Animal Law Update: With the Passage of the Paws Bill, Question 3 in 2016, and More Bills Pending in Legislature, Massachusetts Continues to be on the Forefront of Animal Protection

Issue July/August 2020 August 2020 By Kara Holmquist
Civil Litigation Section Review
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Kara Holmquist

In 1641, the first law in the nation to protect animals was included in our “Body of Liberties.” Today, Massachusetts is consistently at the top of rankings that compare the strength of state animal protection laws.

With the passage of the PAWS (Protect Animal Welfare and Safety) bill in 2014, the Massachusetts Bar Association was named to a task force to complete a systematic review of the laws pertaining to animal cruelty and protection. PAWS gained momentum in the Legislature after officers responded to a cruelty complaint where a puppy — who became known as “Puppy Doe” — was systematically and severely tortured over several months. In addition to the creation of the task force, PAWS increased penalties for animal cruelty and required veterinarians to report suspected animal cruelty.

Chaired by the MBA representative, Elissa Flynn-Poppey, the PAWS task force met over 18 months to create a 118-page report with recommendations that became the foundation of the next PAWS bill, PAWS II, which passed in 2018. This legislation did many things: it prohibited the drowning of animals, added animal crimes to the list of offenses that serve as the basis for a request for a determination of detention and/or release upon conditions in M.G.L. ch. 276 § 58A, ensured that property owners check vacant properties for the presence of abandoned animals, and prohibited the promotion or facilitation of an act involving sexual contact with an animal and forcing a child to engage in sexual contact with an animal.

Two parts of PAWS II created initiatives that are ongoing. The first relates to insurance and dog bites. Starting in January 2019, companies that provide homeowners and renters insurance must provide detailed information on dog bite claims to better understand factors that contribute to dog bites. Insurers have traditionally captured little data on these, with the exception being perceived breed, which has resulted in policy decisions that limit the ability of families to adopt dogs and obtain housing and insurance. This information can also assist with dog bite prevention efforts. The first year of data should be available soon.

Another PAWS II section that created further action relates to facilitating “cross-reporting” — the reporting of abuse and neglect between human service and animal protection agencies. PAWS II allowed animal cruelty to be reported (and removes liability for doing so) by Department of Elder Affairs investigators and Disabled Persons Protection Commission investigators (the Department of Children and Families has had this ability since 2004). Animal control officers were also made mandatory reporters of child abuse, elder abuse, and abuse against disabled persons. Further discussion of mandated reporting issues was left to another commission, led by legislators with more than 18 designated participants. The group has met since the end of 2018 and is in the process of developing a report with guidance on how to move forward to protect both vulnerable animals and people.

Other notable advances for animals include the passage of Question 3 in 2016, a measure that ensures that egg-laying hens, female breeding pigs, and veal calves are not kept in cages where they can’t turn around or extend their limbs. The measure also requires that products from these animals (whole eggs and whole uncooked cuts of pork or veal) sold in Massachusetts are compliant with these standards. The law takes effect in 2022.

A statute protecting animals in cars during extreme weather has elevated this issue in recent years and is timely at publication. The 2016 law gives first responders the ability to remove animals kept in vehicles in a manner reasonably expected to threaten the health of the animal due to extreme heat or cold. This bill also allows the public to remove an animal when in immediate danger in a vehicle and no other options exist.

There are many animal protection bills pending in the Legislature. With the recent decision to extend formal sessions beyond July 31 due to COVID-19, as well as the need to finalize key measures in conference committees, there may still be an opportunity for an animal bill to pass in 2020. Among animal-related legislation that could still advance are bills to ban the use of wild animals in traveling animal acts, allowing animal control officers to issue civil citations when animals are kept in certain cruel conditions, and reducing wildlife poaching in our state. Additionally, legislative initiatives would help the state’s Massachusetts Animal Fund, which provides health services to animals when their families can’t afford it. This will become even more essential given the hardships created or exacerbated by the current pandemic.

For those interested in these issues and others relating to how the law protects (or doesn’t) animals, please join the MBA’s Animal Law Practice Group (ALPG) within the Civil Litigation Section. This practice group was formed to provide a forum for education and the open exchange of ideas and experiences about legal issues concerning the treatment of all animals, the protection offered to animals, and the rights and responsibilities of people who have an interest in animals. The ALPG was formed in response to a growing number of cases and statutes, and increasing public and practical interest. There are 167 law schools in the U.S. and Canada that offer animal law courses and dozens of state and regional bar associations with sections similar to ours, including the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee. The ALPG holds meetings to discuss developing areas of animal law. Past topics have included dangerous dog hearings and dog bite liability, advances in legal policy to promote alternatives to animals in research and testing, the Animal Welfare Act and enforcement, careers in animal law and more.

To join the Animal Law Practice Group, email Heather Robertson at HRobertson@MassBar.org.

Kara Holmquist is the director of advocacy for the Massachusetts Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Contact Holmquist at KHolmquist@mspca.org.