People convicted of animal abuse can still own, adopt and foster pets under Massachusetts law, unless the abuse was of a sexual nature. A bill pending on Beacon Hill, titled An Act to Protect Animals from Convicted Animal Abusers, would expand the law to include other types of abuse, including torture, mutilation and dogfighting.
“Most people don’t realize that currently in our laws, only people who have been convicted of sexual abuse are banned from having possession or coming into contact with animals,” State Rep. Tram Nguyen said. “So this bill will fill that gap.”
State Representatives Nguyen, Vanna Howard and Sen. Mike Moore sponsored legislation to ensure that anyone convicted of animal abuse can’t own a pet for at least five years, and for subsequent offenders, at least 15 years.
“My work prior to coming into the Legislature was to work with survivors of domestic violence. Holding perpetrators, holding abusers accountable has been such a big of my work,” said Tram, a former legal services attorney. “And that extends out to our fur babies, who really can’t defend themselves. We want to make sure that we keep them safe from those who are out to hurt them.”
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Nguyen said her two adopted dogs – Bruno and Sonny – are like family to her. She’s working with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) to pass the bill this session after it was reported favorably from the Judiciary Committee in 2021-2022. About 20 other states have a similar ban on the books, according to Kara Holmquist, the MSPCA’s director of advocacy.
“We’re really trying to make sure that if a person tortures, mutilates or does other harm to an animal they also are subject to the same restrictions,” Holmquist said.
Nguyen noted a provision in the bill that allows first-time offenders to appeal the ban. Anyone who violates the order could face a fine of $1,000 per animal, which would go to the Homeless Animal Prevention and Care Fund.
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The issue isn’t exclusively about animals, according to Holmquist, who pointed to an MSPCA study that found people who commit violent crimes against people are five times as likely to commit violent crimes against animals.
“This is an issue for animals, of course, but it is also about protecting our community,” Holmquist said.