Carroll senator's amended animal cruelty bill passes Maryland Senate, advances to House

Carroll senator's amended animal cruelty bill passes Maryland Senate, advances to House
In this file photo Emily Hovermale, Maryland Director of the Humane Society of the United States Maryland, and Karen Baker, director of the Humane Society of Carroll County, flank state Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5 (Carroll County), as testifies for Senate bill 152. (Alex Mann / Carroll County Times)

After being changed significantly in a Maryland Senate committee, Sen. Justin Ready’s bill seeking to hold those convicted of animal cruelty financially accountable unanimously passed the Senate Thursday., Feb. 14.

The bill now clarifies that judges can order a person convicted of animal cruelty to pay restitution for the cost of care an impounding agency — like animal control or a local Humane Society — accrues caring for a seized animal.


Lawmakers on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee — which Ready sits on — amended the bill after the committee’s chairman, Bobby Zirkin, D-District 11 (Baltimore County), suggested that it would violate the due process of those who are accused.

Senate Bill 152 originally sought to establish a legal procedure for people who have their animals seized because of animal cruelty charges. It would’ve mandated pet owners who wished to keep their animals pay for the costs of care accrued by the impounding agency that seized the animals until court proceedings are concluded.

“I like the concept of making an animal abuser pay,” Zirkin said at the Jan. 31 bill hearing. “But I would like to think that they’re actually the animal abuser before they are forced to give up anything other than spending time to go to trial.”

Now, the bill recommends that judges order restitution after they convict a person of animal cruelty, Ready, R-District 5 (Carroll County) told the Times.

“Many times judges felt they couldn’t order restitution,” Ready said, citing testimony by animal workers from around the state during the bill hearing Jan. 31.

“The Humane Society of the United States appreciates the senate committee’s agreement that animal abusers should be responsible for paying for the cost of caring for their animals, even while they are in the custody of animal control, and clarifying that judges can award restitution to agencies for these costs as a condition of sentencing for convicted animal abusers,” Emily Hovermale, the Maryland director of the Humane Society, said in an emailed statement.

Should it become law, the amended legislation would authorize courts to order a defendant to pay — in addition to court fees and legal costs — “all reasonable costs incurred in removing, housing, treating, or euthanizing an animal confiscated by the defendant.”

Restitution, Hovermale said in her testimony before the committee Jan. 31, is an imperfect solution.

“In cases where (animal control agencies) are awarded restitution, that’s something that they often never see,” Hovermale told lawmakers.

Ready said that the amended bill doesn’t fix cases where animal control agencies seize large amounts of animals and accrue massive care costs, but does protect the taxpayer from paying all of the cost of animal care at local humane societies and animal control facilities.

In her testimony before the committee Jan. 31, Crystal Mowery, field services director for the Humane Society of Washington County, highlighted various animal seizure cases — including one where her agency seized 39 dogs from a home.

Because her agency had to house and care for so many dogs while one case played out in court, the Humane Society was limited in the care it could provide for regular strays. If the strays weren’t adopted within five days of intake, she said, they had to be euthanized due to a lack of space and resources.

“Unfortunately, the legislation that passed the senate does nothing to address the issues caused by the lack of a workable civil procedure to determine the disposition of seized animals,” Hovermale wrote. It “will do nothing to help with the issues for the agencies and the animals that are caused by forcing seized animals to live in animal shelter kennels for months awaiting the outcome of the owner’s criminal trial.”

Ready’s bill was introduced in the Maryland House of Delegates Friday and assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would have to be OK’d by the committee before it returns to the House floor, where lawmakers would vote on adopting the bill into law.