Legislation advanced by a New Jersey Assembly committee on Monday would add to the punishment received by anyone found guilty of animal cruelty.

Dogs and cats.
Flickr user: normanack

"Moose's Law" would prohibit anyone convicted of, or found civilly liable for, an animal cruelty offense from owning a pet or working at any establishment that focuses on animal care. Any person who violates the law would be guilty of a disorderly persons offense.

"Our pets are often like our family members, and they're our most vulnerable family members," said Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D), a sponsor of the measure. "When someone injures them or puts them in harm's way, I think it's right and fitting for us...that we ensure someone else's pet can't be hurt."

Upon a person's conviction in an animal cruelty offense, the court would have the discretion to order the forfeiture of any animal owned by the offender or transfer custody of the animal. Ownership could not be transferred to someone who shares a residence with the offender.

If the bill were to become law, animal-related enterprises (including, but not limited to: a zoo, animal shelter, pet shop) would take on additional responsibility. An employee could not be "officially" hired unless an investigation by the Commissioner of Health determines the potential employee is eligible to work with animals. A person may be provisionally employed, pending the results of the investigation.

To make the process easier for employers, the bill would require the state to compile a list of all persons with an "animal cruelty past." The list would be updated no less than once per year. It would also be made public so any place that adopts or sells animals would have the ability to check the list.

Singleton added, "Sometimes folks in businesses, unknowingly, will hire someone who has a pretty checkered past with respect to animals."

The measure was drafted in response to an incident in Delran over the summer. Moose, a chocolate Labrador retriever, jumped a fence and went missing for over a month until a woman returned his dead body to the owners. The woman, a self-proclaimed dog trainer, said she found the dog along the side of the road, but it has been alleged that she kidnapped the animal and left it in a hot car, causing its death.

"What happened to Moose was tragic, especially given the great lengths his family took to try and find him," said fellow bill sponsor Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D).

The bill was approved by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.

Also approved was a measure named after a Newark pit bull who was found starved in a garbage bag last year. "Patrick's Law" would increase the penalties handed down for animal cruelty.

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