Animal cruelty laws in New Jerseyare due for a check-up, better, a complete overhaul. The original statute, adopted nearly 150 years ago, was intended to protect animals, mostly horses, against abuses at a time when horses were relied on for transportation and field work.  At least two recent New Jersey State-directed investigations have concluded that the law needs to be updated, the statutory language, currently ambiguous and vague, has to be modernized; and enforcement must be updated to require enforcement by professional law enforcement instead of the current enforcement which falls “in large part to a group of private citizens (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, hereinafter “SPCA”) that, since the 1800s, has had the authority to carry weapons and make arrests but is not under the supervision of the Attorney General or County Prosecutors.”  See New Jersey Animal Welfare Task Force Report, November 2004; State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation, Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, December 2000.  Following the publication of these reports, many bills have been introduced, in an attempt to modernize the statute, but few proposed amendments were adopted, so little has changed. Currently, more than 36 bills were introduced in the current legislative session, that directly or indirectly amend parts of New Jersey’s Animal Cruelty Statute.  Minimal oversight by the State Attorney General was mandated in January 2006, requiring both the NJSPCA and all county societies to submit quarterly reports of law enforcement activity reports and an annual audit of all its financial transactions to the State Attorney General.  Also, all “humane law enforcement officers” were required to take a mandatory nine-day training course subject to the approval of the New Jersey State Police Training Commission, and those SPCA humane officers who carry firearms had to complete the Basic Firearms Course under the supervision of the State Range Master.

 These amendments do nothing to correct the ambiguous, vague and ill defined terms in the statute that describe unlawful conduct.  There are no regulations to further define the meaning of these terms, except for the standards for Humane Treatment of Domestic Livestock provided by the State Board of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture.  The confusion that results from the lack of meaningful standards was exemplified earlier this year, when the State Motor Vehicle Commission and NJSPCA, misinterpreted the statute to provide legal authority to the NJSPCA to issue “[s]ummonses and/or warnings…when motorists are observed transporting animals in such a manner that will or could cause harm to the animals or others.  Animals being transported unrestrained in the back of pick up truck beds, sitting on a drivers lap, or with more than 30% of their bodies protruding out the windows of a vehicle are examples.  NJSPCA Press Release, Clarifies Unrestrained Animals in Vehicle Controversy, issued June 9, 2012.

A few states expressly prohibit the unrestrained transportation of dogs in the back of pick-up trucks, but New Jersey’s statute is typically vague on these prohibitions.  Compare Connecticut’s statute (“No person operating a pick-up truck, as defined in section 14-1, on a public highway of this state shall transport a dog in the open rearward compartment of the pick-up truck unless the dog is secured in a cage or other container or otherwise protected or secured in such a manner as to prevent the dog from being thrown or falling or jumping from the pick-up truck.)” with New Jersey’s statute  N.J.S.A. 4:22-18 ( “A person who shall carry, or cause to be carried, a living animal or creature in or upon a vehicle or otherwise, in a cruel or inhumane manner, shall be guilty of a disorderly persons offense and punished as provided in subsection a. of R.S.4:22-17.”).

 No matter how well-meaning the NJSPCA is, the law should adequately inform citizens, residents and visitors to the State what conduct is prohibited pursuant to the animal cruelty statutes.  This will become even more important, should any one of at least three proposed bills be adopted that mandate the seizure of animals owned by individuals who are found guilty or plead guilty to any civil or criminal violation of the animal cruelty statutes.  See, A-3303 (as originally introduced).

 If New Jersey is concerned about animals, the animal cruelty statute and the way in which those laws are enforced, should be updated.