SEABROOK — The definition of what constitutes cruelty to animals according to state law is being challenged by two residents, appalled by an owner who left his dog outside during recent frigid weather.
Karen Mayer and Pamela Driscoll brought their concerns to selectmen on Monday after witnessing a dog in their neighborhood remain outdoors during the region’s recent spell of bitter cold weather that had temperatures plummeting to below zero at night and hovering in the single digits during the day.
The women appealed to selectmen, saying they weren’t able to gain an acceptable result from the police, whom they called several times to report the dog’s plight.
“We’re not trying to punish anyone or take anyone’s animals away,” Mayer told selectmen. “We’re just trying to make sure these animals are treated properly. If you look around Seabrook, most people don’t leave their dogs out like this.”
According to Driscoll, she and others called police to report what she believes is cruelty to animals, due to the owner leaving the dog exposed to the elements during extreme temperatures. Driscoll said she called a veterinarian who told her that in such long cold spells, dogs can’t maintain their body temperature and that it can become dangerous.
“I was told by my neighbor this dog is always left outside in extreme weather,” Driscoll said, adding that although she was told the animal is left food and water, in such frigid temperatures, both are most likely to freeze.
The women said police told her they couldn’t do much because they can’t go on private property to check on the dog when the owner isn’t at home. Driscoll said she was told by police that the dog had been taken in, but later learned it hadn’t.
The women believe that according to New Hampshire RSA 644.8, what’s happening to the dog qualifies as cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor for the first offense and a felony on recurring offenses.
“We’re not crazy animal people, we’re just passionate that something is wrong,” Mayer said.
RSA 644.8 defines cruelty to animals as including but not limited to “acts or omissions injurious or detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of any animal, including the abandoning of any animal without proper provision for its care, sustenance, protection or shelter.”
But it doesn’t define “shelter” or “necessary shelter” as being inside a home. Instead. it states it is “any natural or artificial area which provides protection from the direct sunlight and adequate air circulation when that sunlight is likely to cause heat exhaustion of a dog tied or caged outside. Shelter from the weather shall allow the dog to remain clean and dry. Shelter shall be structurally sound and have an area within to afford the dog the ability to stand up, turn around and lie down, and be of proportionate size as to allow the natural body heat of the dog to be retained.”
The law does define cruelty as negligently permitting or causing “any animal in his possession or custody to be subjected to cruelty, inhumane treatment or unnecessary suffering of any kind.”
Since the women believe the dog’s situation qualifies as cruelty to animals as defined by state law, Town Manager Bill Manzi said he’ll set up a meeting with Mayer, Driscoll, police Chief Lee Bitomske and himself to discuss the situation.
In addition, Selectman Ray Smith suggested the women work to update the state law to include provisions that more specifically cover a situation like this.