Animals deserve protection

Finally, Pennsylvania has a tough animal-protection law.

Praise is in order for the bipartisan legislative effort that achieved the measure’s passage and Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature.

The measure is House Bill 1238, also known as Libre’s Law.

It was signed by the governor on June 28, when it also was stamped with the paw print of the dog that inspired the law. That dog, a Boston terrier named Libre, was found last year emaciated, diseased and near death in an Amish dog-breeding operation in Lancaster County.

Libre was rescued and has been shepherded back to health.

Pennsylvania no longer can be accused of being weak regarding protection of animals. The new law provides for forfeiture of animals subjected to abuse; sets guidelines for tethering of dogs; provides protections for horses; stipulates felony charges for extreme animal abuse; and grants civil immunity to veterinarians and humane society officers who report abuse.

Leading the effort on behalf of the new law were state Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin, and Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery.

But even with Libre’s Law, the Legislature’s animal-abuse work isn’t finished. Lawmakers need to pass legislation that would give immunity to citizens who save an animal from a hot vehicle.

That legislation, House Bill 1216, proposed by Rep. Frank Farry, R-Bucks, is under consideration in the House.

Amid these strides on animals’ behalf, one other issue deserves mention. It is the need to rein in some pet owners’ penchant for allowing their dogs to be on their laps, with their heads partly or fully out of the driver’s-side window, while their vehicle is moving.

Pennsylvania has banned driver text messaging, discourages hand-held cellphone use while driving, has a law mandating seat-belt use and prohibits driving with a blood-alcohol content above 0.08 percent. Nevertheless, a strict prohibition obviously doesn’t exist to keep pets from observing what’s going on outside a vehicle from the vantage point of the driver’s seat.

That situation poses dangers not only to everyone in the vehicle but also to other motorists or pedestrians who might become victims of an accident triggered by an out-of-control pet riding on a driver’s lap.

Dogs can become excited or agitated in response to something they see outside their vehicle. And, it’s happened: Animals on a driver’s lap have fallen out of vehicles, both when vehicles were moving or standing still.

Regarding Libre’s Law, Stephens made an important point in a memo that he attached to the measure. That memo refers to a 2014 study from the National District Attorneys Association showing links between animal abuse and future abuse of humans.

Pennsylvania has indeed taken an important step in assaulting the animal-abuse problem, but there’s more to do.