CHEYENNE – A bill requiring a defendant facing animal cruelty charges to pay reasonable costs for the animal’s impoundment was signed into law Tuesday by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon.
Senate File 25 provides a source of revenue for the facility caring for the animal, if the defendant wishes to retain ownership while an animal cruelty case is underway.
At the same time, it guarantees a hearing for the owner before an animal is confiscated.
It’s a win for animal shelters and animal control entities in the state that are responsible for the care, adoption or euthanasia of impounded animals. Caring for these animals can end up costing shelters thousands of dollars, as they await either forfeiture or adjudication of a cruelty case, Cheyenne Animal Shelter CEO Sue Castaneda said in January.
Castaneda, who championed SF 25 and testified in favor of it, was present when Gordon signed the bill Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m very pleased that this got both through the Legislature and signed by the governor,” she said. “It’s going to be very important – not just for our shelter, but other shelters who have to hold animals for a very long time. ... We’re very happy (about) making some progress on this kind of thing.”
Though Castaneda and the shelter were focused on how the bill would affect domestic animals, legislators made certain the interests of livestock owners were also represented.
In early March, an amendment adopted by the Senate Judiciary Committee addressed concerns voiced by some senators about livestock forfeiture, adding: “No animal shall be forfeited without a hearing ... regardless of whether a bond is posted, if the animal is connected to the livelihood or ability to make a living of the owner.”
On the House side, three substantive amendments were made to the bill, said Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas. Boner co-chairs the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee, which sponsored the bill.
First, the standard of proof needed during the hearing was elevated from “probable cause,” a relatively low legal threshold, to “a preponderance of the evidence.” Used as the standard of proof in civil trials, a preponderance of the evidence is met when a prosecutor convinces a court there is more than a 50% chance an accusation is true.
A change was also made to shorten the time between impoundment or charges being filed and the bond hearing to 72 hours. During this hearing, a county circuit court would determine an amount that would provide for reasonable funds to care for the animal for at least 90 days. After the bond expires, an owner must post a new bond to retain ownership of the animal.
If this bond is not paid, meaning the owner is unable or unwilling to cover the cost of care ordered by the court, the authority that impounded the animal – likely law enforcement, animal control or a livestock board official – could adopt out or sell the animal, try to rehabilitate it or euthanize it. The owner would still be responsible for the cost of any of these outcomes. Any remaining bond would then be returned to the owner.
Even if a bond is posted, an impounded animal could still be adopted, sold, rehabilitated or euthanized before the bond expires if a court has ordered the forfeiture of the animal, or if the owner has voluntarily forfeited the animal.
If, during the hearing, the court finds there is no probable cause for cruel treatment, the animal would be returned to its owner, and they would not be responsible for any costs unless they later pleaded guilty or were found guilty.
Finally, language around what is considered a “reasonable cost” was defined more specifically, to include “all costs incurred by the impounding entity in providing necessary food and water, veterinary attention and treatment for any animal which is impounded under this act.”
Boner said he was satisfied with how the bill turned out, and said he appreciated the work practicing attorneys in the Legislature had done to strengthen the bill.
“The process worked in this instance – the changes on the House side were substantive, but they improved the bill,” he said.
A second bill also sponsored by the Joint Agriculture Committee, Senate File 26, aimed to reorganize and clarify some of the state’s animal cruelty statutes. It passed quickly through both chambers, with a 23-5 vote in the Senate and a unanimous 60-0 vote in the House. It was signed into law Feb. 9.
Both SF 25 and SF 26 will go into effect on July 1.