Bill defines animal care requirements

Posted: Friday, May 14, 2004

Alaska's cruelty-to-animals statutes are tightened in a bill passed Tuesday by the Alaska Legislature.

House Bill 275, sponsored by Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, defines cruelty to animals, establishes minimum care standards for animals -- described as "a vertebrate living creature" that is neither a human being nor a fish -- and lays out procedures for investigating complaints and taking animals into protective custody.

It also permits humane destruction of suffering animals determined to have little probability of survival.

The bill is awaiting transmittal to Gov. Frank Murkowski for his signature.

"In light of the past and recent animal abuse cases, I felt it was time again to attempt to tighten statutes regarding animal cruelty in the state of Alaska," Chenault said in a printed sponsor statement. "Alaska is far behind nearly every other state in animal cruelty legislation and it is time to acknowledge that animal abuse is a precursor to both child abuse and domestic violence."

Minimum standards of care are defined as supplying sufficient water and food to maintain good health, an environment compatible with good health and safety and reasonable medical care.

Under the bill, complaints may be filed with public or private animal control agencies or organizations, the Department of Environmental Conservation or a peace officer.

Officers receiving complaints may apply for search warrants. When taking endangered animals into protective custody, officers will seek the immediate inspection and decision of a veterinarian, unless no vet is available.

Reasonable efforts must be made to notify the owners of seized animals.

Upon determination by a vet that an animal will not survive disease or injury, the animal may be destroyed. In the absence of a veterinarian, peace officers are empowered to destroy a suffering animal.

Animal owners will not be able to recover damages for the destruction of the animal unless it is shown the destruction was not reasonable.

A provision of the bill specifically exempts dog mushing practices, as well as pulling contests, rodeos or stock contests.

Cruelty to animals is defined as a Class A misdemeanor. Courts may require forfeiture of animals to the state, that defendants reimburse the state for costs, and may limit a defendant's right to own animals for up to 10 years.

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