NJ Lawmakers Seek Stronger Protections for Animals, Exotic and Domestic

Colleen O'Dea | October 29, 2018 | More Issues
“Nosey’s Law” would ban the use of exotic animals in traveling acts. Other measures would strengthen regulation of veterinarians and pet groomers

"Nosey's Law" is named for a circus elephant who has been mistreated for years by her owners.
Three animal protection bills are on the Assembly docket today, one of which is the well-known “Nosey’s Law” aimed at barring the use of elephants as circus acts in the state. The other two are in response to dog deaths at pet groomers and kennels.

“Nosey’s Law” (A-1923) would prohibit the use of elephants and other exotic animals in traveling animal acts, such as fairs, carnivals, circuses and flea markets and give New Jersey the broadest ban on animal acts in the nation. It is named for an elephant who animal rights organizations say has been mistreated for years, being forced to give rides and perform tricks despite having arthritis.

The bill was originally introduced two years ago by former Sen. Raymond Lesniak of Elizabeth as a bar against the use of elephants in circuses and other traveling shows after he learned of Nosey’s story. But then the bill was expanded to include all wild and exotic animals. It passed with some bipartisan support, but was pocket vetoed by former Gov. Chris Christie at the end of his term last January. Gov. Phil Murphy’s office does not comment on pending legislation, but he took action earlier this year to limit the state’s bear hunt and lawmakers think he is likely to sign “Nosey’s Law.”

This measure has been a priority for the state chapter of the Humane Society of the United States. With Lesniak’s retirement, other Democrats in both the Senate and Assembly have taken up the cause. The bill passed the Senate last June without opposition and is up for final passage on Monday. While Lesniak, a long time animal activist, is no longer in the Legislature, he testified at the bill’s final committee hearing last week.

Lesniak: ‘…to stop this cruelty’

“Once this gets signed into law, New Jersey will be the first state in the nation to ban, to stop this cruelty to elephants and wild animals in circuses,” Lesniak said. “It’s extreme cruelty. These animals should be out in the wild and not be beaten into submission.”

The animals banned from circuses and other traveling shows, in addition to elephants, would be camels, giraffes, crocodiles, lions, tigers and bears, among others. The legislation would not affect permanent facilities licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and permitted by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, institutions of higher education exhibiting wild or exotic animals for educational purposes or government outreach programs. All violators would be subject to administrative and civil penalties and court-ordered relief.

The other bills up for Assembly passage are meant to protect dogs by imposing regulations on animal groomers, kennels and veterinary facilities. Both are in response to the deaths of dogs in New Jersey.

The Pet Groomers Licensing Act (A-3044) would require those who groom animals — including the state’s more than 500,000 dogs — to be licensed and businesses that perform grooming be registered. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) first proposed the legislation four years ago in response to the death of Bijou, a healthy 6-year old Shih Tzu who died unexpectedly under the care of a pet groomer. The bill is also being called Bijou’s Law, in honor of the dog.

Pet grooming, boarding have been unchecked

It has taken on new urgency as a result of the publicity that followed the death of a dog that had been groomed at a Flemington PetSmart last December. That death prompted an NJ Advance Media investigation that found 47 cases across 14 states since 2008 in which families claim they took their dog to the pet retailer for a grooming only to have it die during or shortly after the visit.

“Americans spent $5.4 billion on pet boarding and grooming services this year. Until now, progress has been slow in regulating a business that has remained unchecked since its inception,” Vainieri Huttle said on the bill’s release from committee earlier this month.

The bill would define pet grooming as including, but not limited to, bathing, brushing, clipping or styling an animal. It also would establish an advisory committee within the state Division of Consumer Affairs that would include three licensed pet groomers, one licensed veterinarian and three public members to oversee the licensing process.

To be licensed as a pet groomer, an applicant would have to be an adult of good moral character who passes an examination. All licenses would be good for two years and then have to be renewed, with an initial license costing $75 and a renewal costing $50.

Businesses offering pet grooming would have to be registered and provide proof of insurance. They would have to meet specific safety and environmental standards for caging, lighting, sanitation and the provision of water for animals or face a loss of their license. The groomers would have to keep records of injuries, illnesses, deaths and escapes to be submitted to the Director of Consumer Affairs.

Move to license, register, monitor

The law would also require the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to create a public awareness campaign to educate pet owners about Bijou’s Law and provide a toll-free telephone number for consumers to make inquiries or complaints regarding pet groomers and grooming businesses.

“We must establish regulations that require anyone grooming a dog to be licensed and that the businesses offering grooming services be registered and monitored,” said Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-Hudson), another bill co-sponsor. “This is the only way that we can ensure that dogs are cared for and treated humanely while being groomed. It is what they deserve and nothing less.”

The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services could not determine whether the bill would result in a new cost or gain to the state. It noted the licensing process and ad campaigns will cost money, but the state would get revenue from the licensing fees and fines assessed for violations of the law. It’s unclear whether the fines and fees would bring in enough money to cover the costs of the licensing board.

The third bill, Daisy’s Law (A-2317), would require kennels and veterinary facilities to provide supervision for dogs in their care and training for their employees. Daisy, a Shih Tzu, was attacked and killed by a larger dog in the common play area of a veterinary facility in the state. At the time of the attack, the dogs were unsupervised.

“There is an element of trust that goes into leaving a pet, which many of us consider to be a part of the family, with strangers,” said Vainieri Huttle, who is also sponsoring this legislation. “While many kennels and veterinary clinics do try their best, and successfully care for the animals in their facilities, there is no harm in taking certain precautions to ensure that our pets can return home to us safely.”

The bill would require kennels and vet facilities to take steps to prevent future dog deaths. These include providing direct supervision of all common play areas whenever two or more dogs are there at the same time, training all staff who care for dogs about the new law and all other rules applicable to kennels, and keeping a record of each time a dog is released from or returned to its cage or enclosure.

Facilities would have to comply 90 days after the bill’s enactment. Violations would bring a fine of up to $100 a day and a vet who fails to comply with the law would be subject to a public reprimand by the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and any other penalties the board deems appropriate.