In 2014, Massachusetts passed a comprehensive animal cruelty reform law known as An Act Protecting Animal Safety and Welfare (“PAWS”). 293 M.G.L. §§ 1-5 (2014). This law was inspired by heinous, sustained acts of abuse enacted against a dog, which came to be known as “Puppy Doe.” Nik DeCosta-Klipa, Everything You Need to Know About the Upcoming ‘Puppy Doe’ Trial, Boston.Com (August 7, 2017), https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2017/08/07/everything-you-need-to-know-  about-the-upcoming-puppy-doe-trial. Recently, Radoslaw Czerkawski, the Puppy Doe abuser was tried and sentenced for animal abuse. CITATION. Czerkawski will be serving a sentence of 8-10 years in state prison. Man Sentenced to 8-10 Years in Prison for ‘Puppy Doe’ Abuse Trial, CBS Boston (March 27, 2018, 2:36 PM), http://boston.cbslocal.com/2018/03/27/puppy-doe-trial-sentencing-radoslaw-czerkawski-animal-cruelty/. While some don’t feel that the sentence is strong enough given the horrendous abuse sustained by Puppy Doe, the sentence is higher than usual for cases of animal cruelty, which indicates a new direction for the prosecution and conviction of animal abuse in Massachusetts. With the introduction of PAWS II, Massachusetts continues its trend of ensuring that animals are safe in the state.

PAWS overhauled the existing Massachusetts animal cruelty laws and create new protections for animals in the state. Beyond reforming existing animal cruelty laws, PAWS created a task force, which was responsible for investigating the existing laws for their strength and effectiveness in preventing animal cruelty in Massachusetts and identifying gaps that exist in the legislative scheme. Id. PAWS II has been put forward as a result of the task force’s work; it’s the next step in ensuring that people and pets receive adequate protection in the state. PAWS II, MSPCA, https://www.mspca.org/animal_protection/pawsii/ (last visited April 17, 2018).

In 2017, PAWS II was introduced for consideration, which aims to provide further legislative overhaul and build on the existing protections of PAWS. On March 15, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed PAWS II. Informed by the task force’s investigation, PAWS II has proposed legislative changes that will:

  • Ensure abuse is reported
    1. While this bill builds on existing animal cruelty laws, the revision attempts to more concretely recognize the link between animal abuse and abuse to vulnerable people. As a result, the law requires that “animal abuse is reported by Department of Children and Families employees or contractors, the Department of Elder Affairs investigators, and Disabled Persons Protection Commission investigators. The bill would add animal control officers as mandatory reporters of child abuse, elder abuse, and abuse against disabled persons.” By requiring the report of animal abuse, the bill aims to keep both animals and people safe.
  • Ensure efficient enforcement of animal control laws
    1. This section increases the effectiveness of existing animal control laws and adds more appropriate penalties to animal control laws. The laws affected by this section include licensing violations, kennel regulations, etc.
  • Update a law relating to who/what entities can be charged with certain types of animal cruelty
    1. The law currently permits a “corporation” to be charged with animal cruelty. These updates propose to add additional crimes and broaden the entities that are held responsible for acts of animal cruelty. The update also notes that entities that enact acts of cruelty may not exist as corporations.
  • Prohibit the drowning of animals – wild and domestic
    1. Currently Massachusetts allows the drowning of wild and domestic animals as a form of killing. This bill would mandate humane killing and would make it unlawful to drown animals as a method of killing. Drowning is most commonly used as a method of killing for wild animals that are classified as pests. This bill would require animals to be killed in the quickest and least painful way. Approved methods include euthanasia, compression chambers, etc.
  • Update the animal fighting law to prevent the automatic killing of animal fighting victims
    1. Massachusetts is in the minority of states that currently require the immediate killing of victims of animal fighting. This update removes this language and creates more opportunities for victims of animal fighting to be rehabilitated and adopted to loving families.
  • Add animal crimes to the list of offenses that serve as the basis for a request for a determination of detention and/or release upon conditions
    1. This part of the bill would amend the current law to “include the crimes of animal cruelty and fighting as specifically enumerated offenses to serve as the basis for a request for a determination of detention and/or release upon conditions.”
  • Add a provision prohibiting discrimination against dog breeds to prevent animal homelessness
    1. Massachusetts doesn’t permit municipalities to regulate dogs by breed. This type of regulation/ordinance is known as breed specific legislation (“BSL”). However, in Massachusetts: “insurance companies, private companies, and publicly-owned and subsidized housing authorities can refuse to offer insurance coverage, renew insurance policies, or can provide housing with breed restrictions which may require an owner to surrender a pet.” PAWS II, MSPCA, https://www.mspca.org/animal_protection/pawsii/ (last visited April 17, 2018).This bill would prohibit BSL for these entities, which will hopefully reduce the number of pets being surrendered to shelters, which is traumatic for both the owner and the pet. It will also, hopefully, reduce the number of animals euthanized in shelters each year.
  • Ensure that landlords check vacant properties for the presence of abandoned animals and clarify the law relating to when animals are abandoned
    1. This bill would require a landlord, owner, or assignee that knew or should have known that a property was vacated to check the property within three days for any pets. If they find an animal, they are required to contact animal control or the police.
  • Animal Sexual Abuse
    1. This section updates the existing laws against animal sexual abuse, by prohibiting sexual activity with an animal and prohibits the promotion or facilitation of sexual conduct with an animal. The bill does not impact standard/routine animal husbandry practices.
      1. Massachusetts is not the only state that is tightening the protections for animals against sexual abuse. Louisiana recently amended an outdated statute that prohibited both bestiality but also removed a state anti-sodomy law, which was rendered unconstitutional under Romer v. Evans. Bill Passes Making Besitality Illegal in Louisiana, CBS DFW (April 12, 2018, 11:47 AM) http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2018/04/12/bill-passes-making-besitality-illegal-in-louisiana/. The bill passed the Senate and is now headed to the House for a vote. Id. While Louisiana’s actions were the subject of jokes online states are still updating outdated laws that either did not outlaw bestiality or did not provide a criminal code for the prosecution of this offense. Id. Texas also just updated its bestiality laws to protect animals from sexual abuse and provides standards for dealing with recovery for these animals. Id.

The legislative reforms proposed by PAWS II are reasonable and aim to provide clearer protections for animals and people by clarifying and tightening existing regulations. PAWS II also aims to prevent harm to humans by ensuring that incidents of animal abuse are reported to agencies who are able to track harm to humans. This sweeping legislative reform will ensure that animals receive protections in Massachusetts and will help pet owners facilitate safe, healthy pet ownership. The updates simply provide commonsense protections for animals and provide legislation for what most people likely assume are already laws in place. Additionally, the proposed amendments do not unduly burden citizens or legal officials. There are no requirements that will require a burden to state spending or state regulation. Overall, the bill proposes reasonable changes that will help existing regulations and policies be effectuated for the safety of people and animals alike.

While the legislative update is sweeping in its protection for animals and ensures that animals will be protected in the state, there will be no immediate impact to practitioners. The forecasted chance of this bill passing into law is high; it is currently making its way through the House committees.