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Bill: Owners would pay for care of their seized animals

March 17, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Two cases of animal abuse in Washington County since 2006 have cost the local Humane Society about $160,000 to house and care for the animals that were seized from their owners.

Paul F. Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, said the cost to the county could have been much higher.

Miller supports a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would make the animal owner pay expenses associated with the care and housing of the animals during legal proceedings. The seizure of the mistreated animals must be declared valid in court for this to apply.

The Humane Society or agency involved in the case currently incurs all costs associated with the seized animals, and a judge decides whether to order restitution.

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Miller was in Annapolis on Thursday to support the bill, which was heard by the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee. No action was taken.

Under the bill, the owner could give up ownership of the animal, meaning the owner would not have to pay for the animal's care, and the Humane Society or seizing agency could offer the animal for adoption. This change would prevent the agency from paying for the animal's care during a lengthy trial.

Miller initiated the legislation, which was sponsored by Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, after two recent livestock seizures in Washington County netted 74 horses in 2006 and 34 dairy cows in 2007.

At least 20 of the horses were pregnant when they were seized and gave birth while under the care of the Humane Society.

The Humane Society spent about $130,000 to care for and house 32 of the horses. Other agencies cared for the remainder of the animals, and Miller said the cost to the county could have been as high as $500,000 had it not been for other agencies, volunteers and donations.

Thirteen months after seizing the horses, the last one was adopted. It took about five months for the incident involving the cows to be resolved, costing the Humane Society about $30,000, Miller said.

Although the incidents that triggered the bill involve livestock, it applies to the seizure of all animals, including dogs and cats.

Shank's bill was supported by the Humane Society of the United States.

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