New Jersey Assembly No. 3303, also known as “Moose’s Law” was introduced on September 27, 2012, in response to the death of Moose, a dog who was allegedly stolen by an animal trainer who is also a neighbor of Moose’s owner, and who left Moose in a hot car, unattended, which resulted in his death. This bill was drafted in response to concerns that this animal trainer, even if found guilty of animal cruelty, could continue to own and work with other animals. There is no doubt that if the facts about these alleged acts are true, the perpetrator should be punished, and that punishment may include a prohibition on the perpetrators ability to harm animals in the future, either by owning or working with animals, or both. The bill establishes an Animal Cruelty register, which lists every person found guilty or civilly liable of any New Jersey animal cruelty statute, and establishes a list of all employees of all New Jersey animal-related enterprises. Those on the Animal Cruelty register are barred from working at animal-related enterprises, no matter the offense. Notably, in some cases, this punishment seems to lack the balance we generally require in our laws.
As introduced, A-3303 would require a court to prohibit anyone found guilty of, or civilly liable for, any animal cruelty offense, from future ownership of domestic companion animals or animal-related employment. The bill has been amended to permit, but not require, the court to mandate the forfeiture of owned animals and prohibit ownership for a prescribed time period. That change permits the trier of fact, to take all the relevant facts into consideration when determining if an individual should be prohibited from animal ownership for a limited period of time, or forever.
However, there are remaining concerns about the bill, including:
- An individual found guilty or civilly liable for any animal cruelty statute inNew Jersey or any other state will be included on a list developed and maintained by the State.
- There is mandatory bar on employment for all those listed from employment at any animal-related enterprise, seemingly, forever. Is a permanent bar on such employment a reasonable result, even if the violation is minor, or a technicality?
- How will this impact animal-related industries inNew Jersey?
- How many “animal-related enterprises” exist inNew Jersey?
- How many people are employed at such enterprises, whether full-time, part-time or volunteer?
- What is the turnover of employees at these enterprises?
- Who will bear the cost of the establishment and maintenance of this list, and the necessary investigation of each employee’s background?
- What is the penalty to animal-related enterprises that do not comply within the prescribed time periods, or update their employee lists as staff changes?
- For animal-related enterprises that do not fall under the authority of the Department of Health (e.g., farms, race tracks, zoos), how will enforcement be implemented?
- How many animal cruelty cases are filed in New Jersey Courts?
- Individuals charged have 90 days before they are fired, regardless of the status of the case.
- How many result in criminal convictions or civil liability?
- How will the courts provide accurate, timely information to the Commissioner of Health, for animal-cruelty summons issued?
Animal cruelty should be punished, but the remedies set forth in A3303 require further thought before this bill is passed, and would benefit if the discretion to list individuals, or prohibit their employment at animal-related enterprises were left to the Court.