PA 07-230—sHB 7392

Judiciary Committee

Public Safety and Security Committee

Environment Committee

Planning and Development Committee

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

SUMMARY: This act allows a state or local animal control officer (ACO) to take custody of a neglected or cruelly treated animal without a warrant if the officer reasonably believes it faces imminent harm. It requires the ACO to obtain a warrant if the animal is not in imminent harm. It also establishes a procedure for an ACO to petition the court to act when the ACO has not taken custody of the animal. The act makes other changes in the procedures for an ACO to deal with a neglected or abused animal.

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

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

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2007

HANDLING CASES OF NEGLECTED OR CRUELLY TREATED ANIMALS

Procedure When an ACO Takes Custody of an Animal

The act allows a state or local ACO to take custody of a neglected or cruelly treated animal without a warrant if the ACO reasonably believes that it faces imminent harm. By law, animal cruelty includes various violations, from illegally cropping a dog's ears to torturing an animal. Under prior law, an ACO could lawfully take charge of any animal he or she found neglected or cruelly treated. The law did not define “lawful,” but practice and case law (see BACKGROUND) required the ACO to obtain a warrant to seize such animals. The act requires the ACO to obtain a warrant to obtain custody of an animal that is not in imminent harm.

By law, the ACO must file a petition in Superior Court when taking an animal into custody, except when in the opinion of a licensed veterinarian the animal is so injured or diseased that it must be destroyed. The act specifies that the petition must be filed within 96 hours of taking custody of an animal without a warrant. It also specifically allows the State Veterinarian to give the opinion that the animal must be destroyed.

By law, the ACO must file a petition in Superior Court stating why the animal is in the court's jurisdiction. The act allows the petition to be filed with the Hartford Superior Court as an alternative to the Superior Court that has venue over the matter. Under prior law, the court had to issue a summons to the animal's owner or keeper, or if this person was unknown, publish a notice in the local newspaper, in either case at least 14 days before the hearing date. The act eliminates the (1) obligation to publish a newspaper notice and (2) 14-day deadline for issuing the summons. It also eliminates a requirement that the court notify the petitioner of the time and place of the hearing at least 14 days before it occurs.

Under prior law, the court could issue an order (1) vesting custody and temporary care of an animal in a suitable agency or person or (2) to the animal's owner or keeper, requiring him or her to show cause as to why the court should not transfer custody and care. The act eliminates a specific requirement that the latter order be addressed to the animal's owner or keeper. It requires that the hearing on the order be held within 14, rather 10, days after its issuance. It requires that the order be served at least 48 hours before the date and time of the hearing and that a newspaper notice of the time and place of the hearing be published at least 48 hours before the hearing if the identity of the owner or keeper is unknown.

Procedure When an ACO Does Not Take Custody of an Animal

The act establishes parallel procedures when an ACO reasonably believes that an animal has been neglected or cruelly treated but has not taken custody of the animal. In this case, the ACO can petition the Superior Court that has venue or Hartford Superior Court to take appropriate action. This can include the physical removal and temporary care and custody of the animal, the authorization of an ACO or licensed veterinarian to care for the animal on site, vesting of ownership of the animal, and the posting of a bond and assessment of costs as described below.

Upon the filing of such petition, the court must issue an order to show cause requiring the animal's owner or keeper, if known, to appear in court. If the owner or keeper is not known, a notice of the time and place of the hearing must be published in a local newspaper at least 48 hours before the hearing. If it appears from the allegations of the petition and other facts accompanying the petition or provided subsequently that there is reason to find that the animal's condition or the circumstances surrounding its care require its immediate removal to safeguard its welfare, the court must issue an order vesting the animal's temporary care and custody in a suitable state, municipal or other public or private agency or person pending a hearing on the petition. The hearing must be held at least 10 days after the issuance of the order. The order must be served at least 48 hours before the hearing.

Bonds

By law, if the court orders the animal's temporary care and custody vested in 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 in whom the court vested the animal's temporary care and custody. The act increases the bond amount from $450 to $500. Under prior law, the bond covered the costs of caring for the animal until the court issued its decision, or 30 days, whichever was first. The act eliminates the 30-day limit.

COURT ORDERS AND ASSESSMENT OF COSTS

The act requires, rather than allows, the court to vest ownership of the animal found to be neglected or cruelly treated (1) in a 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.

By law, the agency or person holding the bond must return a portion of the bond to the animal's owner if the court finds, within 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. Under prior law, the amount to be returned was $15 dollars for each day during this 30 day period that the agency or person was not responsible for the animal's care. Thus, if the court made its decision on the 20th day, the owner would receive $150 back. (Thirty days minus 20 days times $15 per day. ) The act (1) increases the payment to $25 per day for a horse or other large animal and (2) subtracts from the amount returned, in all cases, any veterinary costs and expenses incurred for the animal's welfare.

Under prior law, unless the court found that the animal was not neglected or cruelly treated, the owner or keeper had to 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 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 act 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 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 act further provides that the owner or keeper must pay 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.

By law, if the court vests ownership in the agriculture commissioner, having found the animal neglected or cruelly treated, he may (1) publicly auction the animal under conditions he deems necessary or (2) consign the animal to a livestock auction. The act specifies that these provisions apply if the court vests ownership to a municipality, giving the municipality the same rights as the commissioner. The act 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 act 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 act specifies that all funds collected from the sale of animals sold by the agriculture commissioner through an open advertised bid process must be deposited in the existing “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.

The act requires that all funds collected from sales at public auction of all, rather than just domestic, animals seized by the agriculture department for neglect and cruelty must be deposited into the animal abuse cost recovery account. It allows the commissioner to use the account to cover the costs of housing, care, and welfare of any animal seized by the department, rather than just domestic animals, until the animal's final disposition. Similarly, it allows the commissioner to obtain or use funds from sources other than the account for the housing, care, and welfare of any, rather than just domestic, animal the department seizes.

The act 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 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 (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 illegally 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 10 years in prison for killing a police animal.

Certain acts of animal cruelty are criminal acts. Judges have the same sentencing discretion 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).

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