Here in the northern part of the United States many of us have already seen the first snow storm of the season. As the temperatures drop, animal control officials are diligent about looking for signs of neglected pets that are left outside in the cold. Some pet owners in Pennsylvania may need to start paying closer attention to the outside temperatures if their dog spends any measurable amount of time outside.
A new ordinance in Luzerne County states that dogs are not allowed outside unattended for more than 30 minutes if the temperature drops below 26 degrees Fahrenheit, rises above 92 degrees Fahrenheit, or if the National Weather Service issues an advisory about severe weather. The ordinance was approved by a 10-1 vote at the end of November, but it won’t take effect until March 1, 2017. The ordinance will be enforced by the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
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The SPCA has the right to issue violators a notice of violation, giving them 24 hours to comply. Then they can take enforcement action. According to the ordinance, the SPCA will be temporarily authorized to confiscate dogs whose owners do not provide them with proper shelter. Violators could also face a fine of up to $500 plus “shelter and enforcement costs,” which would be assessed by a magisterial district judge.
Gary Taroli, SPCA board member, says that the organization constantly gets calls in the winter months about dogs that are left outside in the cold. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) also sees a large increase in the number of animal neglect calls they see in the winter – most are due to animals being left outside in the cold.
“Especially in these cold months, it is important for people to bring their pets inside and for others to report neglected animals to law enforcement.” – Ashley Mauceri, manager for cruelty response at HSUS
Neglecting a pet by leaving them outdoors during harsh weather doesn’t typically get as much attention as violent attacks against animals, but it is still a crime. In fact, according to HSUS cases of animals left outside in dangerous weather is one of the most common forms of animal cruelty investigated by police and animal control agencies.
Animal neglect is considered a misdemeanor crime in all 50 states in the U.S., as well as Washington D.C. Animal neglect cases in Massachusetts and Oklahoma can result in felony penalties. In animal neglect cases that result in death, felony charges can apply in Washington D.C., California, Florida and Connecticut.
The best thing that you can do if you fear an animal is being left outside in extreme weather is report it to your local law enforcement agency. Be sure to take note of the date, time and exact location of the animal, as well as any information you have on the specific pet involved. Video or photographic documentation will help the case, and with the abundance of smartphones it should be fairly easy to snap a picture or take a quick video.
Living in Maine, we see cases in the local news multiple times each year where dogs and cats were found suffering in the extreme cold, snow, ice and other harsh winter conditions. I would love to see every county in every state adopt the same ordinance as Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Police and other local law enforcement are often busy with other crimes and it can take time for them to investigate all of the animal neglect cases. By the time they are able to get to it, these animals have suffered for days unnecessarily.
Giving an organization like the SPCA the ability to enforce animal cruelty laws is a great idea. Not only will it allow the neglected animals to receive help faster, but it will also free up our law enforcement officials to focus on other high-priority criminals.