Ready's animal cruelty bill has committee hearing, needs amendments to move forward

Ready's animal cruelty bill has committee hearing, needs amendments to move forward
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 Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5 (Carroll County), as he testifies about a his bill that addresses animal cruelty. (Alex Mann / Carroll County Times)

Animal workers and advocates from across the state convened in Maryland’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday to support Sen. Justin Ready’s bill, which establishes a legal procedure for people who have had their animals seized because of animal cruelty charges.

Senate bill 152 “clarifies and expedites the legal process to determine what happens with animals when they are seized in cruelty cases and ensures that animal owners, not taxpayers, not the county agencies, cover the cost of caring for lawfully seized animals for those individuals who wish to maintain their ownership rights (until the court case is resolved),” said Emily Hovermale, the Maryland and Delaware Director of the Humane Society of the United States.


The legislation sponsored by Ready, R-District 5 (Carroll County) and cross-filed in the House by Delegate David Moon, D-District 20 (Montgomery County) — known as one of the most progressive lawmakers in Annapolis — would allow the convicted animal owner to write off their ownership rights to the animal control agency, which would allow the agency to put the animal up for adoption.

If they don’t write off their ownership, the bill would require a District Court Judge to set a bond for the alleged abuser to pay for the care of the animal as the legal process proceeds.

Up to 36 other states, including all of Maryland’s neighbors, have similar laws, Hovermale said: “It’s long past time that Maryland have a similar way to ensure that animal abusers … when their animals are seized, that they are responsible for paying for the cost of caring for those animals, instead of the counties, animal control agencies and taxpayers.”

Seventeen of the 36 states that have similar laws use a prepaid bond method, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Hovermale’s organization, local humane societies — including the Humane Society of Carroll County — and organizations representing animal workers testified in support of Ready’s legislation. The Maryland Association of Counties, known as MACo, also supported Senate bill 152.

“This would allow us to establish ownership for animals,” said Karen Baker, executive director of the Humane Society of Carroll County. “Pet owners have a responsibility to provide for their pets whether they’re in their home or in the event that they are seized.”

Lawmakers on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, including Chairman Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-District 11 (Baltimore County) and Sen. Chris West, R-District 42 (Baltimore County), raised concerns about violating an individual's due process and the fact that the bill outlines a bond mechanism for accused abusers to pay for the care of their animals.

“I like the concept of making an animal abuser pay,” Zirkin said. “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.”

West suggested that a cash bond be added to the bill as an option for paying for the care of seized animals.

Under current law and practice, local human societies and animal control agencies are often left funding the care for animals under their supervision because an owner awaits a resolution to an animal cruelty case.

“We need a mechanism to establish ownership for animals, so that we’re not holding them indefinitely,” Baker said. “We can’t do that. It’s just not feasible in the shelter. We have limited space and if we’re faced with a large case, say it’s 20 head of cattle, or a large amount of horses, that financially could become crippling to us.”

Carroll’s human society has 36 dog kennels and can house about 100 cats, Baker said. Because of current law and practice, the Carroll humane society has been forced to house seven dogs for the past two years — costing the organization about $53,000, she added.

“We provide the vet care, the food, grooming. Our staff is cleaning and treating them,” Baker said. “It’s a huge drain on our resources.

“It’s a limited budget, limited staff and limited space.”


If all of their animal-housing facilities are filled with seized animals awaiting a trial — the process of which can drag on for months, or years — Human Societies and animal control organizations can’t house many strays, animal workers testified. Sometimes those strays have to be euthanized because

If enacted into law, Ready’s bill would add about $62,800 to the state’s judiciary in fiscal year 2020, the bill’s fiscal and policy note explains.

After testimony and lawmaker debate Thursday, it’s clear the bill will need to be amended in order to pass.

“Anytime you do a hearing on any bill, particularly a bill that’s as complex as this one, where you’re trying to establish something new, this is the first step,” Ready said after the bill hearing.

“We have a little work to do on it.”