Cost of Care Legislation: An Opportunity to Right a Wrong and Save the Animals
By: Maggie Garbarino
For too long, we have allowed animal shelters and taxpayer dollars to cover the costs of caring for court seized animals without charging their abusers a dime. This outdated practice depletes animal care facilities’ resources and contributes to numerous problems that cripple the system meant to rescue and protect voiceless animals who are unable to advocate for themselves. Thankfully, advocates and legislators have resolved to do away with this predicament by holding the abuser responsible for paying for the care.
When law enforcement officers take custody of animals who have been abused by their owners, subjected to dog fighting operations, or forced to endure animal hoarding situations, it is not possible to simply adopt them out.
After being removed from these circumstances, the animals are instead brought to local shelters where they are forced to exist in a state of legal limbo that can last anywhere from a few months to several years. They cannot be re-homed to loving families because, in the eyes of the law, they still belong to the abuser until that person either voluntarily relinquishes their rights to the animal or the court makes a decision that forces their hand.
Animals that remain in shelters for extended periods of time are exposed to stressful living situations.
This can negatively impact their psychological welfare and behavioral characteristics. These animals spend a majority of their time in a kennel or small enclosure with few opportunities to roam free, explore, or socialize.
Additionally, the animals become a significant financial burden on the shelters that house them which discourages law enforcement officers from seizing other animals in similar abusive situations. The issue at hand is not that shelter staff and law enforcement officers do not want to help, rather it is that due to their budgets it is often physically and logistically impossible to do so. Shifting the responsibility to pay for the cost of caring for court seized animals onto their owners with cost of care legislation will help alleviate the financial burden of housing seized animals and make it possible for more rescues to occur.
Across the country animal welfare advocates are calling for change at the federal and state levels of government.
Advocates believe that the best way to overcome the challenges imposed by financial burden associated with housing and caring for the various needs of court seized animals is to establish cost of care policies. Many states, such as our neighbors in Pennsylvania and New York, have already led the charge in enacting these policies, yet New Jersey has fallen behind despite the efforts of advocates and legislators going as far back as 2012.
Debora Bresch, the Senior State Legislative Director for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), is confident that the newly introduced bill S4058, which was introduced in the New Jersey State Senate in June 2021, will succeed where past cost of care legislation has not.
Bill S4058 sets out to prohibit the abusive tethering and confinement of dogs, authorize law enforcement officers to take custody of animals in cases of suspected animal cruelty violations, and establish much needed cost of care provisions in New Jersey.
It’s critical that this bill gets passed as it would allow more animals in New Jersey to be rescued from abusive situations. Bresch explains that, as long as a law enforcement officer has probable cause, this bill will make it much easier to seize animals from abuse and get them needed medical care. She says, “This bill adds an emergency provision for getting a warrant where law enforcement officers do not have to issue a correction warning if they feel that the animal is in imminent danger. They do not have to choose between waiting and getting a warrant on the one hand or seizing the animal warrantlessly on the other.”
This provision alone will help save countless animals.
But the bill goes further than that to ensure that they will be taken care of once they reach the animal care facilities. Unlike most cost of care legislation, this bill goes beyond simply tending to an animal’s physical wellbeing by ensuring that the animals’ psychological welfare is also taken into account. Bresch says, “It is expressed in the statute that animals that have been taken pursuant to a cruelty case can not only go into foster care but can receive care that can give them psychological relief.”
This legislation is a logical solution to a pressing problem.
For the sake of NJ’s vulnerable animals, we must act to get bill S4058 passed by raising awareness both in the public and in the State Legislature. As a constituent, you have the power to help by informing your elected officials in the State Senate and General Assembly about bill S4058. Bresch says that you can help by, “asking your Senators and Assembly people to co-sponsor the bill.”
About The Author: Maggie is a PR and Social Media Intern at the Lesniak Institute for American Leadership and a recent graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University with degrees in Communication Studies with a concentration in Public Relations and Political Science. Maggie aspires to help her community by advocating for progressive social justice policies.
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