Trenton, N.J. — The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association (NJVMA) is attempting to overhaul the state's animal cruelty statute in an effort to streamline the hodgepodge of amendments that tackle such offenses.
TRENTON, N.J. — The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association (NJVMA) is attempting to overhaul the state's animal cruelty statute in an effort to streamline the hodgepodge of amendments that tackle such offenses.
At presstime, an association task force released an eight-page draft designed for legislation that takes an in-depth look at animal cruelty, breaking it down into five levels based on type and severity while outlining and upping penalties associated with convictions. New to the state, the document defines hoarding as criminal, requires reporting by veterinarians and adds separate and more severe violations to cruelty acts witnessed by children.
While the work is touted as comprehensive and organized, its significance hinges on introduction to the state Legislature and its subsequent passage. According to NJVMA officials, democratic Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew appears poised to take the task force's recommendations to the next level. The lawmaker aims for an introduction this summer, Executive Director Rick Alampi says.
Exemptions to the New Jersey animal cruelty statute
"I'm pretty confident this will go through," he says. "The concept is based on the critical need to modernize both the definitions of cruelty and the penalties. The NJVMA bill organizes acts and penalties into a much more definitive matrix."
The task force's seven members include NJVMA President Dr. Sue Lewis who worked alongside her colleagues for months, weeding through the state's antiquated and disorganized cruelty language.
"The old statute is almost laughable," she says. "It's so disorganized. If you want to find out the ramifications for neglect, it can take hours. There are terms in there that are so old we had to look them up."
A major push for change has been the state's lacking penalties for cruelty convictions. Prosecutors often neglect to pursue cruelty cases because "the laws here have absolutely no teeth," Lewis says.
"No one wants to prosecute because there are hardly any fines and jail time is minimal," she adds. "While we have laws against kicking a dog to death, nothing happens to the person who does it. Our rewrite gives prosecutors and judges a guide with very specifically defined terms and outlined offenses."
The new version includes thorough proposals for cruelty-related punishments ranging from misdemeanors to major second-degree crimes. Level IV offenses carry the most weight and constitute instances of torture, death, sexual acts and fighting animals.
Additional penalties are tacked on if an animal is abandoned within 200 feet of a roadway. Owners convicted of a sale or act involving fighting animals, a Level IV crime, are vulnerable to state property seizures. The rewrite prescribes mandatory mental-health counseling by a licensed psychologist or therapist for anyone convicted of Levels II through Level IV offenses.
"Animal abuse is strongly linked to human abuse," Lewis says. "These people should be getting some help before they graduate on to humans."
As the push for the rewrite gains momentum, NJVMA officials say they recognize that a coalition of support is more effective than going it alone. To round up sponsors to back the cruelty statute, interest groups such as the Humane Society of the Unites States have been asked to weigh in. While input has yet to be received, Lewis predicts little resistance.
"We went through line by line to see if anyone would object to this," she says. "Everyone wants to see a more comprehensive guide to animal cruelty. I don't foresee any opposition."