A banner week in the state House for animal welfare

Advocates are celebrating the swift and decisive passage in the state House of not one but two important animal welfare bills this week.

Both bills - one banning the use of gas chambers in shelters and the other requiring defendants in animal cruelty cases to pay for their pets' care while the court case is being decided or relinquish them - must still be approved by the state Senate which meets only two more weeks this year.

If the bills fail, they could be taken up again in the new two-year session starting in January but given the way Harrisburg works that could mean waiting until 2014 to see the bills reach the governor's desk.

If HB 2630 is approved Pennsylvania may well become the 20th state to eliminate the practice of using carbon monoxide to destroy unwanted shelter animals, a practice widely considered inhumane by veterinary professionals. It also makes it easier for these shelters and others to obtain sodium pentobarbital, the drug used for lethal injections. The drug must be administered by a veterinarian or a trained staff person.

You might ask, who still kills animals by shoving them in a box and gassing them? Well, at last count there were three or four shelters in western Pennsylvania, including humane societies in Crawford County and Venango County, that used these contraptions. (More details in a WTAE-TV report here)

But many are hopeful that will not be the case for much longer.

That bill is slated for passage in the Senate before the end of the month, according to Senate GOP leadership. We do not yet know where Gov. Corbett stands on the measure. The bill would take effect 60 days after the governor signs it.

The other bill would require anyone charged with animal cruelty to foot the bill (food, vet care, shelter) for their pets for the duration of their trial or relinquish them. The bill would ease the financial burdens for shelters while allowing animals seized in cruelty cases to find new homes quickly.

The bill would cap the daily rate at $15 and require veterinarians to document treatment the dogs or cats received.

This bill, (HB 2409) withstood a late-hour challenge by the American Kennel Club, and won passage by a 192-5 vote on Wednesday.

Those voting against it were Reps. Scott Perry (R., York), Tim Krieger (R., Westmoreland), Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), Carl Metzgar (R., Somerset,) Eli Evancovich (R., Armstrong)

"We're thrilled in this small amount of time this legislature has accorded these bills the attention they deserve," said Sarah Speed, Pennsylvania director of the Humane Society of the United States. "These bills affect thousands of animals across the Commonwealth and shelters who care for them,"