Prohibits the transfer of rabbits younger than 8 weeks old. At the time of this bill's submission, rabbits can be transferred at 4 weeks.
According to the 2017 rankings from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, New Hampshire falls 13th in the U.S. when it comes to animal protection laws. Some animal advocates want New Hampshire to have stricter laws.
This article deals primarily with protections for domestic pets, rather than protections for wildlife or animals in agriculture.
Animal rights laws in New Hampshire
Cruelty and neglect
In New Hampshire it is illegal to either negligently or purposefully harm an animal.
- If a person negligently harms an animal — for example by failing to provide shelter, water or food for the animal — that person is guilty of a misdemeanor for the first offense. Any additional offenses are a felony.
- If a person purposefully harms an animal — for example by torturing the animal — that person is guilty of a felony for the first offense.
Confiscation and costs of care
The state has the power to confiscate animals in cruelty cases. New Hampshire’s animal cruelty law also allows police or licensed humane societies to break into a very hot or cold unattended motor vehicle if there is an animal inside.
If the owner of an animal is found guilty of cruelty, a judge may order the owner to reimburse the state for the cost of the animal’s care. The court may also restrict the owner’s rights to keep animals in the future.
New Hampshire does not have any law restricting how pets can be euthanized. This means an owner may legally euthanize his or her own animal if they choose.
Licensing and vaccination laws
New Hampshire law requires all dogs, cats, and ferrets to be vaccinated against rabies. If an owner does not vaccinate his or her pet, he or she is guilty of a violation, similar to a speeding ticket.
State law also requires dog owners to purchase an annual license from the municipality they live in. Municipalities may also technically require a license for cats, but according to the New Hampshire Municipal Association, “few, if any, municipalities actually license cats.” Failing to license a dog is a violation, and local authorities may seize an unlicensed dog. If the owner does not license the dog within seven days, the dog is forfeit.
Money from annual dog licenses goes to the towns, the state veterinary diagnostic laboratory, and a fund to promote spay/neuter programs.
Laws regarding keeping pets on a leash or confined on private property (for example, behind a physical or electric fence) vary from town to town.
Other animal protection laws
Other New Hampshire laws:
- Prohibit animal fighting
- Prohibit bestiality
- Prohibit transporting dogs in the bed of a pickup truck, with some exceptions
- Prohibit “menacing, nuisance or vicious behavior” by dogs
- Prohibit anyone but a licensed veterinarian from cropping the ears of a dog
- Require drivers to report if they hit a dog with their vehicle
- Allow pets to be covered by restraining orders in domestic violence and stalking cases
Possible new animal protection laws
Animal advocates and legislators have proposed several ways to expand (or limit) New Hampshire laws protecting animals.
Costs of Care laws
One of the largest challenges in animal cruelty cases is the cost to care for the animals: boarding, grooming, veterinary care, etc. Under current law the town is responsible for the costs, although sometimes humane societies will pitch in.
After an owner is convicted of animal cruelty, they can be billed for the costs of caring for the animal. (However, owners may not have enough money to pay the bill.)
Under Costs of Care laws, judges may ask the defendant in an animal cruelty case to post a bond to cover animal care costs until the case is complete. If the owner refuses or cannot pay the bond, the owner must forfeit the animal for adoption. An attempt to pass a Costs of Care law failed in New Hampshire in 2018.
Current state law defines a “commercial kennel” as any person or organization that transfers 10 or more litters or 50 or more puppies in any year. Breeders who meet this criteria have to get a state license and are subject to mandatory inspections every six months. There are also strict regulations about how the animals must be treated, from the size of any cages or kennels to allowing time and space for exercise. Read New Hampshire law regarding the sale of pets.
Other states use the number of breeding female dogs on the premises as the threshold for licensing, or the total number of dogs who have not been spayed or neutered, which some argue is easier to track or observe than the number of puppies or litters. Other states cap the number of unsprayed or unneutered dogs a breeder can own.
In contrast, some states have almost no regulations on commercial kennels or breeders.
Registration of animal abusers
In 2016 Tennessee became the first state to create a registry of people convicted of animal abuse, similar to the registry of sex offenders. Since then some states, counties, and municipalities have considered similar laws. An attempt to implement a registry in New Hampshire died in 2017.
Prohibition of declawing
There are counties and municipalities across the United States that ban the declawing of cats, but so far no state bill to ban declawing has succeeded. However, California and Rhode Island both forbid landlords from requiring a tenant’s cat to be declawed.
Requirement to report animal abuse
Some states, including Maine, require veterinarians to report animal cruelty in certain circumstances. Other states, such as Connecticut, require child protection workers to report if they suspect animal abuse is taking place in a family they are investigating.
Repealing dog licensing
Lawmakers in New Hampshire have introduced several bills over the years to repeal or limit dog licensing. They argue that law enforcement resources are wasted every year enforcing dog licensing laws, which are already an unjustified tax on animal companionship. Other lawmakers say there is no evidence police are spending time chasing down dog owners for late licenses. License fees fund import efforts to control rabies and the stray animal population.
In some states, only veterinarians, law enforcement officers, or humane societies are allowed to euthanize animals, and the methods used are strictly regulated. Supporters argue such laws help protect animals from painful or unnecessary deaths, while opponents counter that it can impose an unnecessary expense on pet owners.
There has been no recent attempt to change New Hampshire’s animal euthanasia laws.
PROS & CONS
“New Hampshire should pass stronger animal protection laws.”
- Animals, as thinking and feeling beings, should not be considered more like people than property in legal terms. While the law already recognizes this in some ways, such as by making it illegal to treat them cruelly or negligently, there are further steps New Hampshire could take to protect their natural rights to health and safety.
- There is extensive evidence that anyone who abuses an animal is more likely to commit other violent crimes. Stricter laws and penalties to protect animals will empower law enforcement to identify and prosecute violent criminals before they escalate to crimes against humans.
- Towns and humane societies spend thousands of dollars when caring for animals in animal cruelty cases, and often are not able to recover all of the costs from convicted animal abusers. A Costs of Care law would rightly move the responsibility of animal care from taxpayers to the guilty party.
- Changing how New Hampshire defines a breeding kennel could make it easier for officials to inspect facilities with large numbers of dogs, and help prevent abuses like that seen in the notorious 2017 Great Dane puppy mill case in Wolfeboro.
“New Hampshire should not add more animal protection laws.”
- While we all love our pets, they are ultimately property, and should not have the same rights as humans. Law enforcement should not spend any more resources on protecting animals instead of humans. The time law enforcement spends enforcing dog licenses is already arguably a waste of police resources.
- Many possible animal protection laws threaten the liberty of pet owners, who should have the right to determine the appropriate care for their animals. For example, some owners may view declawing as the only alternative to surrendering a pet cat to a shelter; the state should leave that decision to the pet owner.
- Costs of Care laws violate a defendant’s right to due process by forcing him or her to pay a penalty before being found guilty.
- Stricter breeding laws may force good breeders out of business if regulations are too burdensome. Because the demand for pets does not decrease, adopters may then turn to out-of-state sources. New Hampshire has no control over how dogs are treated before they arrive in the Granite State, and adopters have little recourse if they later discover an animal they bought is sick. Stricter laws will also not impact underground breeders that already disregard state laws.
- Strict animal neglect laws can treat as a crime something that is often the result of mental illness. Animal hoarders, who are more likely to neglect their animals, should be helped through counseling and community support, not prosecution.
Requires the Department of Business and Economic Affairs to prepare materials for businesses relative to service dogs, including a window decal and an informational brochure about what questions a business owner may ask regarding a service animal. The House amended the bill to shift that responsibility from the Department of Business and Economic Affairs to the Secretary of State.
Requires anyone bringing an animal into a state park or state forest to clean up or remove all solid waste produced by such animal, subject to a $50 fine.
Legalizes hemp, and establishes a committee to study the federal guidelines on growing hemp. The Senate amended the bill to also include several changes to state animal cruelty laws. These include setting a 14-day deadline for courts to hold hearings in animal cruelty cases; allowing courts to require someone appealing an animal cruelty conviction to post a bond up to $2,000 to pay for animal care; banning those convicted of felony animal cruelty from owning animals for at least five years; and requiring that a health certificate with proof of vaccination accompany any dog, cat or ferret being transferred from one owner to another.
Establishes a committee to study the authority and duties of the board of veterinary medicine.
Allows a veterinarian to vary a rabies vaccine dosage based on the results of a rabies antibody titer test.
Adds the care and ownership of animals to the "tangible property" that must be addressed in a divorce settlement.
Adds cats to the definition of a commercial kennel, which currently only covers dogs.
Establishes a commission to study best practices for companion animal groomers.
Establishes a committee to study allowing town clerks to accept proof of exemption from the rabies vaccine for the purpose of registering dogs.
Increases the group license for dogs, adding $1 for every dog beyond six dogs.
Establishes a Cost of Care Fund to assist municipalities caring for animals during animal cruelty cases. ˙The fund would receive revenue from $0.50 of every dog license, half of the fees collected from the registration for distribution of commercial animal feed and any court-ordered restitution for care in animal cruelty cases.
Allows dogs off-leash on hiking trails in state parks and state forests, provided the dog is under the verbal or physical control of their owner or handler.
Makes it a felony to possess, transfer, or manufacture animal fighting paraphernalia with the intent to be present at, aid in, or contribute to such fighting. ˙The bill also requires the court to ban a person from possessing animals for at least five years if they have a conviction related to animal fighting.
Makes various changes to the regulations governing animal transfers and pet vendors. For example, this bill establishes a statewide animal transfer database to track animal transfers, licensed and registered pet vendors, shelters, and hobby breeders, animal health certificates and records, and municipal licenses of pets.
Allows a facility dog or therapy animal to assist during testimony in a proceeding involving a sexual offense, child abuse, abandonment, or neglect.
Requires a court to ban a person convicted of felony animal cruelty from owning any animals for at least five years. This bill also requires the courts to hold a preliminary hearing within 14 days if animals are confiscated as part of an animal cruelty case, and gives a defendant just 14 days to post a bond to cover the cost of care for the animals when appealing a conviction.
Permits restaurant owners to allow dogs in restaurants.
Repeals the definition of "commercial kennel," and redefines "pet vendor" to specify a minimum transfer of twenty animals in a one-year period (which would cover the previous definition of "commercial kennel"). The Senate amended the bill to also authorizes the Department of Agriculture, Markets, and Food to make rules relative to the number of amphibians, reptiles, fish, or small mammals a person may sell and qualify as a pet vendor. The Senate amendment also establishes a position of accounting clerk to oversee pet vendors. Lastly, the Senate amendment requires dogs, cats, and ferrets offered for transfer to be accompanied by a health certificate.
Requires driver education to include the dangers of leaving animals, babies, and elderly persons in vehicles in extreme temperatures.
Makes it a class A misdemeanor to beat, cruelly whip, torture, or mutilate a wild animal not in captivity.
Increases the fee for a dog license from $2.00 to $2.50 for dog owners who are over sixty-five years-old.
Allows a law enforcement officer to take an animal which is the subject of animal cruelty when he or she makes an arrest for animal cruelty. The House amended the bill to instead move an anti-cruelty law related to colts to the modern animal cruelty statute.
Adds fowl (such as chickens) to the law against livestock trespassing.
Exempts animal shelters from most of the legal requirements for animal transfers.
Permits recognized dog or sporting clubs to trap and possess wild rabbits and hares.
Establishes a committee to study animal welfare in New Hampshire.
Allows a person to rescue a confined animal endangered by extreme temperatures if law enforcement has been contacted, a witness is present, and the individual reasonably believes that assistance will not arrive in time to prevent serious injury or death of the animal.
Increases the amount of time that a person has to pay the $25 fee for failing to license a dog, from 15 to 45 days.
Increases regulation of animal breeders, and appropriates $200,000 to the state veterinarian to enforce the new regulations. This bill also allows the courts to order a person charged with animal cruelty to post a bond to cover the costs of caring for a confiscated animal. The House amended the bill to remove the $200,000 and instead study many of these issues, including the cost of care for animals during an animal cruelty trial. The House and Senate failed to agree on a final version of the bill.
Allows a person to be charged with felony animal cruelty if he or she "recklessly"—not just "purposely"—beats an animal. This bill also allows a person to be charged with felony animal cruelty if abuse causes the death of an animal.
Prohibits wildlife trafficking, such as the sale of rhino tusks.
Establishes a statewide animal abuse registry which requires persons over 18 years of age convicted of cruelty to animals, or convicted of a comparable offense in another state, to register with law enforcement.
Makes it a crime (unspecified misdemeanor for a first offense and class B felony for a second offense) to abandon animals at a foreclosed property.
Makes various changes to the rabies vaccination laws, as requested by the state veterinarian.
Prohibits a defendant summoned for failure to license a dog from being arrested for failure to appear on such summons.
Makes it a class B felony to beat, cruelly whip, torture, or mutilate a wild animal not in captivity. This bill also requires the Lottery Commission to take protective custody of animals mistreated at facilities licensed to conduct live horse racing or dog racing. There is no live dog or horse racing in the state at this time.
Makes various changes to the licensing of veterinarians and the regulations governing the transfer of animals.
Makes it a crime to withhold appropriate hydration from certain animals, and establishes a committee to study harmful weather conditions for dogs.
Modifies the regulations regarding transporting dogs from out-of-state, and requires "animal importers" to register with the state.
Repeals the requirement that dogs be licensed.
Prohibits the possession, purchase, or sale of equipment used for animal fighting.
Creates special "Friends of Animals" license plates to fund the companion animal neutering fund and the state veterinary diagnostic laboratory.
Prohibits the trade of shark fins.
Establishes the crime of bestiality.
Requires that certificates for rabies vaccination of dogs, cats, or ferrets be produced in duplicate, not in triplicate, and the town or city not be sent a copy.
Protects individuals donating pet food or agricultural feed from liability if the food is past its expiration date.
Permits dog owners to provide city or town clerks with an emergency contact phone number when registering a dog.
Requires owners of companion animals to leash such animals in the presence of a service dog.
Requires licensed animal transferors to keep certain records and submit copies of such records to the Department of Agriculture.
Allows any person confiscating an animal in an animal cruelty case to file for reimbursement of animal care costs
Should NH pass stronger animal protection laws?
NH passed a bill this year that will require courts to prioritize animal cruelty cases where animals have been confiscated. The bill also bans those convicted of higher-level animal cruelty offenses from owning animals for at least five years.
The House and Senate compromise budget would have created a "costs of care" fund to pay for caring for animals confiscated during cruelty cases. It also would have created a stricter definition of commercial pet breeders, who are subject to state rules and regulations. That budget was vetoed by Gov. Sununu. Legislators will vote on whether to override the veto on September 18 or 19. Contact your legislators and let them know what you think.
Rep. Kevin Maes has requested a bill related to animals in motor vehicles. Contact him to find out more.
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