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 also has a "costs of care" fund, which helps reimburse cities and towns for the costs of caring for animals confiscated in those animal cruelty cases. The fund gets money from any fees or penalties imposed by judges in cruelty cases, as well as gifts and donations.
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. Any dog, cat or ferret being transferred or sold in New Hampshire has to have a certificate that shows they've been vaccinated.
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.
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.
“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.