House Bill 371, currently before the Vermont legislature, seeks to impose criminal penalties for animal hoarding. An animal hoarder is defined as any person who possesses five or more animals and fails to provide adequate food, water, shelter, rest, sanitation, or necessary medical attention or transports an animal in an overcrowded vehicle
In addition, the law seeks penalties for anyone who keeps the animals in a severely overcrowded environment and/ or displays an inability to recognize or understand the nature of or has a reckless disregard for the conditions under which the animals are living and the deleterious impact they have on the animals’ health and well-being.
The state’s animal cruelty laws define animals as “all living sentient creatures, not human beings.” This could mean a wide array of animals, including cats, dogs, small animals, birds and reptiles.
Violators would be guilty of animal cruelty and could face up to one year’s jail time, a fine of up to $2,000 or both. Second and subsequent violators could face up to two years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.
Under state law, a “humane officer” may seize an animal without a search warrant if he or she witnesses a situation in which the animal’s life is in jeopardy and immediate action is required to protect its health or safety.
A humane officer includes law enforcement officers, auxiliary state police officers, deputy game wardens, humane society officers, employees or agents; animal control officers; or any officer authorized to serve criminal process.
H 371 has been assigned to the House Committee on Agriculture where it awaits action.