Cats and canines are the subject of a new law in New Hampshire. For nearly 40 years, leaving the scene after striking a dog with a vehicle (a situation called a hit-and-run) has been illegal. Nine lives or not, say lawmakers now, cats and dogs are created equal.
According to a 1970s New Hampshire law, drivers who injure or kill dogs must notify police—or the animals’ owners—or pay a $1,000 fine. It is unclear why cats and other pets weren’t named in the legislation. But now the NH legislature is considering an expansion of the hit-and-run bill.
“It’s a cataclysmic bill. To not pass this would be catastrophic,” Senator Tom Sherman told fellow members of a Senate committee. His play on words drew chuckles.
“It’s a categorical imperative: You have to report,” chimed in Senator David Watters.
Lawmaker Daryl Abbas sponsored the bill on behalf of his wife, who found their five-year-old cat, Arrow, dead on the street near their Salem home in July 2019. The partially blind black-and-gray tabby had once again achieved his “daily goal” of escaping from the house and was hit by a car, Abbas says.
“I remember telling my wife, ‘It’s an accident. We have to forgive the person,’ but I was more upset that the person didn’t stop,” he says. “Who doesn’t stop?”
Abbas contacted an animal control officer. The officer told Abbas there was no reporting requirement and suggested he contact his state representative. So Abbas drafted the bill himself.
New Hampshire law already required people to report any property damage caused by a motor vehicle to the owner. “The only glaring exception is if the damage is to a person’s cat. Literally under the law, if you were to hit a statue of a fake cat with your car, you would have to report that, but not the real cat,” he says. “The real cat and the fake cat should at least have equal property protection.”
In any state, hitting an animal with a car could be a potential violation as destruction of property. (In some states, though, it’s the free-range pet’s owner who may be responsible for damage to the driver’s vehicle.) But the New Hampshire bill is part of a trend of going further, says Lora Dunn, director of the Criminal Justice Program at the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
“These laws are really a nationwide trend to recognize that animals are more than your property; they are living, feeling beings. They have the capacity to suffer,” Dunn says. “These laws really recognize . . . the bond between animals and their human companions.”
Connecticut has a similar law to New Hampshire’s existing statute about dogs. In Massachusetts, the law includes cats and dogs. New York law requires drivers to report injuries to dogs, cats, horses, or cattle. Rhode Island’s statute covers all domesticated (tamed) animals.
The bill’s cosponsors include Representative Anita Burroughs, whose cats have been known to show up by her side during Zoom committee hearings.
While other legislation has sparked heated debate, the cat measure has purred right along so far: No one spoke against it at public hearings. The House passed it without debate earlier this month, and a Senate committee recommended its passage by the full body.
Governor Chris Sununu’s cat has its own Instagram account. He supports the bill. “Cats and dogs, dogs and cats, you can’t have one without the other,” he says. “Unless they were to change something, I fully intend to sign it.”
Do you think cats and dogs should have the same rights? And what is the responsibility of a driver who strikes an unrestrained animal with a vehicle? Support your answer with reasons.
(Arrow, a cat whose death inspired legislation to put cats on equal footing with dogs when they are run over, is pictured in Salem, New Hampshire. Daryl Abbas via AP)