Opposition Turns Out to Oppose Animal Cruelty Bill

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Rep. Ellen Reed, D-Newmarket, speaks to the House Environment and Agriculture Committee Tuesday in favor of her bill to prohibit the sale of an animal with a born deformity that causes suffering, or to breed two animals with the same born deformity that causes suffering.


CONCORD — Adding selling or breeding animals with deformities that leads to suffering would be added to the state’s animal cruelty statutes under a bill that had a four-and-a-half-hour public hearing Tuesday.

House Bill 1105 had an overflow crowd before the House Environment and Agriculture Committee as breeders, cat and dog clubs, animal advocates and pet owners turned out to voice their opinions on the proposed legislation.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ellen Reed, D-Newmarket, said some popular animal characteristics with pet owners condemn pets to a lifetime of suffering and pain because of the deformities breeders seek to emphasize.

“Many breeds suffer from awful medical conditions,” she said, for animals “intentionally bred for extreme appearance.”

Under the bill, it would be a crime to sell an animal with a birth deformity that causes suffering, and to breed two animals with the same birth deformity that causes suffering.

The bill mentions the condition of brachycephaly, which means short nose or flat face, which Reed said can cause breathing issues, as well as facial pain, in some animals.

American registries have pursued flat faces and long backs for dogs into their breed standards over the years, Reed said, and they are incompatible with a healthy life, making it difficult to breath, walk or reproduce.

“Many registries encourage this,” she said, “and that creates a kind of race to the bottom.”

Reed said her bill does not ban any breed or prevent anyone from owning a pet or adopting one, but does prevent someone from selling a pet that had a deformity that causes suffering, or intentionally breeding two animals with the same deformity, and it makes them criminally liable.

Among the dog breeds often associated with the condition of brachycephaly are bulldogs, pugs, Boston Terriers, boxers, Shih Tzus and Pekinese and Persians cats.

The animals feel the same pain and suffer as much as if they were abused, Reed said.

Several European countries have banned the practice, she said, and call it torture breeding.

Bill opponents said breeders are careful and do not want the animals to suffer either, and they said, the registries do their best to set standards for breeds, not extreme characteristics.

And others said dogs and cats are expensive and some breeds extremely expensive, so the owners do their research before purchasing their animal and know what to expect.

“It is difficult to understand what is the actual current problem that this bill is trying to address,” said Andrea Hantz of Epping. “The bill seems unspecific, vague and open ended while at the same time highly punitive.”

She said she was representing the Cat Fanciers Association and The International Cat Association and they take exception to brachycephalic cats being arbitrarily categorized as having a birth deformity.

Brachycephaly is only a description of the shape of the head and prior to any breed being accepted by these registries, they are reviewed by the organization’s genetic committee for possible health consequences, Hantz said.

“I do have a concern that the message that this bill sends is that there is zero tolerance in New Hampshire for disabled pets in general,” she told the committee.

Bernice Sullivan of Wentworth and a member of the Irish Terrier Club of America opposed the bill saying some of the characteristics mentioned for dogs like a flat nose or short legs are not a condition nor a disease.

“Breeders try to breed to meet the breed’s standards,” Sullivan said, “not to breed to have a dog deformed or to suffer.”

She said the language in the bill will create many more problems.

“There is nothing to prevent cruelty,” Sullivan said, “it  merely muddies the waters around breeding.”
Sen. Howard Pearl, R-Loudon, opposed the bill saying he is a former owner of a boxer that had no breathing problems or other health issues.

Under this bill “anyone breeding boxers is at risk of committing a crime,” Pearl said. “New Hampshire has always been a very friendly state to breeders and agriculture.”

He said people seeking a dog can go to a nearby breeder and look at the litter, to see who the dog is and what you are buying.

“That’s one of the things that makes New Hampshire great,” Pearl said.

Many dog owners testified they have breeds that would be affected by the legislation that have no medical problems, although one woman from Sandwich said she purchased a French bulldog from a certified breeder in Ohio, and once the dog was home, problems began and she has spent $34,000 to correct the problem, but now the dog is a success story.

She was in favor of the bill.

Also supporting the bill was Joan O’Brien of Amherst, who is the president of the New Hampshire Animal Rights League.
“It is highly distressing to know millions of dogs are struggling just to breathe and more are being born into this world every day with anatomical features that do not function properly.”

Most to many of those dogs will never receive the help they need, she said, because the problem will go unnoticed or the owner cannot afford to pay for a procedure.

“We have a crisis, a crisis that warrants legislative action as swiftly as possible,” O’Brien said, “to end this type of breeding as swiftly as possible.”
Advocates for the bill say many of the affected breeds live short lives. 

French bulldogs have the lowest life expectancy of 4.5 years, while English bulldogs, American bulldogs, and pugs, have a life expectancy of less than eight years.

Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway have banned or restricted the type of breeding the bill would prohibit but this is the first such prohibition attempted by a state legislature.

Robert Miller of Brentwood said he is a dog owner, trains them, breeds them, and hunts with them and strongly opposes the bill.

“This is nothing more than restricting my ability and right to choose an animal I want,” he said. “The hook this is hung on is cruelty.”

He said the state is being used as a guinea pig with testimony coming from out of state and a vet from the United Kingdom.

“The last time the British tried to impose their will on us, we had a tea party,” Miller said, “and then we had a revolution.”

According to the electronic comment system, 517 people opposed the bill and 123 supported it.

The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on the bill.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com. Garry is InDepthNH.org’s State House bureau chief.

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