New WY Law a Mixed Bag for Animals

Update Mar. 4, 2011: Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has now signed S.F. 100 into law. But the new law looks nothing like the original bill that targeted puppy mills and hoarders.

The new law creates the crime of cruelty to a household pet which is either (1) keeping the animal "in a manner that results in chronic or repeated serious physical harm to the household pet"; or (2) keeping the animal "confined in conditions which constitute a public health hazard".

A violation would be a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than six (6) months, a fine of not more than seven hundred fifty dollars ($750.00), or both except that a subsequent offense is a high misdemeanor punishable by not more than one (1) year imprisonment, a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000.00), or both.

The new law establishes an account with an appropriation of $100,000 to reimbuse counties for up to 90% of enforcement costs. The fund is to be regulated by the attorney general.

The term "household pet" does not include animals used for food or fiber that are defined as "livestock". Wy. Stat. Sec. 23-1-102

The difference that this law offers is that unlike for other prohibited acts of animal cruelty, there is no burden to prove the offender acted "knowingly and with intent to cause death, injury or undue suffering" Wy. Stat. Sec. 6-3-203. But there must be evidence of "chronic" or "repeated" "serious harm" for a prosecution. 

For more on the original bill, read Animal Law Coalition’s report below.   

Original report: A Wyoming bill, S.F. 100, would define animal cruelty under Wy. Code Sec. 6-3-203 to include hoarding of companion animals and operation of a puppy mill.

A hoarder would be defined as someone keeping (1) 15 or more companion animals (dogs, cats or other pets but not "livestock" or horses); (2) in an "overcrowded environment", and (3) who "displays an inability to recognize or understand the nature of or has a reckless disregard for the conditions under which the companion animal is living and the harmful impact the person has on the animals’ health, well-being and safety."  Someone who hoards horses, for example, would not be in violation under this bill. 

It is not clear what is meant by "conditions" or "harmful impact". The terms used don’t relate easily to the definitions established in WY law for cruel treatment or care.  Wy Code Sections 6-3-203, 11-29-101  et seq.

It is not clear why keeping 15 companion animals as opposed to some other number would be indicative of hoarding.  

The bill does not contain any provision for mental health evaluation or treatment of a hoarder. There is no provision allowing a court to limit a hoarder’s access to animals.

Illinois has a similar law § 510 ILCS 70/2.10, though no specific number of animals is required to qualify as a hoarder and the conditions for the animals that would be indicative of hoarding are those in violation of the state’s Humane Care for Animals law. Under Illinois law a hoarder can be required to undergo a mental health evaluation and treatment. A court can limit a hoarder’s access to animals.

The Wyoming bill is also similar to a 2008 Hawaii law, HRS § 711-1109.6, which makes it a misdemeanor to keep 15 or more dogs and cats, fail to provide "necessary sustenance for each dog or cat"; and fails "to correct the conditions under which the dogs or cats are living, where conditions injurious to the dogs’, cats’, or owner’s health and well-being result from the person’s failure to provide necessary sustenance." The mental state of the hoarder is not an issue under the Hawaii law.

A "puppy mill" would be defined as "a dog or cat breeding facility where: (A) The total number of animals exceeds fifty (50); (B) The animals are kept in substandard conditions regarding the well-being of the animals; and (C) The facility is operated with an emphasis upon profits above animal welfare."

A free pass for mills with less than 50 breeding animals. It is not clear what is meant by "substandard conditions regarding the well-being of animals". Again, this does not relate easily to terms under WY law that are used to describe cruel treatment or care.  Regardless, establishing substandard conditions won’t be enough. Law enforcement must also prove that the breeder places an "emphasis upon profits above animal welfare". It is not clear how that would be established other than through the substandard care provided.

S.F. 100 would also limit the current requirement to provide appropriate care to situations of "immediate, obvious, serious illness or injury". It is not clear if the illness or injury must be "immediate", "obvious" and "serious" before care must be given or if one of these is sufficient.

The bill establishes a "cruelty to animals protection account". The state Livestock Board would oversee the funds and make reimbursements to county law enforcement agencies for enforcement of animal cruelty laws. The bill would appropriate $200,000 for the account and direct that $400,000 would be included in the Livestock  Board’s biennial budget for 2013-2014 for the account.