There has been as much in the news about police over reach as there has been about violence against those who protect and serve. A recent case brings these issues to the world of pet ownership.
In Waukegan the police enforce the animal cruelty codes. The local ordinance calls for those who choose to breed a dog and sell her puppies to pay for a $25.00 license, a civil matter.
Most of us understand the fourth amendment protects us from government seizure of our property without notification (due process) and a good reason (crime or emergency) . In animal cruelty investigations, a criminal matter, animals may be seized during an investigation both as evidence of the crime and to protect the animals from harm. The evidence is to be returned, as is, after the trial unless it is contraband. In the special case of animal cruelty, a judge has the power to give animals to the state when a person is found guilty of cruelty. No one is empowered to transfer ownership of the property before a judge orders it.
In this story of the Bass family, some of these legal elements appear but there seem to be huge holes in the legal process that has been described so far.
1. Mr. Bass was arrested for failing to get his $25 permit even though it is a civil violation, not a crime. Civil violations are usually remedied with education, a warning or a citation/fine.
2. A litter of puppies was seized by the government at the same time. Although seizure of dogs is provided for as a remedy for violations of the animal code in Waukegan, one could argue the intent was when they are involved in criminal violations, not civil. In fact, the code lists the penalty for not having a permit as a fine. Taking the valuable puppies even though they had contracted third party owners without due process to those owners or their custodian is a bit of an over reach given there has been no hearing or legal determination on any of this.
3. Shockingly, those puppies were given to a private party outside the jurisdiction of the permit violation to be sold for $400.00 each, later raised to $600.00. The fees are ostensibly to cover the costs of care of the puppies by a rescue group which was also collecting donations for the same care on social networking sites. This rescue group turns out to be lacking a 501c3 status and is not registered with the State. The rescue group requirement by the state is similar to say a breeder permit requirement from a city.
4. But here’s the kicker. The the complaint about the lack of permit came from the rescue group who received the seized puppies. A member of the group had tried to buy a puppy directly but Mr. Bass did not want to sell to someone he did not know. So she asked to meet him and brought the police into his home without a warrant, by posing as another buyer.
The owners of the dogs are willing to acquire the permit and they want their puppies back.
Only three states require training for Animal Control Officers but police officers routinely receive extensive preparation and adhere to written protocols for interpreting complaints, investigating violations of law and collecting evidence. When the evidence is alive, there seems to be a misunderstanding of the law even by trained officers.
Courts acknowledge that animals are a unique form of property which places responsibility on owners. The court also recognizes that individual animals are not interchangeable so placing a value on a live being is almost impossible. But as far as the constitution goes, an owner still has a right to be free of government seizure of his property (special though it is) without due process. Process includes police acting during an emergency, on suspicion of criminal activity and most likely with a warrant signed by a judge. Even after a seizure, an owner has further rights to a reclamation procedure such as appeal, restitution, a hearing or even a trial.
In this case there was no crime to initiate due process and even then, there was no process. These puppies were taken from their mother, home and owners because of a complaint about a $25.00 permit from an interested party who participated in and directly benefited from the investigation.
Whether this is a lack of training, zealotry or something more sinister, no one can say today. But all of us who live with dogs need to be sure we know the laws in our jurisdiction, abide by them, and keep the phone number for an excellent attorney on speed dial. If you want to help clear this up for the Bass family (both parents have served as marines), http://www.gofundme.com/jdno5o
UPDATE 12/29 PM Mrs. Bass reports the mayor is investigating, the rescue group has returned the puppies to the police and the Chief plans to return the puppies to the family and their rightful buyers.