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Editorial Advisory Board: Maryland should pass the COAC Act

After years of consideration Maryland should join 38 other states that have laws requiring animal owners, not taxpayers, to pay the cost of care for lawfully seized neglected and abused animals. The Maryland Cost of Animal Care Act “COAC” (HB1062/SB877) is common-sense legislation saving lives and taxpayer dollars and should be passed this session without hesitation.

There are currently hundreds of seized animals being housed and cared for in shelters throughout Maryland while their owners await trial. There is no clear legal process for the disposition or assessment of costs of care for these animals. The months or even years awaiting trial not only cause trauma for the animals but costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This was an issue facing the Maryland Court of Appeals in the 2017 case of Daniel Rohrer v. Humane Society of Washington County, where dozens of farm animals were seized due to extreme neglect. Rohrer filed a petition for the return of the animals, which the district and circuit courts denied. Noting the lack of a clear civil procedure in the current law that would address the disposition of the seized animals pending the criminal trial the Maryland Court of Appeals stated, “ The statute provides no explicit guidance as to the standard by which a petition should be decided, or even who has the burden of proof.”

The COAC would now provide a clear and consistent legal process to determine the disposition of animals seized in serious abuse cases along with assessment against owners for cost of care. The shelters would have the opportunity to request these costs during, not after, the criminal case.

The shelter must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the legality of the seizure and the reasonableness of the bond (for payment of care) requested. The owner is protected as he/she can challenge in the civil proceeding the legality of the seizure and amount of bond and if acquitted of criminal charges the costs of care will be repaid.

Further, an owner can voluntarily relinquish the animal at any time and be absolved of financial responsibility, thus allowing for the adoption of the animal into a loving home with no further costs to the shelter.

Legislation addressing the cost of care for animals seized in cruelty cases is endorsed by the American Bar Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Sheriffs Association, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, the National Animal Control Association, and numerous other animal rights organizations.

Maryland has waited long enough, and we encourage our legislators to support The Maryland Cost of Animal Care Act.

Editorial Advisory Board members Gary E. Bair, Andre M. Davis, Arthur F. Fergenson, Leigh Goodmark and Julie C. Janofsky did not participate in this opinion.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

Gary E. Bair

Andre M. Davis

Arthur F. Fergenson

Nancy Forster

Susan Francis

Leigh Goodmark

Roland Harris

Michael Hayes

Julie C. Janofsky

Ericka N. King

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

H. Mark Stichel

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.