Would Prohibit Leaving Pets Exposed to Scorching & Freezing Temperatures; Make Cruelly Restraining A Crime
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew that would strengthen New Jersey’s animal cruelty laws by making it a crime to leave pets exposed outdoors to excessively hot or cold temperatures without proper shelter was approved recently by the Legislature. The bill would also make cruelly restraining a dog a crime. The legislation now awaits action by the governor.
“Most owners treat their pets well but, unfortunately, we continue to see devastating cases of animal cruelty each year. Leaving dogs, cats or other pets to suffer outdoors in scorching or freezing temperatures, or keeping them chained in a restrictive way or for hours on end is cruel and could result in injury or death,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic). “Those responsible for this kind of abuse should face punishment consistent with the severity of the crime. This legislation strengthens our current laws and hopefully will deter people from subjecting animals to harsh conditions without regard for their health and welfare.”
A number of municipalities, including Wildwood Crest and Lower Township, have adopted ordinances regulating the chaining or tethering of dogs. The original ordinance was inspired by a dog named Joe who froze to death after being left chained in a yard in the winter. In addition, two dogs died in Atlantic County in January 2016 as a result of being left outside in freezing temperatures, including a puppy found frozen inside a doghouse, according to reports.
The bill (S-1640) would make it a violation of the State animal cruelty laws to leave a cat, dog, or other domestic companion animal unattended outdoors without proper shelter for an extended period under certain conditions. Those conditions are: when the outside temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or less, or during precipitation-related events such as snow, or when the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more or the animal is exposed to direct sunlight, hot pavement or heat, without readily available access to shelter at an appropriate temperature. The bill also defines appropriate shelter for pets.
The legislation would also make cruelly restraining a dog an criminal offense under the state’s animal cruelty laws, and defines the conditions that would be prohibited, including in a manner that exposes a dog to adverse environmental conditions, leaves it without access to water for an extended period of time, in which it is tethered overnight, with a tether shorter than 15 feet in length, or by means of a choke collar, among others.
In the case of evacuation, the bill directs that a pet be evacuated with its owner, if possible. Otherwise, the bill requires the animal to be delivered to an animal kennel, shelter, or other suitable animal care facility, or secured in an indoor area constructed to be as protective of the animal as possible under the circumstances and local emergency responders should be alerted to the animal’s location.
Violations of any of the bill’s provisions regarding adverse weather conditions and proper shelter would constitute failure to provide “necessary care.” Current law defines “necessary care” as care sufficient to preserve the health and well-being of an animal, and includes, but is not limited to: food of sufficient quantity and quality to allow for normal growth or maintenance of body weight; adequate access to water in sufficient quantity and quality to satisfy the animal’s needs; access to adequate protection from the weather; and veterinary care to alleviate suffering and maintain health. A violator may be liable for civil penalties of $500 to $2,000 for failure to provide necessary care. Failure to provide necessary care would be a disorderly persons offense, a crime of the fourth degree, or crime of the third degree, depending on the consequences of failure to do so. Violations of the bill’s provisions regarding cruel restraint of a dog would be subject to fines of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense; for a third or subsequent offense, the offense would constitute failure to provide necessary care.
The bill would require that a person be issued a correction warning prior to being cited for a violation of the bill unless the dog, domestic companion animal, or service animal involved in the violation was seized immediately as a result of reasonable suspicion that the animal is at risk of imminent harm.
The Assembly approved the bill by a vote of 71-1-6, and the Senate approved it 34-0 on June 29. The legislation is now on the governor’s desk.