Animal Law Section

TESTIMONY ON BEHALF OF
MSBA ANIMAL LAW COMMITTEE IN FAVOR OF HB 11

Good afternoon. My name is Barbara Graham. Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of HB 11 which prohibits a person from inflicting unnecessary suffering or pain on an animal. I am a lawyer in private practice in Rockville, MD. I have spent my entire adult life working with animals, and have focused on animal issues in the law since I started practicing more than fifteen years ago. Even though a significant part of my practice involves criminal defense, I am here today to support this Bill to permit non-owners to be prosecuted for inflicting pain on animals. I support this Bill personally and on behalf of the Animal Law Committee of the MD State Bar Association.

The Animal Law Committee is a special project of the Maryland Bar Association serving as a focus for attorneys interested in the law as it impacts animals and the people in our community involved with animals. The Animal Law Committee is not an animal rights group, but rather a forum for attorneys of all viewpoints whose practices may involve animal-related legal issues. The Animal Law Committee hopes to educate legislators, members of the bar, and lay people on legal issues as they pertain to animals, and to influence legislation that addresses animal-related issues such as crimes against animals.

Under present laws, it is a misdemeanor for an owner or custodian of an animal to inflict unnecessary pain or suffering on that animal. (§ 10-604 of the Criminal Law Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, Abuse or neglect of animal) It is a felony for anyone, owner or otherwise, to intentionally mutilate, torture, cruelly beat or cruelly kill an animal. (§ 10-606 of the Criminal Law Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, Aggravated cruelty to animals) HB 11 addresses the gap in this statutory scheme by making it a misdemeanor for a non-owner to inflict unnecessary pain or suffering on an animal. HB 11 effectively removes the relationship required by the present misdemeanor animal abuse statute.

In my years of practice I have observed two scenarios that occur over and over again. One is within the context of domestic violence where the disgruntled ex-spouse or boyfriend visits the family home, there is an argument, and the ex gets angry. Rather than attack the person, which he knows will get him in trouble, he kicks the dog or punches the cat. He not only gets to express his anger, but he also gets revenge by hurting the pet that his ex loves and cares for. Another common scenario leading to animal abuse is the dispute between neighbors. The neighbors may be feuding over trees on a property line, the basketball hoop in the driveway, loud music or parking spaces. If one of the neighbors has a dog, the other neighbor will wait for the dog to be let out in the yard and throw rocks at the dog. Or there are cases where a neighbor has put poisoned meat into the yard. Rather than confronting the person, the neighbor takes his anger out on the innocent animal.

Under the current law, the ex-spouse or boyfriend who kicks the dog down the stairs has not committed any crime. The neighbor who pelts the dog with rocks has not committed any crime. These actions are not the violent, sadistic, egregious behavior toward animals required by the felony cruelty statute. And, since neither the ex nor the neighbor is an owner or custodian of the animal, these actions are not covered by the current misdemeanor animal abuse statute.

HB 11 would repeal the requirement that a person be the owner or custodian of an animal in order to be prosecuted for inflicting pain on an animal. The Maryland Bar Association Animal Law Committee believes that HB 11 is a reasonable and necessary change in the law that will help protect animals from abuse. Thank you.

Respectfully submitted,

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Barbara R. Graham
50 W. Montgomery Avenue
Suite 300
Rockville, MD 20850
301-294-3467/301-315-8275