Bill addressing cost of care in abuse cases passes PA House

Just days into the new legislative session lawmakers in the Pennsylvania state House overwhelmingly (163-34) approved a bill that would shift the burden of covering for care costs in animal in cruelty seizures from the shelter to the alleged abuser.

HB 82, sponsored by Rep. Brian Ellis (R., Butler), is similar to laws in 25 other states that would require those charged with animal abuse to either surrender the animals or pay for their care.

The bill caps the daily coverage at $15 a day and requires shelters to document veterinary care.

“This legislation will protect non-profit animal shelters from being bankrupted by costs incurred in large scale animal rescues,” said Ellis.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate for consideration, passed the House by an even larger margin in Oct. but failed to get a vote by the Senate before the end of the legislative session last year.

This time around in the House it survived an 11th hour objection by the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs, the American Kennel Club and, reportedly the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, organizations that in 2008 fought against Pennsylvania's landmark legislation cracking down on puppy mills.

The dog breeders said the bill strips animal owners of their due process rights. Bruce Wagman, a California-based attorney and animal law expert who helped draft the bill, said its language provides for an immediate hearing where humane organizations would be required to prove the seizure was necessary.

To read my full story with background on the bill click here. For updates on this bill and other animal news follow me on Twitter @inkyamy.

Animal welfare advocates are hoping the Senate will swiftly pass the bill as shelters on a daily basis care for cats, dogs, horses and other animals while their owners. It is now in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee which is chaired by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery)

The legislation comes as the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area, Maryland-based Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue and local volunteers struggle to care for 30 Morgan horses - many sick and starving, some pregnant and all wild from lack of handling - seized in the last month from a carcass-strewn, manure filled field near Hershey. 

The horses' owner, attorney Rebecca Roberts, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, signalling it will be a long case ahead.

All the Democrats voted in favor of the bill except Rep. Gary Haluska of Cambria County. Republicans Rep. Tim Hennessy, John Lawrence and Dan Truitt of Chester, were the only southeast lawmakers to oppose the bill.

The 29 other rank-and-file Republicans who voted against the bill were Reps. Martin Causer (Cameron), Jim Cox (Berks), Linda Culver (Northumberland), Bryan Cutler (Lancaster) Gary Day (Berks), Gordon Denlinger (Lancaster), Joe Emrick (Northampton), Mindy Fee (Lancaster), Mike Fleck (Huntingdon), Mark Gillen (Berks), Keith Greiner (Lancaster), Dick Hess (Bedford), David Hickernell (Dauphin), Fred Keller (Snyder), Timothy Kreiger (Westmoreland), David Maloney (Berks), John McGinniss (Blair), Daryl Metcalfe (Butler), Carl Metzgar (Bedford), David Millard (Columbia), Donna Oberlander (Armstrong), Michael Pfeifer (Monroe), Jeff Pyle (Armstrong), Brad Roae (Crawford), Rick Saccone (Allegheny), Jerry Stern (Blair), Richard Stevenson (Butler), Will Tallman (Adams), Tobash (Berks).

House Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) also opposed the bill. Readers of Philly Dawg may recall the abuse case last year involving 17 sick dogs, including 14 Pomeranians, found roaming the frigid hillsides of Smith's district in north-central Pennsylvania. 

Jefferson County has neither a shelter nor humane officer, so a kind-hearted veterinarian, Dr. Emily Rapp, donated space in her clinic, the Animal Hospital of Punxsutawney, and her medical skills, while local volunteers helped care for and find homes for the dogs. Police said their alleged abuser, Tiffany Eggleston, fled the state and a warrant was issued for her arrest.