Phantom the Labrador’s owners left him behind in their apartment when they moved out.
The 2-year-old dog wasn’t discovered until months later, when neighbors complained about a foul smell emanating from the now-vacant space. That’s when Phantom’s body was found.
This horror took place in Hudson, Massachusetts, in 2011. Half a decade later Phantom’s legacy may be a first-of-its-kind law that helps prevent other animals from suffering this same dreadful fate.
This proposed law — S. 2174, which was written by Senator James Eldridge and passed the Massachusetts Senate this week — would require landlords to check on a vacated property to make sure no pets have been left behind within three days of a tenant getting out.
This applies to foreclosed properties, or those that are empty for any other reason — even if the tenant has just taken off, which the landlords knows (or should have known) about.
If there are animals discovered during the inspection, the landlord (or agent of the landlord) must contact animal control or the police.
It’s that simple. And advocates hope it will come into law and be very effective. Says Kara Holmquist, director of advocacy for the MSPCA-Angell:
One animal who dies of dehydration or starvation in an abandoned property in Massachusetts is one animal too many.
Under California law, landlords must let animal control know if they find an animal left behind in a property. Massachusetts would be the first state to tell landlords they have an affirmative obligation to go check for these animals.
It’s an important tool in saving lives, says Bill Ketzer, the ASPCA’s senior director of state legislation for the Northeast region.
“By requiring owners to inspect for abandoned animals at recently vacated or foreclosed units and immediately notify an animal control or law enforcement, needless suffering can be reduced,” he said to BarkPost.
Cory Smith, the Humane Society of the United States’ director of public policy for companion animals, tells us she’s especially pleased to see this bill coming in a year when the state’s lawmakers are considering a whole panel of pet-friendly legislation.
The Massachusetts legislature’s docket includes a bill that’d let folks bust dogs out of hot cars, and another to stop the sale of cats and dogs who are younger than eight weeks old and ban pet stores from selling animals from breeders who’ve been cited by the USDA for violating the Animal Welfare Act. (This last bill, S. 1103, has what might be the best title we’ve ever heard: “An Act relative to protecting puppies and kittens.”)
These two bills also passed the Senate this week.
“Yes, we like it,” said Smith. “Kudos to the Massachusetts legislature!”
“Massachusetts has been a leader in serving as a statewide model for the nation on myriad of issues,” Senator Eldridge told us in an email. “I am hopeful this legislation will be signed into law.”
There’s a way to go before Phantom’s legacy is secure. The Massachusetts House of Representatives still needs to vote on its version of the bill — then the bill must be signed by the governor.
The MSPCA-Angell’s Kara Holmquist said she’s feeling hopeful it’ll happen.
“Passing any kind of legislation is arduous work requiring close collaboration with leaders inside and outside the State House.” she said. “I’m confident that as more people learn how this bill protects vulnerable animals, it will pass the House and become law.”
Featured image via Flickr/Christian Siedler
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