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Best Interest of the Pet

May 30, 2011 permalink

Animal protectors want to take pets by force of arms and compel the owners to pay for their upkeep. All for the protection of dogs and cats. Sound familiar?



Penny Cistaro
Penny Cistaro, right, Sacramento's animal care services manager, holds a cat to be photographed before it is removed from a south Sacramento home and taken to a shelter in 2009. XXXXX xxxxx A proposed change to state law would clarify that those facing animal abuse charges have to pay for the animal's care in order to keep it.
Renée C. Byer / Bee file, 2009

Animal abusers must pay to keep pets, California bill says

Most of the 77 cats seized from a Sacramento couple's house in 2009 were euthanized because of poor health.

At a cost of $13,000, the city held onto seven cats during the couple's court case. They pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges and paid $4,000 to get four cats back, leaving the city with the rest of the tab.

Similar cases throughout the state have left local agencies and animal care groups with large bills in recent years, including one for more than $600,000. A proposed change to state law would make it clear that those facing animal abuse charges have to pay for the animal's care if they want to maintain ownership rights.

"We're paving the way toward reduced costs for local governments and ensuring that costs are not a barrier to enforcement of animal cruelty laws by local officials," said Jennifer Fearing, the senior director in California for the Humane Society of the United States.

When the Humane Society of Pasadena seized 240 cats from a woman's small storage shelter in December, the group rented a space five times as big to properly care for them.

Most of those costs for care will be borne by the city, Fearing said. Like the Sacramento couple, the Pasadena woman can claim ownership of only a handful of them under local ordinances. Yet, legal ambiguity sometimes keeps animal care agencies from putting the others up for adoption until the case is closed.

Some pet owner groups fear innocent people may be forced to forfeit their animals if they can't afford the impound charges.

"It creates a possible punishment even if you are acquitted," said Florence Blecher of the California Responsible Pet Owners' Coalition.

Requiring a court hearing to make the rules clear to defendants is one part of Assembly Bill 1117. The other sends a message to judges that convicted animal abusers shouldn't go back to caring for pets immediately.

"We're not trying to remove discretion from judges," said bill author Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita. "We're just trying to keep the animals safe from those that would hurt them."

Smyth's original bill required judges to bar convicted abusers from possessing or living with an animal for up to 10 years in the case of a felony conviction. Violating the rule could have led to jail time.

The California Judges Association opposed a one-size-fits-all approach. Others questioned the prudence of creating laws leading to more trips to prison or jail at a time when they are overpopulated.

"California has a history of being overly intrusive with our laws," said Stromy Hope of the California Responsible Pet Owners' Coalition. "That's helped put us in the financial straits we are in."

The amended bill expected to come before the full Assembly next week addresses the concerns. It would allow only for a $1,000 fine if the post-conviction ban is violated, and simply recommend that judges impose a ban.

"Some judges and district attorneys understand intuitively the threats posed by previous criminal conduct against animals, but not every one does," Fearing said. "This puts that on their radar."

Source: Sacramento Bee

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