DENVER - The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee voted to postpone indefinitely a controversial bill to prohibit the impoundment of livestock unless a licensed veterinarian determined in writing, based on an inspection of the animal, that the impoundment was necessary to preserve the animal's life.
H.B. 13-1125, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Logan County, said the decision to impound animals should be made by someone with 12 years of education and veterinary training, not a peace officer or animal control officer.
"Should an animal control officer make the determination on when an animal should be put down?" he asked, “or should a trained veterinarian?”
Jennifer Edwards, of the Animal Law Center, spoke out in favor of the bill. She told lawmakers that there have been enough wrongful seizures and that change is needed.
The bill drew opposition from the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association and the Colorado Federation for Animal Welfare Agencies.
Even the Denver Dumb Friends League expressed concern.
The league posted a notice on its website calling the bill, "A step backwards in animal cruelty legislation."
Opponents say the bill would allow livestock (including horses) to be abused and/or neglected and prohibit authorities from helping those animals unless they are facing death, as determined by a veterinarian.
Sonnenberg said that is not the case.
"If there is no feed there, the animal's life is in danger," Sonnenberg said. "If it's being abused, its life is in danger. This proposal doesn't change that."
"Animal control officers don't have the expertise that veterinarians do," Sonnenberg added. "All this bill does is ask that someone with experience make that decision."
But some veterinarians said the bill could place their lives in danger.
"These are volatile situations where you have two parties, the private owner and the law enforcement officer, butting heads and then we're being brought in to the middle of that," said Dr. Curtis Crawford of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. "I've been involved in situations where you fear for your life."
Lawmakers heard from one resident who testified that animal control officers took all the animals off his property, sold some of them and put others down before a court ruled that he should get them back.
He said it cost him is livelihood.
But opponents pointed out that the bill would require a veterinarian be called out to the property, perhaps against their will, to make a determination on whether the animal’s life was in danger.
Committee members voted 7-6 against the bill, and by the same margin, voted to postpone it indefinitely.