PA passes historic animal anti-abuse law: Libre’s Law

PA legislature makes history

I never thought I’d live to see this day. Thanks to a most bipartisan act of the Pennsylvania legislature, we now have stronger laws to protect innocent animals from abuse.

Ending what was a near yearlong effort, the PA Senate unanimously passed Pennsylvania HB 1238, better known as Libre’s Law was inspired by an abused Boston Terrier, named Libre, will strengthen the protections for animals in Pennsylvania bringing the most significant changes to PA’s animal abuse laws in three decades.

Pennsylvania was one of only three states that did not have a felony statute for severe animal abuse, according to Governor Tom Wolf.

The comprehensive four-bill animal welfare package, which creates a felony offense for severe animal abuse is now heading to the Governor’s desk for signing.

This legislation would break down cruelty to animal offenses now grouped into one category into three categories based on the offense’s egregiousness: neglect, cruelty, and aggravated cruelty.

* Neglect of an animal would include denying an animal necessary food and potable water, clean and sanitary shelter, or necessary veterinary care. This would be a summary offense but would become a misdemeanor of the third degree if the violation causes bodily injury to the animal or puts it at imminent risk of serious bodily injury.

* Cruelty to an animal would include intentionally, knowingly or recklessly ill-treating, overloading, beating, abandoning or abusing an animal. This would be a misdemeanor of the second degree.

* Aggravated cruelty to an animal would include intentionally or knowingly torturing an animal or causing serious bodily injury or death of the animal. This would be a felony of the third degree.

In addition, the measure places limits on tethering a dog outside and grants civil immunity for veterinarians and humane society police officers to prevent frivolous lawsuits against them when reporting an animal cruelty case.

HB1238 also includes Cordelia’s Law to protect horses, a bill barring tethering outside 24/7 and in inclement weather, and another bill requiring people convicted of animal abuse to give up their pets.

Previously, according to Humane PA, a political action committee devoted to animal-welfare issues, a felony charge for animal cruelty was only possible in Pennsylvania in cases involving animal fighting or killing an endangered species.

Libre was saved last July from an Amish dog-breeding facility in Lancaster County after being left for dead. At the time, the 4-month-old pup was suffering from a host of ailments including sepsis and mange. His rescue drew international media attention.

Libre’s Law spells out differing grades of cruelty and the offenses attached to each. Grades range from neglect, which is the failure to provide necessary food, water, shelter or veterinary care, to cruelty, when someone “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly ill-treats, overloads, beats, abandons or abuses” an animal, causing bodily harm, according to the draft bill. Aggravated cruelty is defined as torturing an animal or causing serious bodily injury or death to an animal through neglect or cruelty.

Penalties range from 90 days in jail and a $300 fine to seven years in jail and a $15,000 fine.

The bill also places “reasonable limitations” on tethering dogs outside, according to Humane PA. That means dogs must be provided with basic needs, including water and shade, while on a tether, and the dog should not spend more than nine hours tethered in a 24-hour period.

Dogs also should not be tethered outside, the law states, for more than 30 minutes when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees or is below freezing. Additional language in the bill regulates collars, the length of the tether, waste and other issues.

Primary sponsor of the bill was Representative Todd Stephens along with 30 co-sponsors. It is a bi-partisan, comprehensive, anti-cruelty bill that not only provides needed updates to Pennsylvania’s cruelty statute, but adds many provisions of various cruelty bills that have been introduced this session including Senator Alloway and Rep Ryan Bizzaro Libre’s Laws.