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CONCORD – Wolfeboro Police Chief Dean Rondeau says he’s "disappointed, saddened and somewhat angered," after a House committee last week drastically altered a Senate bill designed to prevent large-scale animal abuse such as the infamous Great Dane case in his town.

Last summer, after 84 Great Danes were rescued from a filth-filled mansion in Wolfeboro, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, who lives in that town, put together a roundtable to look at strengthening the state’s animal cruelty laws. The legislation that came out of his efforts had 12 bipartisan Senate sponsors and easily passed the Senate.

The bill says anyone who keeps seven breeding female dogs would be added to the definition of a commercial kennel. It also allows, if a court approves, for a "cost-of-care" bond to be posted by someone charged with animal neglect or cruelty, to cover the costs of caring for animals confiscated in such cases.

But last week, the House Environment and Agriculture Committee voted 15-1 to pass an amended version removing language about costs. Instead, it would create a study commission to look into such costs, as well as inspections and appropriations and positions needed by the state Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food to carry out such work.

O’Connor said he wants the proposed commission instead to look for other funding options, such as setting aside money from dog licensing fees in a dedicated fund that could be tapped to care for confiscated animals. He’d like to see the state veterinarian review applications for funding and determine where such animals should be housed.

But Rondeau said removing the cost-of-care language puts the expense of caring for animals in abuse cases on the local taxpayers. In Wolfeboro, he said, the cost of caring for Fay’s 84 Great Danes since last June is estimated at $1.7 million.

But Rondeau said he believes that language is unconstitutional. "You have to look at hoarding through the lens of mental illness," he said. "And we don’t arrest people in this state – nor should we – … because they’re mentally ill. That’s the wrong thing to do."

Devon Chaffee, executive director of the New Hampshire ACLU, voiced a similar concern. "This bill may criminalize individuals with mental health issues, as ‘hoarding’ is a psychiatric disorder, and it should be recognized as such, and not as a crime," she said.

The House version also added a long list of exceptions to the proposed seven "breeding female" rule, including those who raise dogs for hunting, field work, guarding and herding livestock, or who participate in "any lawful dog event" including dog shows, obedience and field trials, agility events and mushing.

But Angela Ferrari, a board member of Dog Owners of the Granite State, which represents breeders, mushers and others, applauded the House Committee’s work on the bill. She’s happy that they carved out an exception for those who raise dogs for work, sports and other activities, "to show that we are not the targeted community for this law," she said.

"I am extremely disappointed that my legislation has changed dramatically and as now proposed will neither prevent animal cruelty nor protect property taxpayers from the cost of care for animals," Bradley said Friday. "I am also extremely concerned that my legislation as now proposed will weaken existing law by making it more difficult to even report animal cruelty."

The biggest problem was the cost-of-care language, Johnson said. Having the accused pay for someone else to care for their animals before they’re convicted doesn’t sit right, he said. "In this country, we fought a revolution over things like that," he said.

Why does the Farm Bureau Federation even care about this bill, which specifically exempts livestock from its provisions? Johnson said for one thing, horses are not exempt from its requirements. And, he said, "More importantly is, we well realize that in years to come, that (livestock exemption) could be easily stricken."

Rondeau said he’s convinced Bradley’s bill would have prevented what happened in his town. With more than seven breeding females in her home, Fay would have had to be licensed as a commercial kennel, and her premises would have been subject to inspection.

If his animal control officer had gone inside Fay’s mansion before last June’s raid, he said, perhaps local authorities could have helped her. "Inspections are a good thing … because they can catch a problem before it becomes a crisis," he said.