House votes to toughen animal cruelty laws, tethering rules
HARRISBURG — New rules for tethered dogs and other changes to animal cruelty laws passed the Pennsylvania House by a wide margin Wednesday, a package supporters argued was long overdue.
The bill would establish grades of violations up to a felony for intentionally torturing an animal or neglect or abuse that causes it severe injury or death.
It also would presume an owner neglected an unattended tethered dog if there’s excessive feces where it’s tied up, the animal has open sores or the owner has used a tow or log chain, choke collar or similar devices.
“Our cruelty laws are outdated and far too lenient in many instances,” said the prime sponsor, Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery. “So this provides some teeth.”
Violations would be classified as neglect, cruelty or aggravated cruelty.
The least severe, a summary offense, would involve denying an animal necessary food and drinkable water, clean and sanitary shelter or required veterinary care.
Cruelty, a misdemeanor if the animal is harmed, would apply when someone intentionally, knowingly or recklessly ill-treats, overloads, beats, abandons or abuses an animal.
The most severe violation would be a third-degree felony.
The bill would exempt activity undertaken in a normal farm operation.
A tethered dog would not be considered to be abused if it spent less than nine hours tied up over a 24-hour period, had access to drinkable water and shade, and did not spend more than 30 minutes tied up when temperatures were lower than 32 degrees or higher than 90 degrees.
The tether would have to be at least 10 feet long or three times the length of the dog, and the collar would need to fit and be designed to avoid entanglement.
Stephens said tethered dogs generate a significant number of complaints to police, humane officers and other public officials.
“There are guidelines that we are establishing, and we expect that the humane police officers and ultimately the district judges, if they’re considering these kinds of cases, will utilize these guidelines,” Stephens said.
Veterinarians would get limited immunity from lawsuits for reporting suspected animal neglect or cruelty in the course of their work.
The proposal would give county district attorneys and judges more influence over the appointment of humane police officers.
People who want to be appointed as humane police officers would have to provide their credentials to the county district attorney ahead of time, and the prosecutor would be able to request a hearing to determine the candidate’s fitness for the job, if needed.
Judges would have discretion about whether to make the appointments. Humane police officers would get limited civil immunity for actions during investigations or enforcement actions.
The measure was sent to the Senate for its consideration.