Protecting Our Animals
7/6/2017
        
One year ago, photos of an animal found on a Lancaster County farm dominated the news. This was not the first instance of animal cruelty in our area; however, the case of a Boston terrier named Libre ignited a fire that quickly grew. Last week, that fire was “extinguished” when Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law House Bill 1238 as Act 10 of 2017.

Sometimes, being in the minority means standing up for something in which you believe. Such was not the case a year ago, as Pennsylvania at the time was one of only three states that did not have in place significant animal cruelty laws. Libre’s story directed a lot of eyes onto us and we needed to join the majority of our fellow states as soon as possible.

An immediate attempt to get something into statute came up short, which is often the case in the General Assembly. I would not call the effort hurried, but crafting a comprehensive law is not easy. Issues such as animal cruelty are filled with a lot of emotion and a great deal of “what if’s.” A number of legislators – myself included, with House Bill 2397 of 2015-16 – attempted to find solutions. It took time and a new session in 2017-18 to finally come up with an answer.

If you watched the June 28 bill signing news conference, you heard a number of people credited with what happened that day. This is because, as sometimes happens, the final legislative product was a combination of a number of bills rolled into one.

Act 10 adds to Pennsylvania’s Crimes Code sections that redefine the offenses of “neglect,” “cruelty,” and “aggravated cruelty.” Also redefined were the terms “serious bodily injury” and “torture.” In the latter case, no definition of the term existed in prior law.

There are instances where a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine may perform acts within the normal scope of practice that may be perceived as cruel but are in fact executed to save an animal’s life in the end. Veterinarians, humane society officers and vet technicians have to be allowed to do their job and be protected from penalty.

The new law makes changes to the basic offense of “cruelty to animals.” A person is guilty of “neglect” when there is a failure to provide food and water, access to shelter and protection from the weather and necessary veterinary care for an animal to which he or she has a duty of care. “Cruelty to animals” occurs when an animal is intentionally, knowingly or recklessly ill-treated, overloaded, beaten, abandoned or abused. There are now grades to the offense, which could lead to more significant penalties.

Act 10 addresses tethering, which tends to get complicated and emotional. There are obviously aspects of tethering that can be defined as neglect. There are also aspects of tethering related to field training or sporting dogs that are not violations of the law. Some people will find it hard to believe, but there are times when tethering occurs that are not intended to be neglectful.

Also addressed are the ability of the court to question qualifications of humane society police officers and possibly decline an application for appointment. The level of culpability for taunting or torturing a police animal is also defined, and protection for horses is included.

Some have called Libre the most famous lobbyist in the history of Harrisburg. This little guy being brought back from the brink of death is a great testament to everyone responsible for his survival and the people it inspired to change our laws. But this historic animal cruelty bill is a lot more than Libre’s Law because of the number of elements of animal cruelty it impacts. Nevertheless, it is a much-needed reform to our laws that my York County colleagues and I were very happy to support.


Representative Keith Gillespie
47th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Scott Little
717.260.6137
slittle@pahousegop.com
RepGillespie.com

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