A bill which would require veterinarians to provide written notification to pet owners concerning the absence of animal supervision after normal business hours is advancing through the New Jersey legislature, titled “Betsy’s Law.”

Prior versions of the bill inappropriately stated that it was intended to “supplement . . . Title 4 of the Revised Statutes.” The bill did not specify, but it is likely that chapter 22, the prevention of cruelty to animals, would have been amended to include this provision.

Fortunately and presumably by request, a bill substitute was filed before the bill was presented for a vote on February 5, 2015, stating that the law would supplement Title 45 of the Revised Statutes-not Title 4.

Title 45, the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiner Laws (“Veterinary Practice Act”), governs the practice of veterinary medicine, and therefore is the logical home for this bill, if adopted.

Had it not been amended, veterinarians could have been found liable under the animal cruelty statute even if their non-compliance with the law caused no harm to animals.  That would not only be a public relations nightmare for a veterinarian, it would effectively end a veterinarians career if animal cruelty registries like the proposed bill titled “Moose’s Law,” which bans a registrant from working with animals, also becomes law.

The bill was also simplified. The prior version would have required a veterinarian “prior to keeping the domestic companion animal at the veterinary facility after normal business hours:

(a) notify the owner of the domestic companion animal that there is a need or intention to keep the animal at the facility after normal business hours;

(b) in accordance with the provisions of paragraph (2) of this subsection, provide written notification to the owner of the domestic companion animal, advising the owner of the absence of after normal business hours supervision; and

(c) give the owner of the domestic companion animal the opportunity to decline leaving the animal at the veterinary facility after normal business hours.”

The current version requires:

“A veterinarian overseeing the care of a domestic companion animal at a veterinary facility that does not provide domestic companion animals with supervision after normal business hours by a person physically on the premises shall provide written notification to each person bringing a domestic companion animal to the veterinary facility for care or treatment. The written notification may be provided as a sign posted next to the posting required pursuant to subsection a. of this section, as part of a sign used to meet the posting requirement of that subsection, or on an intake form provided to each person bringing a domestic companion animal to the veterinary facility.”

The law also previously prescribed specific fines, “of not less than $3,000 for the first offense, not less than $7,500 for the second offense, and not less than $15,000 for each subsequent offense” and also allowed for the “immediate suspension or revocation of the violator’s license to practice veterinary medicine.”

While the Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners may still penalize a violator with fines and license suspension, where appropriate, the bill was reasonably amended to permit the Board the flexibility to issue a “public reprimand . . . and any other penalties the board imposes.”  (emphasis added)

Now the bill makes sense and will provide pet owners the notification they are entitled to without unreasonably penalizing non-complying veterinarians.