Animal cruelty law signed by governor, dog

Animal Cruelty
After getting the signature of Gov. Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty law gets a paw print from Libre, a Boston terrier who was emaciated and diseased when he was rescued last year by a truck driver in Lancaster County.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Wolf and a Boston terrier on Wednesday signed legislation to strengthen Pennsylvania’s laws against animal abuse and neglect.

The Democratic governor used a pen and ink. As for Libre, a paw was dipped in paint so he could put his stamp on a copy of the bill. The now-healthy dog was rescued from severe neglect last year in Lancaster County, and became an inspiration for activists and lawmakers seeking to revamp animal-cruelty statutes.

“We need to make sure that we are treating our animals with respect,” Wolf said. “We need to bring an end to the deplorable conduct that allows people to think that they can abuse animals in Pennsylvania, and I think this law really, really takes us a long way toward doing just that.”

Onlookers cheered and snapped photos. A variety of other dogs witnessed the occasion, and at least one punctuated the speeches with barks.

Among other changes, the law establishes a felony offense of aggravated cruelty to animals. The governor’s office had said that Pennsylvania was one of only three states without a felony statute for severe animal abuse.

“In Pennsylvania, torturing or seriously abusing an animal in most instances was punishable only by the equivalent of a traffic ticket,” Rep. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery) said before the signing. “That was just wrong, so we set out to change that.”

Stephens said several recent cases of cruelty to animals — Libre’s near-starvation, the case of a turtle blown up by M-80 firecrackers, and the beating of a horse that collapsed while pulling a load of watermelons — motivated legislators to push for the changes.

The revision to state law also says that in cases of felony convictions, the abused or neglected animal should be forfeited to a shelter. It also sets guidelines for tethering a dog  — among other things, an animal cannot be left for more than 30 minutes in very hot or cold weather.

The measure passed both houses of the Assembly by wide margins. It takes effect in 60 days.