Local shelter backs bill to recover costs

The Costs of Care of Seized Animals Act, also known as House Bill 82, would provide humane societies which seize animals for cruelty cases the ability to pass the costs of veterinary and care costs to the owners of the animals.

In a recent case, the Paws Along the River organization in Warren had 45 dogs for 16 months, at $3 per day boarding fees and all veterinary costs, while the case went through the courts. The Humane Society has won the case in Superior Court, and the owner now owes the organization $40,000. The legislation would have allowed the owner to be billed, as costs were incurred, and Paws Along the River would not have to attempt to collect the money after the fact.

Paws Along the River Director Karen Kolos said, “We had a national (breed) rescue group come in, and found homes for all the surviving dogs. We try to educate owners, rather than seize the animals, but it doesn’t always work. Humane societies across the state are facing financial distress when they seize animals and have to pay the costs with money from donations. We have to pay operating expenses, like water, heating, and electric.”

“This legislation will protect non-profit animal shelters from being bankrupted by costs incurred in large scale animal rescues,” said bill sponsor Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler County.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals website, many states have laws that authorize the court to order the person charged with cruelty to post a bond to cover the cost of caring for the seized animals while the criminal case is resolved. These laws typically allow the court to order forfeiture of the animals if the person fails to post the bond.

The American Kennel Club, which believes no dog should be kept in circumstances where its needs cannot be adequately fulfilled and agrees that those convicted of animal cruelty should be held accountable for costs of caring for the animals, opposes the bill as written because it could negatively affect owners rights.

Under current law, shelters which house animals rescued in cruelty cases often spend thousands of dollars caring for those animals until all appeals are exhausted. This legislation protects defendants, animal shelters and the animals by providing an avenue for both parties to meet before a judge immediately after seizure and determine responsibility for the animals.

H.B. 82 guarantees that criminal defendants maintain some responsibility for basic costs of care. Reasonable costs of care are limited to $15 per animal per day, plus necessary medical expenses as documented by veterinarian invoices. The bill also outlines a process for filing and serving such petitions and provides for court hearings to determine the responsibility for reasonable costs of care, the amount, and a payment schedule.

A court order would determine when a final judgment on the related criminal charge is issued, when the owner surrenders all rights to the animals, or when the seized animals are no longer under the control of the shelter. It also states that any unused portion of reasonable costs of care remaining after full payment shall be remitted to the defendant or owner.

Kolos urged people to contact State Sen. Joseph Scarnati’s office to help move the bill to a vote. The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee for review.