the north face ice jacket Dog owners face new tethering laws as winter approaches
HARRISBURG As winter nears, state officials are warning dog owners about new state requirements about how long dogs can be kept tied up outside in the cold.
The change was included in Libre’s Law, the state’s update to its animal cruelty laws that went into effect this summer.
Under Libre’s Law, dogs can’t be tied outside for more than 9 hours a day, and dogs aren’t supposed to tied up outside for more than half an hour if temperatures are below freezing or above 90 degrees.
“This is the first cold weather season since we strengthened the animal cruelty laws in Pennsylvania, which include temperature and shelter restrictions for outdoor pets,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “For far too long we have heard stories of neglected and abused animals who suffered because of deplorable treatment, and with our new landmark anti cruelty legislation in place, penalties will be enforced for individuals who abuse or neglect an animal.”
Prior to Libre’s Law, Pennsylvania had no formal guidelines regarding how long dog owners could keep their pets tied up outside.
The new law makes Pennsylvania one of 23 with limits on how long dogs can be tethered outside, according to an analysis by the Michigan State University Animal Legal and Historical Center.
Connecticut’s law is closest to Pennsylvania’s, barring dogs from being left tethered outside for more than 15 minutes during severe weather conditions. Texas is the only other state that explicitly addresses weather conditions in establishing when it’s illegal to tether a dog outside, according to the Michigan State review of state dog tethering laws.
The Pennsylvania law does provide wiggle room on the 30 minute ceiling, said Cpl. Michael Spada, the animal cruelty officer for the Pennsylvania State Police. The law describes keeping a dog tethered for less than 30 minutes in bad weather as an indication that the animal is not being neglected.
The law serves as a guide to help “promote responsible ownership,” Spada said.
An officer investigating a complaint of potential neglect could conclude that an animal tethered for less than a half an hour is being mistreated, or that an animal tied up for longer than that isn’t, he said.
As an example, he said a Chihuahua tied up in the cold might seem to be suffering after 15 minutes.
“But if it’s Siberian Husky or a St. Bernard after 30 minutes the dog would look at you like, ‘You’re taking me in, already?'” he said.
If a person is cited for neglect of a dog, under Libre’s Law, it’s a summary offense, unless the animal has suffered an injury. If the animal’s been injured, the owner can be charged with a third degree misdemeanor, which can carry a penalty of up to a year in jail.
Spada said he hopes the law changes and the new attention given to the issue because of them will help people understand when they should report potential animal cruelty.
Any state police trooper or local police officer can investigate an animal cruelty allegation, he said.
“And they should,” Spada said. “This is in the crimes code and it should be investigated.”Spada said the way Pennsylvania divides enforcement responsibilities can confuse people. The state’s dog wardens inspect kennels, cite people for not having their dog’s licensed and investigate dog bites.
But dog wardens don’t respond to animal cruelty complaints. That task has long been primarily handled by officers from animal welfare groups like the Humane Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to augment the efforts of local and state police,
said Nicole Wilson, director of humane law enforcement for the Pennsylvania SPCA.
“This is a public function that private organizations have been doing” since the 19th Century, Wilson said.
The SPCA and other animal welfare groups have officers approved to enforce the animal cruelty laws in all but four counties, according to a state registry, said Bonnie McCann, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture.
The counties without an approved humane society police officer are Butler, Forest, Fulton and Venango, McCann said.
The SPCA covers 23 counties, mostly in eastern and central Pennsylvania. In the rest of the state, the humane society police officers come from smaller animal welfare groups, mostly focused on one county each.
To help cover the under served areas and support the efforts of the animal welfare groups across the state, the state police have over the last five years been adding animal cruelty liaisons. The state police will have these specially trained and specially equipped liaisons in each of its troops, except Troop T, which is focused on patrolling the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Spada said.
The liaisons can respond to animal cruelty complaints and they can provide advice to other troopers who have been summoned to investigate alleged animal cruelty, he said.
All but three troops Troop F, based in Montoursville and covering northcentral Pennsylvania; Troop L, based in Reading; and Troop P, in northeastern Pennsylania now have animal cruelty liaisons, Spada said. The agency is in the process of adding the liaisons to those three troops, he said.
“Troop F is in the selection process now; it just can take a little time, unfortunately,” he said.
Even without the animal cruelty liaison, troopers in those areas can still investigate alleged animal cruelty, he said.
Spada said people uncertain about whom to report animal cruelty should just call their local police department or the state police if they live in an area without local police protection.