In all likelihood, tomorrow morning HB4021 will pass the Oregon House, and then will move to the Senate where it will likely also pass.
In many ways this bill is not a big deal: it merely shifts the power to commission humane agents from the Governor to the Superintendent of State Police which makes it a little easier for humane agencies to continue doing what they have been doing for years: running a private police force with state approval to seize any animals they want and then sell those animals for whatever amount they want, after, of course, charging the owner money to pay for its care while they kept the animal.
In each of the past four legislative sessions, seemingly insignificant bills have passed that subtly altered how humane agents are trained, how warrants are obtained, the process for seizing animals, and now how humane agents are commissioned. But despite strong opposition in each session that explained how these bills combine to grant humane agencies clearly unjust powers, the legislators have consistently failed to seriously consider these dangerous consequences.
Some readers may not see why this is a big deal—after all, humane societies are wonderful institutions who have the extremely difficult task of going into awful homes where animals are being abused and saving those animals. And there is no question that in those cases in which the targets happen to be guilty, this is exactly what happens. The problem is that there are no limits, no balances, to ensure that this process cannot collaterally trample innocent owners, and even more, innocent pets.
Do not for a moment forget that animal sales—even if euphemistically called adoptions—generate millions of dollars each year for Oregon’s humane societies, and that the media coverage generated during alleged abuse cases brings in millions more. Giving the same private agency the power to seize animals and the right to profit from selling them is insane. Not to mention that they also have the power to set the amount they charge for upkeep while they hold the animals, and full control of the only possible exculpatory evidence.
Humane agencies have been given nearly unlimited power to create a private police force and to utilize that force to seize any pet they choose, then turn around and sell that pet before trial has occurred, let alone guilt been proven. Thus empowered, humane agencies can perform surgery on the animal, charge the owner for the care, demand a bond, destroy the owner’s reputation in the media, alter evidence, and sell or destroy the animal, all before the owner (presumed in American tradition and law to be innocent until otherwise proven) has the opportunity to face their accuser or defend themselves. In the exceedingly rare case where the person was genuinely abusing an animal, such action may have helped an individual animal. But in the overwhelming number of cases, innocent animal lovers AND innocent animals will have suffered irreparable harm. And in every case, the most fundamental of civil liberties will have been trampled.
It matters not that some legislators are so confident in the humane society’s virtue that they cannot fathom why anyone would worry about giving such groups the power to seize animals. It matters not that some of the humane agents are ex-cops. U.S. law is intended to ensure that no person or agency can violate individual citizens’ rights. Oregon statutes should similarly ensure that no agency now or in the future should be empowered to seize a person’s property without due process, whether they are motivated by good intentions, profit, politics, personal vendetta, irrational extremism, or even a genuine-good-old-fashioned-mistake. The job of our laws is not only to find and punish the guilty, but also to protect the innocent.
Oregon’s current laws create a system in which virtually no private citizen, even if absolutely innocent, has a chance of defending themselves or their pets. Any time a humane agency feels like it, they can send their own deputized employees to any door in our state and seize the pets living there, and in 99% of cases the person will not even try to fight back against the overwhelming threat of losing their life’s savings and their good name in addition to the animals that they have already lost.
This is unjust, unconstitutional, and immoral, and hurts animals and humans far more than it ever helps them.