Animals Shouldn’t Sit in Cages While an Animal Cruelty Case Drags On

Posted by Scott Heiser, Director of ALDF's Criminal Justice Program on October 15, 2012

Dog by Bob Winter
Photo by Bob Winter

When finally seized by law enforcement, animals who have been abused and neglected by their owners should not sit in cages for months–if not years–while the defendant’s criminal case drags on. That’s just a “no brainer” and all but eight states (AZ, KY, NV, NJ, PA, RI, SC, and UT) recognize this fact. The other 42 states have enacted procedures to address the pre-conviction transfer of ownership of seized animals when the owner/offender fails to pay for their ongoing care. Note that these pre-conviction hearings are not needed when an offender harms someone else’s animal, as the human owner of the victim animal is entitled to possession. Rather, think of all those nasty hoarding and puppy mill cases.

The great state of Pennsylvania has recently seen fit to address this huge shortcoming in its criminal code with HB 2409. House Bill 2409 has already been passed in the House and just moved to the Senate. While one could criticize HB 2409 for being a bit too conservative with its $15/day/animal cap on the pre-trial costs of care, it is a good law. In short, when enacted, HB 2409 authorizes a trial court to order (as part of a civil hearing–emphasis on “civil”–on a petition to address costs) the owner of the victim animals to pay for the ongoing expenses of rehabilitating and caring for the impounded victim animals. House Bill 2409 only applies to animals that were lawfully seized–it would not cover cases where the Fourth Amendment was violated. If the owner/offender fails to post the costs ordered by the Court, then the owner/offender forfeits ownership and the animals can be adopted out to loving homes. Where a car is legally towed away, ownership will transfer to the towing company if the storage costs are not paid–the concept is the same.

This is sound public policy that is predicated on the basic notion that with individual rights (i.e., ownership of an animal) come personal responsibilities (i.e., the duty to provide for the animal’s care). Why then would the American Kennel Club (AKC) oppose such a bill? The AKC states, “As currently written, however, several provisions in this bill [HB 2409] could have detrimental impacts on animal owners ultimately found ‘not guilty’ or released of charges.” The guilt or innocence of the offender has nothing to do with the analysis of whether an owner of animals has a legal duty to provide for their care. When an owner/offender is lawfully relieved of physical possession of the victim animals, but retains legal ownership of those animals, it is the owner/offender’s financial responsibility to cover the costs of their care. Further, to those who are quick to retort “But the defendant’s presumption of innocence is being violated here…” I must remind you of two key facts: (1) this is a civil proceeding, not a criminal proceeding, so the presumption of innocence has no application; and (2) even if this process were somehow characterized as a criminal matter, the presumption of innocence has no role in pretrial matters–if it did, then courts could not hold defendants in custody pre-trial or set bail and/or conditions of release. Have a look at Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979) where the Supreme Court noted that “Without question, the presumption of innocence plays an important role in our criminal justice system. ‘The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.’ Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, 453 (1895). But it has no application to a determination of the rights of a pretrial detainee during confinement before his trial has even begun.” (Emphasis added).

The reality is that more than a decade ago, the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected the AKC’s above line of reasoning where the Court upheld the civil forfeiture of seized animals despite the fact that a jury acquitted the offender. State v. Branstetter, 181 Or App 57 (2002). It is disappointing that the AKC is drawing into question its true commitment to victims of animal abuse. Sure, the AKC pays lip service to the notion of “humane treatment of dogs” in its opposition rhetoric, but when one considers this statement in the context of its objection to such a fundamental tenant (namely an owner’s responsibility to pay for the care of his/her animals) as embodied in HB 2409 (and recent anti-puppy mill laws), one can reasonably conclude that the AKC ‘s self-professed concern for the humane treatment of dogs is something other than sincere.

Take Action

Contact members of the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee and tell them you support HB 2409, to provide costs of care of seized animals.

Sen. Steward J. Greenleaf, Chair (District 12)
Phone: (717) 787-9684
District Phone: (215) 657-7700

Sen. Mary Jo White, Vice Chair (District 21)
Phone: (717) 787-6599
District Phone: (814) 432-4345

Sen. Daylin Leach, Minority Chair (District 17)
Phone: (717) 787-5544
District Phone: (610) 768-4200
E-mail Form

Sen. Joseph B. Scarnati III, ex-officio (District 25)
Phone: (717) 787-7084
District Phone: (814) 726-7201

Sen. Richard L. Alloway II (District 33)
Phone: (717) 787-4651
District Phone: (717) 264-6100

Sen. Lisa M. Boscola (District 18)
Phone: (717) 787-4236
District Phone: (610) 868-8667

Sen. Jane M. Earll (District 49)
Phone: (717) 787-8927
District Phone: (814) 453-2515

Sen. Lawrence M. Farnese, Jr. (District 1)
Phone: (717) 787-5662
District Phone: (215) 952-3121
E-mail form

Sen. John R. Gordner (District 27)
Phone: (717) 787-8928
District Phone: (570) 784-3464

Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (District 7)
Phone: (717) 787-7112
District Phone: (215) 879-7777

Sen. Jeffrey E. Piccola (District 15)
Phone: (717) 787-6801
District Phone: (717) 896-7714

Sen. John C. Rafferty, Jr. (District 44)
Phone: (717) 787-1398
District Phone: (610) 831-8830

Sen. Michael J. Stack (District 5)
Phone: (717) 787-9608
District Phone: (215) 281-2539


5 thoughts on “Animals Shouldn’t Sit in Cages While an Animal Cruelty Case Drags On

  1. Even though Wisconsin has a way to force a bond [for holding costs] on the abusers, 16 seized dogs in Milwaukee sit endlessly in their cages at a facility built for short term (7 day) holds, over 1 year and a quarter now. They are not allowed to be walked (or even seen) by volunteers. They are treated much like seized guns, money, or drugs. They are only able to be cared for by AC staff, who many times are under-staffed. They are caught in the system where they are not forfeited by their abusers, but still the owner’s “property”. Milwaukee Police Department, and the DA’s office, have not brought charges against the perps yet (after 1.25 years)!! Our system is so screwed up that these dogs have little chance of making it out of their cages, except for one thing, and that is on their day of government mandated death.

  2. deb says:

    How can we as humans allowed such acts as this to go on? I hope the strength in signatures and contacting senators to support having this stop is immense and we can pull to get these animals a more decent way of life than “held like hostages” they might as well be dead!

  3. Please pass this very important bill! The reason is that these animals do not do well living in a crate. As a matter of “fact” animals in general
    do not do well. The crates cause stress and tension because they are not able to move around,
    stretch and run to keep their muscles and body in
    shape. The only thing I can compare it to would be “being sent to the hole in prison”. The way
    men/women who are sent to solitary confinement.
    Animals, just like people, do not do well under
    those circumstances.

    In addition having happy and relaxed animals the
    more quickly they will be adopted into their for-ever homes. I read an article last week re-garding an animal that had been kept in a cage so long that the stress kept coming back and made
    him even worse. One shelter helper picked out one of the dogs that really needed help. He had
    been horribly abused, starved and beaten in addition to many other things. she started out
    very slowly and easily and in a couple of months
    she started to see some good changes. Out of the
    clear one day when the shelter thought he was coming over to kiss her cheek and the next thing
    was he had mauled her face terribly but stopped
    within 15 seconds and went back to his crate.
    The “panel” who works with all of these Pits
    said they hadn’t seen that type of reaction but it was clear that the dog could not stand being put back into that crate again. It was a very
    sad story because this once loving dog had to be
    euthanized because it was deemed he would never
    do well in a home setting and that he could just
    “jump” at the smallest thing. The therapy worker NEVER blamed the dog but did blame the
    system by not getting him into a solid foster home where this act out would probably not have

    Thank you so very much for taking the time to
    read this and hopefully you’ll understand the need for this bill.

    R. E. Lewis


  5. I wholeheartedly agree that it’s wrong to warehouse animals while a case drags through the courts.
    However, I also agree with the AKC that it’s not right and just to force owners to pay costs of keeping animals prior to the conclusion of a case.

    Accusing the AKC of not being seriously concerned with the welfare of animals simply because it has made a determination that the proposed law would be unjust /violate fundamental rights doesn’t seem fair or advisable under the circumstances.

    The argument that an owner’s legal duty of care continues while the animals are no longer in their possession is not the compelling argument here. It does not outweigh the rights of the owner to due process, or the risk, which I daresay is higher than it should be, of an innocent person being subjected to seizure and prosecution.

    Duty of care goes hand in hand with the right to enjoy the animals, which are personal property under the law. Removing property from an owner’s possession changes that equation enough to remove the duty of care, I would argue.
    After all, it is the state that opts to remove animals, presumably with due cause, but nevertheless, it is done at the state’s discretion, and the state is not infallible.

    If the state chooses to seize animals in conjunction with a case to be prosecuted, it also assumes the duty of care. The comparison to an impounded car is not valid. Cars do not require ongoing care when they are impounded; they can just sit in a garage. Also, cars are not normally held for months and months, nor do they hold the same value to people as animals.
    As far as I know, defendants are not generally required to pay the cost of storing other kinds of inert objects that are seized and held as evidence, such as furniture, documents, computers, etc.

    In animal cruelty cases, there is no room for error. I know personally of many cases where the SPCA has wrongly and needlessly seized scores of animals. The predicament created inevitably leads to total financial and personal ruin to such owners as it is, with the immense cost of legal counsel and the damage that such an ordeal inevitably has on one’s professional and personal reputation.
    To be made to pay the costs of care throughout as well simply goes too far.

    With regard to the presumption of innocence, animal cruelty charges are in fact criminal charges in many (in fact I thought all, but evidently not) jurisdictions. The presumption of innocence arguably applies regardless, as the burden of proof is always with the prosecution.

    And it seems to me that the concluding point regarding “The rights of a pretrial detainee during confinement before his trial has even begun” are not relevant to these cases. Habeas corpus is not involved.

    Finally, I fail to see the connection between this proposed law, the costs of care, and the headline. It is undeniably bad to cage animals indefinitely while a case goes before the courts. But as far as I can see, this law does nothing to prevent that. I see no mention of alternatives like fostering, for instance, or a proposed limit to the period of detention of the animals, by which the cases must be concluded. Surely such things would be preferable to forcing people to come up with cash or lose their ownership rights even before a case goes to trial.

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