April 9, 2018 – Yesterday, in recognition of National Dog Fighting Awareness Day on April 8, Senators Kamala. D. Harris (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Help Extract Animals from Red Tape (HEART) Act, bipartisan legislation that would expedite the disposition process for animals seized in federal animal fighting cases, hold offenders financially responsible for the care of animals in custody, and allow courts to take into account the animals’ welfare when considering legal delays.

“All animals must be treated humanely, free from cruelty and abuse, as they often become extended members of our families,” said Senator Harris. “We must do all we can to ensure that the welfare of these animals who have been victims of cruelty is a priority, and remove any red tape that prevents them from being properly and safely cared for.”

“Animals who have been rescued from cruelty and abuse deserve to be placed in loving homes as soon as it is safely possible,” said Senator Collins.  “Our legislation, which is based on recommendations by the Department of Justice’s Animal Cruelty Roundtable, would reduce the minimum amount of time animals must be held in shelters and alleviate the financial burdens that fall on those who care for seized animals.  I have long advocated for policies that improve the welfare of animals, and I urge my colleagues to support this legislation to help protect animals that have experienced inhumane treatment.”

“Rescuing animals from dogfighting operations is a priority for the ASPCA, but their necessary sheltering and care can last months or even years. Assisting law enforcement in this way can be very expensive for shelters and rescues, and the long federal process can take a toll on animal victims as well as cause local agencies to think twice before intervening in new cases,” said Matt Bershadker, President and CEO of the ASPCA. “We commend Senators Harris and Collins for championing the HEART Act to streamline this process and help victims of cruelty transition more quickly from lives of suffering and uncertainty to safe and loving homes.”

The HEART Act has been endorsed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. The companion bill in the House of Representatives was introduced last year by Reps. Judy Chu (CA-27) and John Katko (NY-24) and has received widespread bipartisan support with 66 co-sponsors.

Specifically, the HEART Act:

  • Accelerates the disposition process by reducing from 60 to 30 days the amount of time the government has to notify interested parties following the seizure of animals under the federal animal fighting or gambling statues.
  • Requires the court to consider the animals’ welfare and the cost to the government when seeking to extend the notice period.
  • Requires claimants to reimburse the costs of caring for animals seized in federal animals fighting cases when the government prevails in civil forfeiture proceedings.
  • Gives judges the discretion to allow the consideration of the claimant’s culpability, financial condition, and other factors when requiring and determining the reimbursement.

As Attorney General of California, Senator Harris fought to defend California’s animal protection and welfare laws against out-of-state interests who sought to overturn them.

Text of the bill can be found here.