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New legislation to protect abandoned animals


July 9, 2014
SPRINGFIELD – Abandoned animals in Massachusetts can sometimes go weeks before anyone finds them, if they’re still alive, but relief is on the way.

The Massachusetts State Senate passed Bill S.942, an act protecting abandoned animals on vacant properties.

“The new bill is fabulous,” Christine Allenberg, a Massachusetts Society for the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) law enforcement officer said. “A lot of times animals will be going a week or two [on their own]. Sometimes owners don’t go to the property for weeks until the paperwork is done [and] find skeletons.”

Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control and Adoption Center Director Pam Peebles is glad that this problem is being addressed.

“It’s pretty uncommon for the property owner to inspect the property immediately after [and this] puts the burden on somebody to do that. [It’s] undeniably the responsibility of the property owner to get someone in there to see what’s left behind,” Peebles said.

“[The problem is] pretty widespread. Every person is shocked how often this happens. The bill is a relief and speeds all processes up,” Peebles continued. “It’s a benefit to animals lingering without food and water.”

State Sen. Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham, stated, “My office receives dozens of calls, emails, and letters from constituents who express their strong support for legislation that protects animals. I agree. There have been too many news stories of abused and neglected pets who are harmed, including those who are left behind.   This bill deals directly with this issue. I was pleased to lend my support.”

Tracking down the people who abandoned the animals can be difficult and time consuming, but the bill will help ensure more abandoned animals are getting the care they need regardless of the legal outcome.

“We don’t investigate abandonment all that often. It takes up endless resources and often ends in a wild goose chase or dead end. I’m more excited that animals will get relief immediately and we can make sure they aren’t dehydrated, aren’t starving, and aren’t close to death,” Peebles said. “We investigated 57 cases in 2013 [and] 32 were found with no one to speak for them.”

People who abandon their animal can face harsh consequences.

“We verify that the animal is abandoned and that somebody isn’t coming by to care for it. Every case is different; we follow leads to try to locate folks. If we can’t find them the weight of the law falls on them,” Allenberg said. “Abandoning an animal is a felony. [The penalties are] up to five years in prison and a $2500 fine.”

Peebles says that the bill will also help speed up the legal process once the investigation gets to that point.

“One that’s very helpful is the bill gives a definition of abandonment. If an animal is found tethered in a property, that’s abandonment. If we pursue charges, there’s no discussion about if its abandonment [and] takes away a lot of the argument an owner can give,” Peebles explained.

Allenberg says it’s hard to put a number on the amount of animals that get abandoned and acknowledges that while animal control officers may see their workload increased by the bill, it’s something that she wont be 

“There’s no way to tell how many [animals are abandoned]. Some call local animal control, some call MSPCA,” she explained. “It’s quite possible [workloads will increase], but also very helpful. Animal Control officers would rather have more work than have an animal suffer.”

She also says that people who are moving plan it weeks in advance and they should take the proper steps to ensure their animal is cared for.

“Locking an animal in a house or apartment you’re leaving is just as much a crime as leaving [the animal] on the street,” Allenberg said. “Contact your local animal control, your local humane society and make arrangements to surrender your animal if you cannot keep it.”

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