Guest Commentary

Jan Trendowski: Judges Can Sentence Abusers To Care For Injured Creatures

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Jan Trendowski
Jan Trendowski

Traditional trust law requires that the subject of a trust be a person. People who wanted to provide care for their pets as part of their estate were required to create complex testamentary documents, often to no avail if they were challenged. To remedy this situation, Connecticut, like most other states, passed legislation expressly permitting trusts where the beneficiary is an animal. Connecticut's Animal Trust Law, Connecticut General Statutes 45a-489a, delineates the creation of a trust with an administrator and caretaker which assures that pets will be taken care of after an owner's death. Animal trusts are relatively easy to create, simple to administer, and would hopefully withstand challenges from disgruntled heirs. Aside from being quite practical, the trusts are easier to fund than a trust for a person as animals don't cost much to care for and simply don't live as long as people.

Sentencing Alternative

While animal trust legislation certainly accomplished its intended purpose, the legislation has "off-label" uses for the care of animals in general. One use, furthered by attorney Richard Weinstein of New York, is to enable a person to act as an advocate for animals under a euthanasia order. Once a trust is created, the administrator of the trust is legally entrusted with the well-being of the animal and has legal standing to act on its behalf.

Another use, which is slowly gaining ground, is to use an animal trust as a sentencing alternative to people charged with animal abuse. When a person is sentenced for animal abuse, the court typically has few options. The defendants either go to jail or they don't. There is no "victim" in a purely legal sense. The abused animals are turned over to an animal control officer, who thereafter finds a new owner or euthanizes them. In the best of all worlds, the animal is turned over to a rescue group which will devote its very limited resources to medical care and rehabilitation. In most cases, the injured and abused animal can only look forward to a hopefully painless death.

In response to this sad state of affairs, an innovative Texas judge sentenced an animal abuser to pay for the rehabilitation and care of the abused animal. Combined with animal trust statutes, this approach has numerous benefits:

1) The abused animal is rehabilitated at no cost to the state or volunteer animal rescue groups.

2) The animal is much more adoptable as the costs of care for a fixed or indefinite period are covered by the trust.

3) The trust is self-administering both financially and procedurally once the administrator is appointed, so no state or local resources are used.

4) Once the trust is in place, the only function of the Judicial Branch is to step in if the abuser is not funding the trust.

5) The sentencing court has additional options in sentencing that are beneficial to the animal and the community.

6) Rescue groups and Animal Control Officers can devote their resources to other animals in need.

7) The defendant can propose an animal trust as restitution to avoid or reduce jail time.

Volunteering Expertise

The primary hurdle to this point in time is that trust and estate law, like many areas of the law, is a specialty. Further, like many specialties, there is little crossover between practitioners in different areas. Trust and estate lawyers generally don't represent criminal defendants, and criminal defense attorneys have little interest in drafting trust agreements.

To resolve this issue, attorneys Jeannine Wyszkowski, of Hudson & Kilby, and Elizabeth Leamon, of Murtha Cullina, generously volunteered their time and expertise to create a draft animal trust specifically intended to be used as a sentencing alternative. Both attorneys are well-versed with trusts and; unfortunately, the ones who benefit from their work will never be able to thank them. Needless to say, the trust needs to be tailored to specific circumstances, but it is an excellent starting point.

For a copy of the draft Animal Trust for Sentencing, please contact Elizabeth McLaughlin at emclaughlin@TrendowskiLaw.com.

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