Legislators Have Ideas to Protect Our Pets

Although Massachusetts already has an official animal–actually several, as you’ll find out as the column concludes–animals haven’t been neglected by legislators this year.

There are several bills waiting to go to the floor for a vote in the House.

Perhaps the most interesting bill would require pet shops to list the state of origin on the cage of any dog listed for sale. And, if the puppy dies of a medical condition within six months of sale, the pet store has to refund your money.

The same bill would require breeding licenses and set the fine for failing to get one at $5,000. Licenses would also be required to breed bovine and porcine animals. Cows. Pigs.

Pet shops would have to post a toll free number to call to report sick animals. Another bill would require veterinarian’s health certificates for all cats and dogs sold by pet stores.

One bill would require the local Boards of Health to provide, free of charge, rabies shots to people exposed to the disease.

Still another would require city and town clerks to supply booklets with the Commonwealth’s dog laws when dog owners purchase a license. Another would ban cities and towns from charging any fees related to dogs, if the dogs are owned by disabled people, or people over 62.

Cats aren’t forgotten. One bill would require the licensing of cats, and appoint cat officers (like dogcatchers, only cat catchers) and license kennels for cats.

If a lost dog is captured by a dog officer? Right now, the dog has to be kept only 10 days. One pending bill would increase the holding time, pending adoption or death, to 14 days. By the way, death can be accomplished by any method other than gunshot under state law. Another version would require dog officers to send a weekly list of dogs held to dog officers in surrounding communities, with the hope that dogs would have a better chance of being claimed by their owners.

An aside. Under current law, any person may kill a dog which suddenly assaults him while he is peaceably standing, walking or riding, or a dog outside of an enclosure and not under the owner’s control if the dog is "worrying, wounding or killing people, livestock, or fowl".

The Insurance Committee has been asked to allow increased insurance costs for homeowners with dogs categorized as dangerous, or liable to cause damage or death. Which animals? People disagree. But one bill would create a special commission to clarify the meaning of "dangerous dog" and classify them for licensing and liability purposes.

A new Animal Control Commission in the Office of Public Safety, would include a veterinarian, animal protection advocate and animal control officer.

Among other responsibilities, the Commission would administer an Animal Control Trust Fund to benefit animals, train dog officers, and set license fees.

There is an act relative to those dangerous dogs, if they are ever defined. If a dog is deemed dangerous, the owner must notify the local dog officer of the dog’s presence and personal history. Current law does not address banishment, and there are no bills in the legislative hopper that would allow or prohibit banishment.

Yes, I have an animal bill as well. Well, sort of an animal bill.

It received initial approval and is working its way to the floor for approval. Simply, it increases the fine for having a child in the back of your pickup. The fine for an unrestrained dog in the truck is $50; for a child, just $35. My legislation would increase the latter to $500.

Since the animal bills cover a variety of situations, there’s one bill that would create a special commission–three Representatives, one Senator and the Public Health Commissioner–to recodify all dog and animal laws in the Commonwealth. Even, to deal with mad cow disease.

Your own ideas on pet, or animal, legislation are always welcome. Remember–any citizen can ask their Representative or Senator to introduce legislation.

No legislation on official animals, however. We already have enough.

The official dog is the Boston Terrier. The first dog bred in Massachusetts, it’s a cross between an English bulldog and English terrier.

The tabby cat is the official feline. And the Morgan horse, descended from a little bay stallion born in West Springfield in 1789, is the official horse.

There’s even an official marine mammal–the Right Whale, name in honor of the flourishing whaling industry in the 1700s.

State game bird? Wild turkey. Cod is the fish. Ladybug the insect. And the black capped chickadee, also called a titmouse, tomtit or dickybird, is the state bird.

And, we still haven’t dealt with the bill that would ban exhibition of elephants.

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