Right now, the New Hampshire Legislature is considering a bill to clarify and strengthen penalties for animal abusers. The bill adds language to the existing state animal cruelty laws. For example, it requires courts to hold a preliminary hearing within 14 days of an animal being seized. The bill also requires owners of seized animals to post a bond for animal care within 14 days if they are appealing a conviction for animal cruelty.
Another change the bill would make to current law is imposing a minimum five-year ban on owning orresiding with animals for those guilty of felony animal abuse or bestiality. Currently, judges have discretion over whether to ban someone convicted of animal cruelty from owning or working with animals in the future.
What constitutes felony animal abuse?
It is a class B felony in New Hampshire to “beat, cruelly whip, torture or mutilate” an animal. A person is also guilty of a felony after a second offense of negligently depriving an animal of needed shelter or food, negligently mistreating or overworking an animal, or negligently transporting an animal in a way that is bad for it.
Generally speaking, the maximum prison sentence for an animal cruelty conviction in New Hampshire is seven years.
Support for five-year minimum ban
The New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is in favor of the minimum five-year ownership ban for egregious animal abusers. On their website, the group points out:
“Recidivism rates among animal abusers is staggeringly high – near 100% for certain types of crimes. State legislatures, in response to this proven cycle of cruelty and the link between animal cruelty and violence against people, are passing laws to prohibit future ownership of animals to protect people and animals.”
They, and other proponents, feel that no one guilty of felony animal abuse or bestiality should be allowed to own or live with animals for at least five years.
Opponents of a mandatory ban on animal ownership feel it could have unintended consequences. They point to the use of the phrase “residing with”, arguing that this could prevent someone convicted of felony animal abuse of returning to their homes if someone they live with – like a significant other or roommate – owns animals.
Opponents also note that judges already have the power to ban offenders from owning animals for any amount of time. A mandatory minimum of five years will unnecessarily tie judges’ hands when a more nuanced approach may benefit an offender’s rehabilitation.