OLR Research Report

April 19, 2010




By: Jeanne Hayes, Legislative Fellow

You asked (1) for a brief history of the Connecticut Humane Society (CHS); (2) statutes governing CHS; (3) whether CHS conducts animal cruelty investigations; (4) whether CHS has settled any lawsuits recently, and from what CHS account settlement money is withdrawn; and (5) who handles CHS's endowment.


CHS began in 1981 and its mission statement, which is still in effect, states that the purpose of CHS is to promote humanity and kindness, and to prevent the cruel treatment of people and animals by helping to prosecute offenders and by encouraging justice and humanity. Despite its mission statement, today CHS only works with animals and rarely assists with prosecutions.

State law gives CHS considerable power to stop and prevent animal cruelty. For example, CHS agents have the same power as law enforcement officers to investigate and arrest people treating animals cruelly. State law also exempts CHS from pet adoption fees. Despite the power and benefits CHS receives from the state, it is not subject to any state oversight or regulation because CHS is a private agency.

In practice, CHS does not use its authorized power to conduct cruelty investigations. Numerous sources said that CHS stopped doing cruelty investigations around 1990, after it was criticized for allowing starving horses to die. Animal control officers across the state now perform these investigations.

CHS has not settled any lawsuits between 2005 and 2010, the years for which their financial audits are available. Thus, it is unclear from what CHS account settlement money is withdrawn. CHS has an insurance policy to protect against losses from lawsuits. CHS's 11-member board controls the $46 million endowment.


The Connecticut General Assembly chartered the Connecticut Humane Society in 1981. At the time, it was common practice for the General Assembly to incorporate private institutions in its charter. The original purpose of the society was to protect children and animals from neglect and cruelty (Connecticut Humane Society v. Freedom of Information Commission, 218 Conn. 757, 763 (1991)). In 1965, CHS made animals its primary focus when the Connecticut Department of Children and Families assumed responsibility for protecting children.

Today, CHS has branches in Newington, Waterford, and Westport. These branches shelter owner-abandoned animals, provide adoptive services, and educate the public on proper animal care. CHS's headquarters are located at the Newington branch, which also operates a veterinary clinic. The Waterford branch has an animal sanctuary that provides exercise areas for cats and dogs. The Westport branch was renovated in 2004 and includes an animal medical facility. CHS also operates a Mobile Adoption Center that appears at events to promote CHS programs and animal adoptions.

CHS is funded entirely by private donations, grants, and “minimum donations” for services rendered; it receives no state or federal funding (Connecticut Humane Society, Donate). The last time CHS received state funding was in 1933. Since then, CHS policy has been to reject state funding, as it is often accompanied by conditions and state oversight (Connecticut Humane Society v. Freedom of Information Commission, 218 Conn. 757, 763 (1991)).


Statutes concerning CHS fall into one of two categories: (1) statutes conferring CHS the power to prevent and stop animal cruelty, and (2) a statute exempting CHS from animal adoption fees. Despite the powers and benefits that Connecticut gives CHS, no law gives the state CHS oversight (see id. at 765) (“there is nothing the record to indicate that the state in any way controls or regulates the society”). In part because the state lacks CHS oversight, the Connecticut Supreme Court has decided that CHS is not a public agency (id. at 766).

Animal Cruelty

Connecticut law allows CHS agents to (1) prevent the cruel treatment of animals and impose fines or terms of imprisonment for interference with such prevention (CGS 29-108c), (2) detain abandoned or cruelly treated animals (CGS 29-108e), (3) collect fees for costs associated with the detention of animals from the owners of the animals (CGS 29-108e), (4) inspect horses' tails to determine if they have been illegally cut (CGS 53-251), and (5) kill animals under special circumstances (CGS 29-108g) (humane killing is acceptable if the animal is so injured or diseased so as to warrant it). Agents of the humane society who legally kill animals do not have to be veterinarians (CGS 20-197).

The Public Safety Commissioner may appoint agents of the society as special police officers, who have the power to arrest and detain persons violating animal cruelty statutes (CGS 29-108b; CGS 53-247 through 53-253). But today CHS has no agents performing these duties. Animal cruelty includes, but is not limited to, overworking, torturing, unjustifiably injuring, abandoning or neglecting an animal (CGS 53-247(a)). Depriving an animal of food, water, or shelter also constitutes animal cruelty (id).

Animal Adoption

A person adopting unspayed and unneutered dogs or cats from a pound must pay a $45 fee, which is deposited in to the town's animal population control account (CGS 22-380f). In return, the pound gives the person a voucher for sterilization and vaccination that is good for 60 days. CHS is exempt from this fee, provided that CHS has an eligible animal sterilized prior to adoption.

CHS must submit a report two times each year to the Agriculture Commissioner that includes the pound from which CHS adopted the animal, the impound number of the animal, and the date of the animal's sterilization. If CHS fails to comply with the sterilization and reporting requirements, the commissioner may terminate CHS's exemption from the $45 fee (id).


Although state law gives CHS the authority to investigate, prevent, and stop animal cruelty, the law also authorizes other people (the Agriculture Commissioner, any animal control officer, or any law enforcement officer) to prevent cruelty (CGS 22-329).

Prior to 1991, the Agriculture Commissioner and any canine control officer could interfere to prevent an act of cruelty, and any person who obstructed them in this duty remained subject to up to a $50 fine and up to thirty days in prison. In 1991, the legislature added “municipal animal control officer” to the list of persons authorized to interfere in cases of cruelty (P.A. 91-59). In 1995, the legislature added “any law enforcement officer” to the list (P.A. 95-358). Finally, in 1998, the legislature replaced “canine control officer” with “animal control officer” (P.A. 98-12). Thus, the 1990's marked a shift towards expanding the power to prevent cruelty to a larger class of people.

In practice, animal control officers take primary responsibility for cruelty investigations. The CHS website directs people with animal cruelty complaints to contact their local animal control. CHS public relations director, Alicia Wright, confirms that, at least for the past ten years, animal control officers have taken the lead in investigating cruelty and neglect complaints. According to Wright, today CHS occasionally assists animal control officers by reaching out to them or upon request. CHS may assist animal control officers by (1) investigating complaints, (2) taking custody of animals for treatment and placement, and (3) reaching out to other organizations to find homes for animals. Wright also reports that CHS advocates for aggressive animal control cruelty investigations. Numerous animal control officers emphasize that any assistance they receive from CHS is minimal and that CHS has turned away many animals in need of shelter and treatment.

It is unclear exactly when and why CHS stopped performing cruelty investigations. Wright does not know when or why CHS stopped cruelty investigations. Craig Segar, animal control director for the town of Vernon, reports that CHS had trained cruelty investigators in the early 1980s. According to Segar, the last time CHS performed a cruelty investigation in Vernon was in the early 1990s. Other animal control officers confirmed that CHS stopped doing cruelty investigations around 1991. At this time, Richard Johnston was president of CHS.

Multiple, independent sources said that CHS stopped doing cruelty investigations after it was criticized for failing to save four starving horses in Thomaston, Connecticut in 1989. Soon after CHS initiated a cruelty investigation, state animal control officers discovered that the horses had died. State animal control officer, Richard Gregan, was among the officers who discovered the dead horses. He confirms that CHS gradually stopped doing cruelty investigations after this incident and eventually dissolved the CHS cruelty unit. Gregan speculates that CHS stopped cruelty investigations in response to criticism of how it handled the Thomaston case.


The Connecticut Office of the Attorney General (OAG) reports that lawsuit settlements are disclosed in the notes to CHS's audited financial statements. The OAG has CHS's audited financial statements for the years 2005 to 2009. The OAG found no reference to settlements in the audits for these years. Wright confirms that CHS has not settled any lawsuits recently. Wright says that CHS has a comprehensive insurance policy to protect against possible losses from lawsuits.


The $46 million “quasi endowment fund” is controlled by the 11-member CHS board. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal issued a March 2010 interim report criticizing the board for allowing its past president, Richard Johnston, to also serve as board chairman. Upon Johnston's March 2010 resignation, the board voted to no longer allow the same person to be both president and chairman of the board (Animals Suffer from Humane Society Dysfunction, Hartford Courant, April 5, 2010). Wright says that the board nominating committee, in accordance with the bylaws, recommends members, who then must be approved by the full board.