Senator Lesniak introduced S3558 to address deficiencies in the enforcement of New Jersey’s animal cruelty laws by state and county societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. Several state reports had concluded that the centuries-old law granting law enforcement authority of animal cruelty investigations to part time volunteers was overdue for a drastic change. Lesniak, having sponsored a 2006 law that was supposed to address deficiencies in governmental oversight of these volunteer groups, admitted that those measures had not worked sufficiently. Therefore, the current amendments were necessary.
The bill, which “revises the enforcement of animal cruelty laws in the State by transferring the power of humane law enforcement from the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) and county societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (county societies) to a county prosecutor animal cruelty task force in each county, and a municipal humane law enforcement officer appointed in each municipality” received widespread support from those testifying before the Senate Economic Growth Committee where it passed out of committee with nearly unanimous support.
However, it has not yet been approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee or the Assembly.
I have been critical of the conduct of the NJSPCA for some time, based on my experience trying to work with them as a private large animal clinician, then as the Director of the Division of Animal Health at New Jersey Department of Agriculture, and currently as an attorney representing clients impermissibly harmed by NJSPCA’s conduct. In each role, I have concluded that, while some agents or officers are well-meaning, the agency is ineffective at performing their fundamental role-protecting animals in the state.
For those in the state who own, raise, breed and sell horses, cattle, swine, rabbits, poultry, small ruminants and other agricultural species, this proposed change should be welcome.
At the 102nd State Agricultural Convention, held in Atlantic City on February 8-9, 2017, Resolution #6 was passed urging the agricultural community to “evaluate the consistency and appropriateness of the implementation of the Humane Standards [of care for NJ’s agricultural animals] by the SPCA and other humane-law enforcement personnel who are tasked to respect and follow them when enforcing animal-cruelty statutes,” and encouraging the legislature to fund NJDA’s animal cruelty investigations, which are necessary to ensure that the state laws are properly enforced.
Among other deficiencies, NJSPCA routinely fails to notify the NJDA when it receives complaints about the care of agricultural animals. Such notification is required pursuant to N.J.A.C. 2:8-8.3 (f) which states:
The NJSPCA, county SPCAs or other State or local government authority receiving a complaint shall immediately notify the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and, if the complaint is in writing, provide a copy to the NJDA at the address provided in N.J.A.C. 2:8-8.3(c).
The regulation requires notification of the NJDA for 2 main reasons: 1) to make sure that animal health officials could immediately investigate to determine whether contagious, infectious diseases were present, and if so, prevent their spread to other facilities; and 2) to make sure that a qualified animal health official was investigating the case (a certified livestock inspector-someone who has been certified by the State Veterinarian as a veterinarian or veterinary technician familiar with the species under investigation). It will be critical for NJDA to properly train all municipal, county and state agencies that will be responsible for enforcing the animal cruelty statutes, if the bill is adopted, about the provisions governing humane care of agricultural animals in the state.
There has been widespread support of these proposed amendments to the state’s animal cruelty statutes. Like in NYC, where the ASPCA voluntarily relinquished enforcement of the City’s animal cruelty statutes to the NYPD, it is long past time that New Jersey followed suit.