Last week, the AKC Board of Directors approved a new AKC canine legislation position statement on Due Process Protections for Dog Owners. The policy statement addresses a growing trend in the introduction of legislation that requires individuals whose animals are seized by law enforcement or animal control or their designee to pay the cost of caring for these animals during pendency of their case or lose their animals to forfeiture regardless of whether the individual is later found not guilty of charges.
Background and Impact
At issue are proposals that are commonly proposed as a means of offsetting a community’s animal control costs. The increasing number of “cost of care” bills currently introduced and actively advocated for by animal rights groups provide for funding schemes in which a dog owner may be required to forfeit their dog permanently if they miss a single payment – even if the individual is later found not guilty or not responsible, or in cases where charges are dropped. This results in innocent people being permanently deprived of their pets (property) simply because they cannot afford to pay the cost of boarding them for a lengthy period while a case is being adjudicated.
Other troublesome variations of these bills allow for non-governmental contracting agencies to seize and/or hold dogs and charge unlimited costs for boarding and care; permit such agencies to spay/neuter or require spay/neuter prior to return of an animal; and do not require the return of unused funds for the care of an animal when it is released back to its owner.
Virtually all of these proposals also fail to protect the property interests of co-owners who were not in possession of the animal at the time of alleged ill treatment.
AKC’s Values and New Position Statement
Few would argue that those who are found guilty of animal cruelty should be required to pay the cost of care for their animals while their case is pending. However, this statement makes clear AKC’s commitment to protecting dog owners’ constitutional rights and privileges, including that of due process, from legislative incursions.
Due Process Protections for Dog Owners
The American Kennel Club believes that governments must protect constitutional rights and privileges of dog owners under American law. Owners must be afforded substantive and procedural due process protections, and must not be permanently or unreasonably deprived of the property interests they have in their animals without first pleading guilty to, being found guilty of, or pleading “no contest” to, animal-related criminal charges.
In cases involving seized animals in which an owner does not voluntarily surrender ownership, “bond for care” or “cost of care” laws that provide for the assessment of care costs upon a finding of probable cause of criminal activity must: limit such assessments to amounts that are reasonable, substantiated costs directly related to care of the seized animals; allow courts to waive such fees in cases involving an indigent defendant; provide for full refund of fees and interest in any case not resulting in a final adjudication of guilt or pleading no contest; and, absent the owner’s written consent, shall prohibit the spaying or neutering of, or performance of other elective non-therapeutic surgery on, any seized animal during pendency of a case.