Kentucky Politics

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers wants to require people accused of animal abuse to pay for housing and upkeep of their animals while their court cases are pending.

Republican Rep. Kim Banta, of Ft. Mitchell, and Democratic Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson, of Lexington, are sponsoring a bill that would create the “cost of care” law in Kentucky. It would allow courts and shelters to sue owners of animals seized in cruelty cases to pay for care until cases are resolved.

During a legislative hearing last week, Banta said the measure is good for animals and taxpayers.

“When animals are seized, taxpayers and the agencies are picking up the cost of care while the animals are being housed and taken care of,” Banta said.

“If a court finds the agency has met the burden for the removal of the animals, the owner must post bond to cover the cost of caring for the animals so the taxpayers aren’t.”

In some animal cruelty cases, local governments and shelters are left taking care of large numbers of abused animals seized from hoarders, puppy mills and irresponsible owners.

In March, 141 animals were rescued from an alleged puppy mill in Adair County that had “horrid” living conditions.

More than 100 animals were seized at a home in McCracken County in April, including 40 dogs kept in cages or inside closets.

Over 40 dogs were rescued from an alleged puppy mill in Breckinridge County last year.

Advocates say taking care of seized animals can cost counties more than $100,000. They say Kentucky is one of only 12 states that doesn’t have such a law on the books.

Banta said the measure would allow local governments to pursue cruelty cases and know they will have the money to pay for taking care of the animals.

“Sometimes people don’t go after large animal cruelty or hoarding things because they don’t want the cost of care. This is actually giving them an option to have cost of care should that happen,” Banta said.

Banta filed a similar bill last year that didn’t receive a hearing in the legislature.

Sometimes even when the state moves to seize animals following an abuse complaint, officials don’t follow through on removing animals. That happened in the case of the Trixie Foundation, a private Elliott County animal shelter with cruelty allegations documented by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. Kentucky State Police later raided the property and seized more than 100 animals.

Stevenson, the other sponsor of the bill, said if people can’t feed their animals and take care of them, they shouldn’t keep them.

“If you relinquish them, then they can be taken to homes where they can be properly cared for. That’s optimal,” Stevenson said.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.