and (2) the owner posted a bond. The amount of the bond to be returned must be calculated at the rate of $ 15 dollars per day by subtracting the number of days of temporary care and custody from 30. The bill keeps the $ 15 per day fee, specifying it is per animal, and (1) makes the fee $ 25 per day per animal if the animal is a horse or other large livestock and (2) subtracts from the amount returned, if any, to the owner any veterinary costs and expenses incurred for the animal's welfare.

Under current law, unless the court finds that the animal is not neglected or cruelly treated, the owner or keeper must pay for its care at the rate of $ 15 per day to cover (1) the state or municipal expense for providing proper food, shelter, and care to an animal it has taken charge of and (2) any expense of a state, municipal, or other public or private agency or person in providing temporary care and custody to an animal if the court orders it. The bill specifies that (1) this payment is pursuant to an order vesting temporary care and custody, (2) the $ 15 per day fee is per animal and establishes a $ 25 per animal per day fee for horses or other large livestock, and (3) payments are made until the date the court vests ownership having found the animal neglected or cruelly treated. The bill further provides that all veterinary costs and expenses incurred for the welfare of the animal that are not covered by the per diem rate must be paid by the owner or keeper.

Ownership Vested to the Agriculture Commissioner or a Municipality

Under current law, if the court vests ownership to the agriculture commissioner having found the animal neglected or cruelly treated, he may (1) publicly auction the animal under such conditions he deems necessary or (2) consign the animal to a livestock auction. In a case where rehabilitative or special care for the animal is required, the commissioner may vest the animal's ownership in an individual or a public or private nonprofit animal rescue or adoption organization. The law specifies that such an organization must annually place 10 or more animals in private homes as pets.

The bill specifies that the court may also vest ownership to a municipality, giving the municipality the same rights as the commissioner. The bill specifies that the commissioner or municipality may participate in a public auction in addition to holding one or consigning it to an auction. Additionally, the bill allows the commissioner or municipality to sell the animal through an open advertised bid process in which the bid price and the demonstration of sufficient knowledge and ability to care for such an animal are factors for the commissioner's or municipality's consideration. The bill specifies that all funds collected from the sale of animals sold by the agriculture commissioner through such open advertised bid process must be deposited in the “animal abuse cost recovery account. ” All funds a municipality collects from selling an animal through an open advertised bid process must be deposited by the town treasurer or other fiscal officer in the town's general fund.

By law, there is a separate, nonlapsing account within the General Fund known as the “animal abuse cost recovery account. ” Under current law, all funds collected from sales at public auction of domestic animals seized by the agriculture department for neglect and animal cruelty must be deposited into the account. By law, deposits may also be made into the account from public or private sources, including the federal government or municipal governments. Current law allows the commissioner to use the account to cover the costs of housing, care, and welfare of any domestic animal seized by the department, until the animal's final disposition. Current law provides that its requirements for the account to do not prevent the commissioner from obtaining or using funds from sources other than the account for the housing, care, and welfare of any domestic animal seizes. The bill removes “domestic,” specifying that all animals auctioned are included.

The bill eliminates the requirement that the commissioner annually report to the Environment and Appropriations committees concerning the activities and status of the animal abuse cost recovery account.

BACKGROUND

Farm-to-School

PA 06-135 established a farm-to-school program within the agriculture department and provided that the program must be run in consultation with State Department of Education (SDE). Its goal is to promote and facilitate the sale of Connecticut-grown farm products by farms to school districts, schools, and other educational institutions under SDE's jurisdiction (CGS 22-38d).

Case Law

A 2006 Superior Court decision found the statute concerning taking charge of neglected or cruelly treated animals unclear. The court also found:

[t]he use of the criminal warrant procedure rather than a civil petition procedure to obtain judicial determination of whether immediate seizure is appropriate did not deprive [the defendant] of due process (Connecticut, ex rel, Maureen Griffin, Chief Animal Control Officer v. Thirteen Horses, Superior Court WESTLAW HHD-CV-06-4019747S, June 16, 2006).

Animal Cruelty Criminal Charges

Connecticut has several laws that prohibit cruelty to animals, ranging from broad anti-cruelty prohibitions that make it a crime to overwork or beat an animal to specific laws against particular acts, such as cropping a dog's ears. The penalties for violating the anti-cruelty laws range from a fine of $ 50 for cropping a dog's ears to a fine of up to $ 10,000 and up to ten years in prison for killing a police animal.

Certain acts of animal cruelty are criminal acts. Judges have the same discretion sentencing as they do with other criminal acts that do not carry mandatory minimum sentences. This includes the discretion to sentence an offender to probation or grant him or her conditional discharge.

By law, ACOs may act to prevent acts of cruelty upon any animal and may arrest people for violating any law relating to dogs or domestic animals (CGS 22-329 and 22-330).

COMMITTEE ACTION

Judiciary Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

39

Nay

0

(04/13/2007)