Animal advocates are celebrating what they say has started off as a banner legislative session for pets and wildlife in Pennsylvania.
The new session is only seven weeks old and already a record number of bills to improve animal welfare are moving in the House and Senate.
We'll start with two related bills that will be introduced this week to address tragedies like the one that befell the two young Bernese Mountain dogs who escaped their fenced-in yard in Chester Springs on Feb. 12.
A neighbor, Gabriel Pilotti, shot the dogs, he initially said, because they were pursuing his sheep. Pilotti now faces animal cruelty and reckless endangerment charges after he later confessed that was not the case.
Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester) says his legislation would clarify a section of the state dog law that defines when a person is permitted to shoot a dog on their property.
Dinniman’s bill would prohibit a person from shooting a dog if they are simply “pursuing” another animal. Rather a property owner could only shoot if the dog is demonstrating an “apparent intent to harm.”
Dinniman said work on his bill predates the shooting of the dogs and would not have a direct impact on that case but could prevent future incidents.
The bill also would allow pet owners to seek civil damages capped at $12,000 if the death of their pet was inflicted intentionally or through negligence.
“My bill, even if passed, is not retroactive and will have no direct effect on the parties in West Vincent one way or the other. But this awful shooting illustrates what can happen and the need for our justice system to better recognize the unique role pets fill in our families,” Dinniman told the Daily Local. “In fact, I don’t consider the civil damage award to be my bill’s main message. The main message is for Pennsylvania’s courts to recognize the companionship and affection provided by pets and that both have value.”
Other animal legislation under consideration in the Capitol:
■SB 510: Live Animals as Targets - Bans the launching or tethering of live animals for target practice, specifically directed to end live pigeon shoots or live turkey “block” shoots. Introduced by Senator Pat Browne + 22 Co-sponsors. Status: Referred to Senate Judiciary Committee.
■SB 82: Puppy Lemon Lawamends the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, further providing for dog purchaser protection. This bill gives people who purchase sick puppies more time to discover, treat and report their puppy’s condition to the seller to demand a refund or replacement and grants greater consumer protection to people whose families purchase sick or dying puppies so that sellers can be held responsible. Introduced by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf +15 co-sponsors. Status: Passed Senate Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure Committee, first and second consideration.
■SB 340: Banning the Sale of Shark Fins– shark finning is an illegal process during which poachers catch sharks, remove their fins to sell, and then dump their bodies back into the ocean. Though the sharks are still alive, they are unable to swim without their fins and, ultimately, they suffocate, starve to death or are killed by another animal. Introduced by Senators Alloway and Leach + 11 co-sponsors. Status: Passed Senate Judiciary Committee and first consideration.
■SB 521: Exotic Animals– Eliminates the private ownership of exotic animals and restricts other types of ownership. Introduced by Sen. Richard Alloway + 9 co-sponsors. Status: Referred to Game and Fisheries Committee.
■HB 41: Tethering- Prohibits tethering a dog outside between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.: prohibits tethering in extreme weather; with a poke, prong, or choke collar, and limits the type of tether which may be used. Introduced by Rep. Mario Scavello + 39 co-sponsors. Status: Referred to House Judiciary Committee.
■HB 82: Cost of Care of Seized Animals. Introduced by Rep. Brian Ellis +25 co-sponsors. Status: Passed the House 163-34. See how your Representative voted here: HB 82 final passage vote.
■HB 164: Possession of Animal Fighting Paraphernalia an act that will close down any illicit operations that make or sell animal fighting paraphernalia; from the razor-sharp knives used to make cockfights bloodier, to the conditioning equipment used to prepare dogs to fight. Introduced by Rep. Todd Stephens + 55 co-sponsors. Status: Referred to House Judiciary Committee.
■HB 760: Animal Cruelty Penalties “Angel’s Law” - increased penalties for violations of the animal cruelty laws in Pennsylvania. Introduced by Rep. Dom Costa +34 co-sponsors. Status: Referred to House Judiciary Committee.
■HB 850 Tax Credit An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, providing for a tax credit for adoption of dog or cat. Introduced by Representative Jesse White + 29 co-sponsors.
(Thank you Humane PA PAC for assembling this list and for creating a diagram showing how lawmakers voted on animal bills.)