Animal Rights

LFDA Editor

In Brief:

  • Negligence or purposeful harm of an animal is illegal in New Hampshire.
  • Dogs must be licensed and vaccinated, though rules related to licensing cats or keeping pets on a leash or behind a fence can vary from town to town.
  • Animal advocates have proposed stricter laws, particularly related to recovering costs in animal abuse cases and regulating breeders.
  • Pro: There is a link between animal abuse and violence against humans.  By strengthening animal protection laws, New Hampshire will affirm the importance of all life.
  • Con: Animals should not have the same rights as humans.  Stronger animal protection laws will violate the rights of owners and waste law enforcement resources.

Issue Facts:

According to the 2016 rankings from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, New Hampshire falls in the middle of states when it comes to animal protection laws. Some animal advocates want New Hampshire to have stricter laws.

This article deals primarily with protections for domestic pets, rather than protections for wildlife or animals in agriculture.

Animal rights laws in New Hampshire

Cruelty and neglect

In New Hampshire it is illegal to either negligently or purposefully harm an animal. 

Click here to read New Hampshire’s animal cruelty law, RSA 644:8.

  • If a person negligently harms an animal—for example by failing to provide shelter, water or food for the animal—that person is guilty of a misdemeanor for the first offense.  Any additional offenses are a felony.
  • If a person purposefully harms an animal—for example by torturing the animal—that person is guilty of a felony for the first offense.

Confiscation and costs of care

The state has the power to confiscate animals in cruelty cases.  New Hampshire’s animal cruelty law also allows police or licensed humane societies to break into a very hot or cold unattended motor vehicle if there is an animal inside.

If the owner of an animal is found guilty of cruelty, a judge may order the owner to reimburse the state for the cost of the animal’s care.  The court may also restrict the owner’s rights to keep animals in the future.


New Hampshire does not have any law restricting how pets can be euthanized. This means an owner may legally euthanize his or her own animal if they choose. 

Licensing and vaccination laws

New Hampshire law requires all dogs, cats, and ferrets to be vaccinated against rabies.  If an owner does not vaccinate his or her pet, he or she is guilty of a violation, similar to a speeding ticket. 

State law also requires dog owners to purchase an annual license from the municipality they live in.  Municipalities may also technically require a license for cats, but according to the New Hampshire Municipal Association, “few, if any, municipalities actually license cats.”  Failing to license a dog is a violation, and local authorities may seize an unlicensed dog.  If the owner does not license the dog within seven days, the dog is forfeit.

Money from annual dog licenses goes to the towns, the state veterinary diagnostic laboratory, and a fund to promote spay/neuter programs.

Click here to read the New Hampshire dog licensing laws, RSA 466. 

Laws regarding keeping pets on a leash or confined on private property (for example, behind a physical or electric fence) vary from town to town.

Other animal protection laws

Other New Hampshire laws:

Possible new animal protection laws

Animal advocates and legislators have proposed several ways to expand (or limit) New Hampshire laws protecting animals.

Costs of Care laws

One of the largest challenges in animal cruelty cases is the cost to care for the animals: boarding, grooming, veterinary care, etc.  Under current law the town is responsible for the costs, although sometimes humane societies will pitch in. 

After an owner is convicted of animal cruelty, they can be billed for the costs of caring for the animal.  (However, owners may not have enough money to pay the bill.)

Under Costs of Care laws, judges may ask the defendant in an animal cruelty case to post a bond to cover animal care costs until the case is complete.  If the owner refuses or cannot pay the bond, the owner must forfeit the animal for adoption. 

Breeder laws

Current state law defines a “commercial kennel” as any person or organization that transfers 10 or more litters or 50 or more puppies in any year.  Breeders who meet this criteria have to get a state license and are subject to mandatory inspections every six months. There are also strict regulations about how the animals must be treated, from the size of any cages or kennels to allowing time and space for exercise.

Other states use the number of breeding female dogs on the premises as the threshold for licensing, or the total number of dogs who have not been spayed or neutered, which some argue is easier to track or observe than the number of puppies or litters.  Other states cap the number of unsprayed or unneutered dogs a breeder can own.

In contrast, some states have almost no regulations on commercial kennels or breeders.

Click here to read the New Hampshire laws regarding the sale of pets, RSA 437.

Registration of animal abusers

In 2016 Tennessee became the first state to create a registry of people convicted of animal abuse, similar to the registry of sex offenders.  Since then some states, counties, and municipalities have considered similar laws. An attempt to implement a registry in New Hampshire died in 2017.

Prohibition of declawing

There are counties and municipalities across the United States that ban the declawing of cats, but so far no state bill to ban declawing has succeeded.  However, California and Rhode Island both forbid landlords from requiring a tenant’s cat to be declawed.

Requirement to report animal abuse

Some states, including Maine, require veterinarians to report animal cruelty in certain circumstances.  Other states, such as Connecticut, require child protection workers to report if they suspect animal abuse is taking place in a family they are investigating.

Repealing dog licensing

Lawmakers in New Hampshire have introduced several bills over the years to repeal or limit dog licensing.  They argue that law enforcement resources are wasted every year enforcing dog licensing laws, which are already an unjustified tax on animal companionship.  Other lawmakers say there is no evidence police are spending time chasing down dog owners for late licenses.  License fees fund import efforts to control rabies and the stray animal population.


In some states, only veterinarians, law enforcement officers, or humane societies are allowed to euthanize animals, and the methods used are strictly regulated. Supporters argue such laws help protect animals from painful or unnecessary deaths, while opponents counter that it can impose an unnecessary expense on pet owners.

There has been no recent attempt to change New Hampshire’s animal euthanasia laws.


"For" Position

By LFDA Editor

 “New Hampshire should pass stronger animal protection laws.”

  • There is extensive evidence that anyone who abuses an animal is more likely to commit other violent crimes. Stricter laws and penalties to protect animals will empower law enforcement to identify and prosecute violent criminals before they escalate to crimes against humans.
  • According to 2016 rankings from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, every state in New England has stronger animal protection laws than New Hampshire. This demonstrates there is room for New Hampshire to pass stricter laws.
  • Towns and humane societies spend thousands of dollars when caring for animals in animal cruelty cases, and often are not able to recover all of the costs from convicted animal abusers. A Costs of Care law would rightly move the responsibility of animal care from taxpayers to the guilty party.
  • Changing how New Hampshire defines a breeding kennel could make it easier for officials to inspect facilities with large numbers of dogs, and help prevent abuses like that seen in the notorious 2017 Great Dane puppy mill case in Wolfeboro.

"Against" Position

By LFDA Editor

 “New Hampshire should not add more animal protection laws.”

  • While we all love our pets, they are ultimately property, and should not have the same rights as humans.  Law enforcement should not spend any more resources on protecting animals instead of humans.  The time law enforcement spends enforcing dog licenses is already arguably a waste of police resources.
  • Many possible animal protection laws threaten the liberty of pet owners, who should have the right to determine the appropriate care for their animals.  For example, some owners may view declawing as the only alternative to surrendering a pet cat to a shelter; the state should leave that decision to the pet owner.
  • Costs of Care laws violate a defendant’s right to due process by forcing him or her to pay a penalty before being found guilty.
  • Stricter breeding laws may force good breeders out of business if regulations are too burdensome.  Because the demand for pets does not decrease, adopters may then turn to out-of-state sources.  New Hampshire has no control over how dogs are treated before they arrive in the Granite State, and adopters have little recourse if they later discover an animal they bought is sick.  Stricter laws will also not impact underground breeders that already disregard state laws.
  • Strict animal neglect laws can treat as a crime something that is often the result of mental illness. Animal hoarders, who are more likely to neglect their animals, should be helped through counseling and community support, not prosecution. 


Killed in the House

Prohibits a defendant summoned for failure to license a dog from being arrested for failure to appear on such summons.

Tabled in the House

Makes it a class B felony to beat, cruelly whip, torture, or mutilate a wild animal not in captivity. This bill also requires the Lottery Commission to take protective custody of animals mistreated at facilities licensed to conduct live horse racing or dog racing. There is no live dog or horse racing in the state at this time.

Killed in the House

Establishes a statewide animal abuse registry which requires persons over 18 years of age convicted of cruelty to animals, or convicted of a comparable offense in another state, to register with law enforcement.

Killed in the House

Makes it a crime (unspecified misdemeanor for a first offense and class B felony for a second offense) to abandon animals at a foreclosed property.

Signed by Governor

Makes various changes to the rabies vaccination laws, as requested by the state veterinarian.

Should NH pass stronger animal protection laws?

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Issue Status

A high profile case of a breeder who left 80 Great Danes in 'deplorable' conditions has raised questions about state animal cruelty laws. 


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