General Assembly Must Address Animal Cruelty
8/17/2016
  
In 2015, at the start of my second term, I read an article in the newspaper that detailed the gruesome and despicable treatment of dogs at the hands of their owner who ran an unlicensed kennel in Upper Leacock Township.

The article mentioned that the owner subjected the dogs to “unsanitary and inhumane” treatment and neglect. Despite the truly abhorrent level of cruelty that these animals experienced, the owner only received a fine of $500.

After reading what these animals suffered through, I was shocked to learn that the $500 fine was for 10 counts of animal cruelty — $50 per charge. In January 2015, I introduced legislation to increase the minimum fine associated with acts of animal cruelty. My legislation, House Bill 953, would increase the minimum fines associated with acts of animal cruelty to $250 per charge at the summary offense level.


Recently, the local community and nation was captivated by the story of a similarly neglected and emaciated Boston terrier, now known to us as Libre. This story was truly heartbreaking, and I was appalled to learn how he was treated and similarly surprised that the owner was not going to face any significant consequences for his actions.

This case truly demonstrated that Pennsylvania’s approach to enforcing animal welfare laws appears to be broken and should be fixed to ensure that the commonwealth’s animal welfare laws are executed as they are intended.

The state allows animal welfare laws to be charged by state police, local police and court-appointed “humane society officers” to enforce and press charges against perpetrators of animal cruelty. Our current system allows for these “humane society officers” to be appointed if they have completed a training program and come from a related animal welfare nonprofit organization, and not necessarily from the Humane Society, as the title might suggest.

What we have learned from the case of Libre is that court-appointed officers are not necessarily the answer in ensuring that our animal welfare laws are enforced. Currently, our state police and local police carry heavy responsibilities, enforcing all of the other traffic and criminal statutes, which makes enforcing animal welfare law challenging to have as a top priority. 
 
The General Assembly must engage in a comprehensive review of all state laws relating to animal cruelty, to ensure that the punishments are appropriate to the often heinous nature of the offenses committed and that the appropriate processes and resources are available to ensure that our laws are properly enforced. The commonwealth’s animal welfare laws have not been updated to reflect the changes in technology — any search on the internet would yield a wide number of unlicensed sellers of dogs and cats, and too often these sellers are unlicensed kennels. The Legislature must be thorough in its review.

In his press conference last week, Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman was correct in stating that the commonwealth’s criminal penalties for animal cruelty are “insufficient.”

In addition to my legislation, there are two other bills, which I have co-sponsored, to increase the criminal penalties associated with animal cruelty. House Bill 15, sponsored by Rep. Neal Goodman, D-Schuylkill, would increase the grading of animal cruelty charges from summary offenses to misdemeanors on the first offense, with a focus on dogs and cats. House Bill 2149, sponsored by Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Westmoreland, would increase the maximum financial penalties for misdemeanor and felony level charges of animal cruelty.

While I am thankful that Libre has found a permanent home and received the care needed to make a full recovery, the circumstances surrounding the case have brought to light the challenges that the commonwealth faces in enforcing these laws.

I remain committed to ensuring that perpetrators of these crimes receive an appropriate punishment. My legislation, House Bill 953 has strong bipartisan support, with 23 co-sponsors in the state House, and I remain hopeful that it will be considered while the General Assembly is in session this fall.

With all of the complexities in getting legislation passed in Harrisburg, my bill is an attempt to take a first step in moving this serious issue forward. 
  
  
Representative Keith J. Greiner, CPA
43rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Eric Reath
717.464.5285
ereath@pahousegop.com