Winter is coming.
And just as you shouldn’t leave your pet in a hot car, you shouldn’t leave them to freeze out in the snow and cold.
That seems like common sense to most of us, but we’ve all heard the stories of dogs freezing to death while chained up outside. Sometimes it’s pure cruelty and neglect and sometimes it’s a combination of ignorance about a dog’s cold tolerance and an owner’s forgetfulness.
But new laws that punish pet owners for neglecting their dogs have raised awareness and forced even the most uncaring people to stop leaving pets in extreme temperatures. Make no mistake, this is not about punishing people whose dogs love to sit outside or play in the snow; it’s about animal abusers who leave their pets in conditions that will harm them.
It’s for people who find it ok to keep their dogs outside until they’re near death, like this puppy.
In 2018 and 2019, dozens of stories were published informing people that dogs were freezing to death outside in extreme temperatures. Now, states are raising awareness about the dangers – and people are being punished for this kind of neglect.
In Pennsylvania, it all started with Libre’s Law (HB 1238), which was formally enacted in August of 2017. It’s actually an amendment to Pennsylvania’s 1983 animal cruelty law.
Among other animal protections, it states that a dog cannot be left tethered for longer than 30 minutes in temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. (It also prohibits dogs from being leashed alone outside for more than 30 minutes in temperatures above 90 degrees.)
Strangely enough, the bill was defeated the first time around, but a grassroots effort got it passed shortly after.
The dog that inspired the law is a little Boston Terrier who was only 7 weeks old when he was found on a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (known for its particularly cruel puppy mills) neglected, covered in maggots, and freezing to death.
The produce farmer who saw him convinced the owner to hand him over and then took him to the vet, where no one expected him to survive.
But survive he did thanks to Speranza Animal Rescue and the Dillsburg Veterinary Center – and now he’s an animal rights ambassador.
Sadly, hundreds of other dogs (perhaps thousands) have much sadder endings to their stories of neglect.
While a handful of states have laws that fine pet owners for chaining their dogs for long periods of time, Pennsylvania was the first state to include weather conditions in their legislation.
Owners who tether their dogs outside in weather below 30 degrees for more than 30 minutes can now be charged with animal neglect which can carry a punishment of up to 90 days in jail and/or a $300 fine. If the animal’s neglect places it at imminent risk of serious bodily injury, owners can be charged with a misdemeanor of the second or third degree and face a jail term of up to 1 year and/or a $2,000 fine.
When Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the amended bill into law, a now-healthy and happy Libre even got to add his inky pawprint.
Jennifer Nields, the cruelty officer for the Lancaster County Animal Coalition, said of the legislation overhaul:
“This won’t stop cruelty but it will put an emphasis on the importance of justice for their suffering. The laws are recognition of their pain and what they deserve.”
Other animal rights activists celebrated the clearer language defining abuse and placing stiffer fines and punishments on those who flout the law.
Now that the legislation has been updated, the penalties for general animal abuse have increased.
Abusers now face the possibility of 90 days to 7 years in prison and/or fines anywhere from $300 for neglect to $15,000 for aggravated animal cruelty, depending on the severity of the crime and whether or not they are a repeat offender. They must also forfeit any abused animal and pay for its care or destruction (if it can not be saved).
The amendment helps break down different forms of abuse so definitions and punishments are clearer to everyone.
And because research has found a correlation between animal abuse and domestic abuse, Bryan Langlois, the medical director for the Pet Pantry of Lancaster County, PA pointed out that the amendments will help officials “stop or intervene with animal abusers before they become abusive to kids or spouses, as that link has clearly been shown.”
The law has been used to level felony charges of animal abuse against multiple owners since it was passed. And yet, just last year, a dog named Cam was found dead and frozen solid on a heavy chain.
Animal cruelty laws vary by state, but Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Louisiana have also enacted legislation to prevent animals from being tethered outside in harsh conditions.
Still, we have a long way to go and it’s worth noting that it took a grassroots movement to get the amendment passed in Pennsylvania. So your voice matters.
Be sure to scroll down to see Libre hear state representatives speaking about the law on the one-year anniversary of the updated legislation.
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