A ferocious battle is underway in the nation's largest puppy mill state where animal welfare advocates - among them, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa - are trying to improve conditions in commercial kennels. The proposed Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act - much like Pennsylvania's 2008 dog law - would increase cage size and make exercise and veterinary care mandatory in a state with 1,500 commercial dog breeding kennels. In this way it is stricter than the PA law: It would apply to breeders with 10 breeding females (Pennsylvania law applies only to those selling more than 60 dogs a year) and limit the number of breeding females to 50 (there is no cap in Pennsylvania).
But some lawmakers, backed by farming and dog breeding interests, including the American Kennel Club, are fighting back with their own proposals that would make it more difficult to pass ballot initiatives to protect animals and advocates say could lead to the possible repeal of existing animal cruelty laws. One bill would amend the state constitution to bar measures that would infringe on the "right to raise animals."
Pennsylvania's leading anti-chaining advocate has claimed a court victory - for once. Dog advocate Tamira Ci Thayne, founder Dogs Deserve Better, won the appeal of her conviction on trespass charges in Cambria County.
Thayne reports, Krystal Cann - owner of the two dogs she was trying to help - failed to show up so the state dropped its case. When Thayne found the dogs - one of them short-haired and both underweight - chained to their boxes in sub-freezing temperatures in February with inadequate bedding and protection from the cold, frozen water bowls and no food. She brought straw and food and attempted to contact the owner to and was told to leave the property, which she did, but was charged and later convicted in district court.
"Animal advocates have just as much right as any other citizen to knock on a door and attempt to speak to someone. If they are told to leave, they must leave, and I followed the letter of the law in this case," said Thayne, who in 2007 was convicted of theft for removing a dying dog on a chain. Cann's two dogs remain chained. The Pennsylvania state House is considering a bill that would limit the duration a dog could remain on a chain. HB 1254 - that would ban chaining overnight - has been languishing in the House Judiciary Committee, but we understand a new bill that would limit chaining to no more than two hours in an eight hour period was set to be introduced. A group, Unchain Pennsylvania Dogs, is working to win support of the bill.
Speaking of legislation, SB 672, which would ban the use of gas chambers to euthanize stray and unwanted animals (five shelters still do so in this state), is set for a vote by the full Senate on May 24.
Animal welfare has never played so big in an election year in Pennsylvania. Add another candidate to the growing list of those running on the pro-animal platform. Democrat Scott Conklin, who is running for lieutenant governor, sent out an email telling voters he fought for the 2008 puppy mill legislation and will fight for legislation ending 24/7 tethering. He joins fellow Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Jonathan Saidel, who also pledges to support animal causes. In the primary gubernatorial campaign, Democrat Jack Wagner won the endorsement of League of Humane Voters for vowing to improve kennel conditions and fighting for pro-animal legislation. In addition, Humane USA PA PAC has produced its list of recommended candidates running for state office, including gubernatorial and lieutenant governor candidates, as well as state House and Senate. The primary date is May 18.
In other court news, the Bob Barker-backed animal welfare group fighting to end pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania has filed complaints against a New Jersey lawyer who admitted yelling at a protestor and using derogatory language (the likes of which we can't print in a family website).
The group SHARK filed an ethics complaint against Richard Shackleton, the attorney for Long Beach Township, NJ, for statements he made to a female protestor on February 20 pigeon shoot at the Philadelphia Gun Club in Bensalem. The victim, Mariane Bessey, who is also an attorney, is expected to file a private complaint against him in Bucks County.
When confronted at a township meeting in April, Shackleton he said he "meant every word" of what he said and refused to apologize. In an interview, Shackleton told NBC news "she deserved it."
"I believe Richard Shackleton's intimidating obscene behavior towards me for legally and peacefully expressing my opinion about shooting live pigeons for fun constitutes 'fighting words' that are not protected by the First Amendment," said Bessey. "In addition, I believe Mr. Shackleton's later repeated public statements in support of his obscenity and his public claims that I "deserved it,' are a form of harassment. Because the Bensalem Police Department refuses to enforce applicable laws against members of the Philadlephia Gun Club such as Mr. Shackleton, I am forced to file a private criminal complaint."
The Philadelphia Gun Club is one of three known locations in Pennsylvania where pigeons shoots - which involve launching birds from small boxes to be shot at close range - are still conducted. Animal rights activists say the shoots, which not only kill hundreds of birds outright, but leave many to die slow deaths from their wounds, are inhumane but have so far failed to get a hearing on the cruelty issue in state courts. They have turned to the legislature to permanently end them but bills have so far been unsuccessful. However, bills are pending once again this session and an animal cruelty lawsuit is pending against another gun club located near Harrisburg.
TV legend Bob Barker has lent his voice and $1 million to the cause through a donation to SHARK.