Balto. Co. Council approves bill to increase animal cruelty fines

Fines for animal cruelty in Baltimore County will increase under a bill approved by the County Council on Monday.

The penalties for first offenses will rise from $100 to $250 per day for each occurrence of animal cruelty. Initially, the legislation proposed by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz would have increased the fines to $145, but an amendment proposed by council members raised the penalty even higher. That better reflects the severity of the crime, said Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican.

The legislation makes changes to the way the animal hearing board handles complaints, and aims to help the county recoup the cost of caring for animals that are seized, by requiring the animal owner to pre-pay boarding costs.

The bill, which takes effect Dec. 29, also increases fines for owners of dangerous animals -- those that have attacked someone or are otherwise found to be a threat to public safety -- from $500 to $1,000.

Last week, an attorney who handles animal-law cases told the council that the bill violated animal owners' due-process rights. With amendments proposed by Kamenetz's administration and approved by the council, the bill will give people who are charged the impoundment fees more opportunity to prove financial hardship than the original legislation, County Attorney Mike Field said. Amendments also will provide a way for animal owners to recoup those fees if the allegations against them are dismissed, he said.

Other amendments, proposed and approved by council members, will require the shelter to maintain a volunteer program; keep accurate records on how many animals are euthanized and adopted, and provide fresh food and water, sanitary service facilities and appropriate veterinary care for the animals.

A spokeswoman for the county health department, which runs the shelter, said shelter employees already do those things. Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat who was a sponsor of the amendments, said putting the provisions into law would hel tighten standards at the shelter.

Additionally, the measure will change the name of the Animal Control Division to the Animal Services Division, which county officials say better reflects the division's work.

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