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Monday, 23 October 2017

MFOA Testimony in Support of L.D. 703
Written by MFOA   
Wednesday, 03 April 2013

TESTIMONY OF ROBERT FISK, JR.

President and Director of Maine Friends of Animals

IN SUPPORT OF L.D. 703

"An Act to Make Post-conviction Possession of Animals a Criminal Offense"

COMMITTEE ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND PUBLIC SAFETY

March 29, 2013

Good afternoon, Sen. Gerzofsky, Rep. Dion and distinguished members of the Committee. Thank you, Sen. Mazurek, for sponsoring this bill. My name is Robert Fisk Jr. I am President and Director of Maine Friends of Animals, the state's leading animal protection organization. We promote the humane treatment of animals through education, advocacy and legislation.

If you take a look at the attached page from our recent newsletter, you will see we have passed numerous pieces of legislation protecting companion animals, particularly dogs. As examples, in 1999, we increased the penalty for animal cruelty from a misdemeanor to a felony offense. In 2006, we began our ongoing ‘Dogs Chained for Life' campaign and we passed first-in-the-nation legislation addressing dogs left outside on a continuous basis. In the last legislature, we passed legislation in which all first responders, even mall parking lot police, can respond to pets left in an unattended vehicle where they can quickly become overheated and die. We have also worked with the State Animal Welfare Program in passing legislation. L.D. 703 is another small effort to address the protection of our pets.

Maine has the distinction of having the second best animal welfare laws in the nation. We are proud of that, but unfortunately laws themselves do not always have the intended effect. As we all know, enforcement and adjudication sometimes leave the consequences far from the intent of the law.

A prime example was the Buxton puppy mill case, a high-profile 2007 raid amid allegations of rampant mistreatment of dogs. State animal welfare staff seized 250 dogs which were cared for by an array of shelters and humane organizations. Medical care, shelter and treatment for the dogs, as well as more than 100 puppies born to them in the weeks after the raid, cost the state more than $450,000.

The owners of the puppy mill fled to Massachusetts after the incident, but were brought back to Maine in 2009 to face animal cruelty charges related to their Buxton site. After all the time and money put into prosecuting this egregious case of animal cruelty, we were shocked this past September to learn that the York County District Attorney's office had dropped all charges on a plea bargain by which the defendants could not be charged again in the next 17 months and that the two owners provide 30 hours of community service. By dropping the charges, they actually could have dogs again!

L.D. 703 is an effort to provide stronger laws against these types of cases and provide another deterrent. Currently, if someone is convicted of animal cruelty, as part of the sentence, the court may prohibit the defendant from having possession of an animal. This bill would make having post-conviction possession of an animal a criminal offense.

On a misdemeanor animal cruelty conviction (Class D), the period would be a possession ban of five years; in a felony animal cruelty conviction (Class C), the period would be 15 years, or life if the judge so determines. We realize there may be some cost associated with creating a Class C crime, but the volume of these cases would be small with only minor costs associated with this bill.

To provide the defendant and court some leeway, there is a relief value in which the defendant may petition the court for relief of the possession ban. After a year on a misdemeanor and five years on a felony of animal cruelty, the defendant may petition the court to reduce the duration of the mandatory ban on possession of an animal.

At the hearing, the defendant/petitioner shall have the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence all of the following:

  1. s/he does not present a danger to animals;

  2. s/he has the ability to properly care for all animals in his or her possession; and

  3. s/he has successfully completed all classes of counseling ordered by the court, which we feel should be mandatory and at the defendant's expense.

L.D. 703 provides a minimum time for a ban on the possession of animals after an animal cruelty conviction and provides a consequence if that person violates the ban. Currently if a defendant violates the ban, the individual will likely receive only a contempt of court charge. If the ban violation becomes a criminal offense, we believe that person will think twice about violating the ban. The bill provides a strong deterrent while providing extra assurance that these people will not have easy access to abuse more animals.

Maine Friends of Animals believes this is just good public policy and we ask the Committee to continue to support laws which maintains our record of a state that takes animal cruelty seriously. I urge the Committee vote "Ought to Pass" on L.D.703.

 
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