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Animal cruelty costs fall on towns, shelters

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Animal cruelty and neglect cases can get expensive.

In situations where animals have be removed for their safety, costs mount up for boarding, feeding, and grooming. Many animals will also need veterinary care, which means lab fees, exams, and the cost for treatment.

For animal hoarding cases, where multiple animals are involved, these expenses can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Even care for a single animal can average around $2,500 as a case is prosecuted.

Who pays?

According to New Hampshire law, towns are responsible for caring for animals while cruelty cases are being prosecuted.

If a defendant in an animal cruelty case is found guilty, the court can order them to pay back the costs of caring for their animal as restitution. There are no costs recouped when a defendant is found not guilty.

However, many defendants lack the financial means to pay those costs back.

When they don’t pay, towns may pick up the tab—or not, leaving animal shelters and veterinarians to absorb the expense.

Impact on prosecutions?

According to some animal rights advocates, towns can be reluctant to take on animal abuse cases because of the hefty expenses involved. They argue expecting local taxpayers to foot the bill is an unfair burden.

Possible legislative solution

This has led to a push for “Costs of Care” laws. Under these laws, a hearing is held where the defendant in an animal cruelty case is asked to post a bond for the costs of caring for their animals while their case moves forward.

If they refuse or are unable to pay, the animals are forfeited and can be given out for adoption.

New Hampshire has a policy like this in place, but it only applies to people who have already been convicted of animal cruelty and are appealing their conviction.

Supporters of a “Costs of Care” law here say it would help take money out of the equation when law enforcement and prosecutors are deciding whether or not to move forward with an animal cruelty case. Instead of taxpayers, vets, and nonprofits footing the bill, the expense would fall where it belongs: on the animal owner.

Arguments against “Costs of Care” laws

However, some argue that “Costs of Care” laws are unfair because they potentially punish pet owners before they’ve been found guilty.

Others point out that many animal abuse cases—particularly those that involve animal hoarding, and are therefore the most expensive to prosecute—involve defendants who are mentally ill. They say it is wrong to fine someone for being unwell.

Finally, there are concerns that if defendants refuse to pay, towns will still be on the hook, as the animals can’t be adopted until they’re no longer needed as evidence—which means they would need to be sheltered until after the trial is complete.

Should NH require those accused of animal cruelty to post a bond for the costs of care for their pets, or forfeit them for adoption? Share your opinion in the comments.


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The ultimate cost is paid by the animal. Please do the right thing here and protect the voiceless.

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