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Thursday, March 6, 2003

House Passes Animal-Hoarding Measure

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE People who neglect large numbers of dogs and cats could be charged with a crime of "companion animal hoarding" under a measure approved by the House 47-19 on Wednesday.
    The measure, now headed to the Senate, would establish procedures for local authorities to obtain a court order to seize the neglected animals or ensure they receive needed food, water and shelter.
    The proposed crime would cover instances in which people have 15 or more pets but aren't providing needed food, shelter or medical care. The measure would not cover fish and livestock such as cattle, horses, sheep and goats.
    Under the legislation, a court could place neglected animals for adoption with an animal shelter or order them euthanized.
    Rep. Joe Thompson, R-Albuquerque, said police in Las Cruces recently took 89 cats from a home. An additional 82 were found dead and frozen.
    Currently, Thompson said, local authorities have to cover the cost of caring for animals taken from an owner unless they're able to recover the costs.
    "It's going to be so expensive for these animal control officers to go in, they're simply not doing it because it will break the bank on them," said Thompson.
    A person charged with animal hoarding would be required to post a bond or provide other financial assurance to the court to cover the cost of boarding or providing veterinary care for seized animals. A person convicted of animal hoarding would not be allowed to adopt the seized animals and the court could bar the person from owning any pets.
    Thompson's initial proposal would have allowed a court to order psychological counseling for a person convicted of animal hoarding, but the provision was dropped from the measure before it reached the House floor.
    Critics of the legislation said local governments still will end up covering the costs of seized animals if the owner is poor. Opponents also suggested that enactment of the proposal could set a precedent leading in the future to limits on livestock.
    "This looks to me like government intrusion," said House Majority Whip James Taylor, D-Albuquerque.
    The proposed crime of companion animal hoarding would be a petty misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. Under current law, people can be prosecuted for animal cruelty.