MURRAY – A bill pre-filed in the Kentucky General Assembly would require people accused of animal abuse to pay for the cost of care for their animals while their court cases are pending. While it’s unknown how far the proposed legislation might get, locals who work with animals every day say they think the idea is long overdue.
Rep. Kim Banta (R-Ft. Mitchell) and Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson (D-Lexington) are co-sponsors of Bill Request 290, which they pre-filed on Sept. 29 ahead of the upcoming legislative session in January. According to the Kentucky General Assembly website, the bill would create new sections of KRS Chapter 525 to “define terms; require peace officers and animal control officers to serve notice of seizure of an animal subjected to cruelty; create procedure for seizing agencies to petition a court to order payment of animal care costs by owner; establish penalties; prohibit the destruction of seized animals, except for humane reasons determined by veterinarian.”
According to Kentucky Public Radio, Banta said during a legislative hearing last week that the law would be good for both animals and taxpayers.
“When animals are seized, taxpayers and the agencies are picking up the cost of care while the animals are being housed and taken care of,” Banta said. “If a court finds the agency has met the burden for the removal of the animals, the owner must post bond to cover the cost of caring for the animals so the taxpayers aren’t.”
Calloway County Animal Control Officer Emily Cook said she has long thought Kentucky should require owners charged with animal abuse to pay for the animals’ care as some other states do. She said she has previously been successful in asking the court to make the defendant pay for those costs, but since it’s not required by law, there is no guarantee that the county will ever be compensated. Cook said that when she has to seize animals connected with an animal cruelty case, she typically tries to get the owner to surrender the animals so they don’t have to be held at the shelter, but they don’t always meet that request.
“If I’m at your house and I’m going to charge you with cruelty, I explain to you that if you do not surrender this animal, it will be held in limbo, kind of, under our care until the case is over with, unless you surrender it,” Cook said. “The best case for the animal is for them to go ahead and surrender it so we can find it a proper home. If they choose not to, then we are at cost for that animal. In my eight years (as animal control officer), I have had maybe five or six cases like that, but the people usually do surrender the animals because they know that it’s the best for the animal.”
“I think it’s a wonderful idea, and I think it’s past due,” said Darla Jackson, director of the Murray-Calloway County Animal Shelter. “There have been times in the past when we have had to confiscate animals (such as the roosters during a 2016 cockfighting case). Those ended up costing the Humane Society and the county thousands of dollars and there was no reimbursement. That large amount of animals doesn’t happen that often, but if you have just one dog for a month, imagine the medical bills. It could add up very quickly.”
“We had those cockfighting roosters for two years (after) they were seized by state police,” Cook said. “I think this is a much-needed bill because if we have the money, it helps us be able to provide the proper care, and it in turn helps the animals. And your county and your humane society is not out a bunch of money. One senior dog can cost upwards in the thousands just to get the proper medical attention it needs.”
Kathy Hodge, executive director of the Murray-Calloway County Humane Society, said the organization has always supported similar bills to BR 290 that have been filed in the past. She said that although it seems to her like a bill everyone should be able to get behind, she thinks there are several reasons bills like it have failed.
“My personal thought about it is that it sort of defies common sense, but I think what happens to a lot of the animal-related bills is they’ll get packaged with some other piece of animal legislation that might be more controversial than the cost of care bill would be,” Hodge said. “So then it all goes down because of one item in it.
“So I think that’s sometimes a problem, and then there are some folks that I see a lot across the entire legislature that just simply do not want to touch any bill that has anything to do with animals. That happens for a lot of different reasons, but I think sometimes, they just don’t want to go there. They’re afraid that it will lead to some other kind of animal bill or conversation they don’t want to have, so they just don’t want to get into animal care at all. I think that kind of attitude is incredibly detrimental to the welfare of the animals in our commonwealth. We need to be willing to address the things that need to be addressed, and the cost of care, in (the humane society’s) mind is one of the really important things to address because none of our small rescue organization have the deep pockets it requires to pay for the care of sometimes dozens of animals.”
Hodge said the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) helped cover a large portion of the costs of housing the roosters from the cockfighting case, but that doesn’t usually happen. She said there was another case that went to trial in 2001 in which the humane society and animal shelter had to take care of 40 horses and 40 goats. The accused eventually appealed the case all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court, but even though the person was convicted, the county and the humane society were on the hook for thousands of dollars in care, she said. The medical costs are often especially expensive because seized animals tend to be much less healthy than the average animal, she said.
“I think this bill would truly have an impact on the number of cases that could be prosecuted because the organization could have some assurance that financial help would come along,” Hodge said.
State Rep. Mary Beth Imes (R-Murray) said she had looked at the bill, but had not yet talked to Banta about it. She said she wants to learn more, but doesn’t plan to take a position unless it makes it through committee and comes up for a vote in the House.
State Sen. Jason Howell (R-Murray) said he also had no comment specific to the bill at this time, but he would consider its merits if it makes it out of committee and to the Senate.
“There are always a lot of pre-filed bills leading up to the session, and a lot of them get shuffled out and assigned to the committee process – or not,” Howell said. “The ones that get legs and come through the committee process, I will be looking at them then.”