So-called “cost of care” legislation, pushed by get-rich-quick-via-one-eyed-shivering-puppies-commercials groups such as the ASCPA and HSUS, are sometimes referred to as “civil forfeiture” or “bonding” laws. They are on the books in some form in most states with Georgia currently considering such a bill. These laws basically require someone accused of animal cruelty to pay whatever amount the agency that seized their animals, usually the public shelter, tells a judge they have already and will in future spend on their care while awaiting trial. This care is likely to include such things as housing, food and veterinary procedures. If the accused is unable to pay, he forfeits his animals and the seizing agency/shelter is free to sell them.
Those in favor of this type of legislation frame it as “making animal abusers pay” which sounds – you know, good. And if they can’t come up with the money, which could be $50,000 a year or more for a dozen dogs, well hey, we don’t want abusive jerkwads getting their animals back anyway so yay, right? The ASPCA tries to justify requiring the presumed innocent owner to pay up front this way:
The imposition of a bond is not a punishment for committing a crime. It is a requirement to continue paying for the costs of caring for his or her animals when there is sufficient evidence of cruelty and the owner chooses to maintain ownership—costs which, in theory, the owner would be incurring already if he/she was taking proper care of his/her animals. We are all legally responsible for the care of our animals, and taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay the costs of such care for an owner who faces cruelty charges.
Sufficient evidence of cruelty is of course, open for interpretation. Since the accused has not yet had his day in court, the evidence may consist of an ACO telling a judge about pets with long toenails and/or fleas, accusations we’ve seen numerous times in cruelty cases.
As far as $50,000 a year (or whatever amount is requested by the seizing agency/shelter) being the amount of money an “owner would be incurring already if he/she was taking proper care of his/her animals”, I can anecdotally dispute that. I’ve never made $50,000 a year, I’ve always had a group of pets and they’ve all been properly cared for. I’m not saying they get rushed to the emergency clinic every time they crinkle a whisker but they get neutered, vaccinated, receive heartworm medication, etc. Sometimes their toenails get long, sometimes they get fleas. Maybe I’m just a terrible person.
In any case, the Georgia bill at least addresses the fact that some of those accused of animal cruelty are not going to be convicted:
Under the act, if the owner is found innocent, they would be reimbursed.
Gee, was keeping the money an option?
And for those owners who couldn’t produce a platinum card to pay the seizing agency/shelter? Well your animals were long ago sold. Sucks being you. But you can cling to your innocence and celebrate the fact that you are now free of this tremendous financial burden of having family members who love you unconditionally and who get dirt on your sheets and stuff. You’re welcome.
What other ways could a shelter pay for care of seized animals without depriving citizens of due process? Are cost of care laws acceptable because many, or even most, of those accused of animal cruelty will eventually be found guilty? How much money could you come up with on short notice to pay your local shelter to cage your animals for months while you await trial?