Presenting Humane PA’s 2014 State Primary Endorsements!

Humane PA is pleased to present Humane PA’s 2014 Primary endorsements of candidates for Pennsylvania state offices in the upcoming Primary on May 20th.  endorsed

In a recent statewide poll, 86 percent of Pennsylvania voters polled support their legislator’s efforts to ensure humane treatment of animals. Our aim is to make sure that Pennsylvania voters who care about the treatment of animals know which candidates will support a humane agenda and deserve their vote at the polls!

How do we chose who to endorse?

Before we endorse candidates, we give them the opportunity to let us know where they stand on animal cruelty so we can measure their responses and commitment to stand strong for the humane treatment of animals against their opponent(s). Our endorsement process is not taken lightly and we spend a great deal of time reviewing and evaluating an incumbent candidate’s voting record and leadership on animal bills. Priority is always given to an incumbent with a perfect record – we stand by our friends, particularly those who are committed leaders in the fight against cruelty. We also ask every candidate – both incumbents and first time office seekers – to complete our endorsement survey as the survey responses are critical in determining which candidates will receive our endorsement. Our survey queries candidates on key pieces of pending animal legislation, both the bills that are easily supported as well as those that may face opposition. We also ask candidates to tell us about themselves, the role of animals in their lives and their feelings about how animals should be treated. If two non-incumbent candidates are equally qualified based on survey results, we conduct follow up calls, as well as consult with animal loving constituents in their districts who know them. Past responses have been quite illuminating! All responses are kept strictly confidential, and allow us to evaluate the level of commitment a candidate has to helping protect Pennsylvania’s animals from cruel treatment.

We are fortunate this election in that many races are between strong, humane oriented candidates. An example of one such race is the Democratic race for Governor. All four candidates had strong statements and we had difficulty choosing among them, so we asked our members to vote on the strongest statement and the clear frontrunner is Tom Wolf who came in with 65% of the vote.  The animals are also fortunate to have very strong humane candidates for Lieutenant Governor, making the endorsement process an agonizing pleasure, however Brad Koplinski has been a vocal and active leader on many issues, including tethering, edging out the others in the endorsement process.

Pennsylvania has closed primaries, meaning that you can only vote in your own party, so we are only endorsing in contested races, and we will be evaluating again in time for the November election. We did not endorse in races where candidates did not respond to the survey or where two new candidates appear equal on the issues. *Please note, as a registered state political action committee, we only issue endorsements of candidates for state offices and make no endorsements for federal offices.

Our goal is for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to be a kinder place for animals and for our legislature to pass appropriate laws to protect animals and eliminate cruelty. Thus, we encourage those who care deeply about these issues to consider and be guided by our endorsements, and to support candidates who will support a humane agenda. We thank all of the candidates who took the time to complete our survey. Good luck to all of our Humane PA Endorsed Candidates!

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2014 Primary Endorsements:   

 

Posted in 2014 Pennsylvania Election, Pennsylvania election, Pennsylvania Governor, Pennsylvania Politics, Political Action Committees, Politics

Are you in?

VolunteerIt is National Volunteer Week, and Humane PA — and Pennsylvania’s animals — are so grateful for our amazing, dedicated volunteers ! We are especially inspired by the volunteers of Humane PA.  As an entirely volunteer-run humane political action committee (PAC), Humane PA could not be the effective political voice for animals that this group has become without volunteers who give their time to ensure that animals have a voice in the Pennsylvania legislature.

An important step in achieving our goal of eliminating cruelty to animals within Pennsylvania is to elect candidates who vote to support policies that protect animals. In addition to supporting animal shelters and rescues, it is critically important to get political for animals too. Shelters and rescues are prevented from engaging in election activities, but as a political action committee, Humane PA can work to elect humane-minded candidates to fill that void. Humane PA can help animals on a larger scale, by giving animals a voice in the legislature to get them the laws they need to be protected from cruelty.

And that is where the amazing volunteers at Humane PA come in! Imagine a future where candidates for office strive to win the support of a united voting bloc of animal advocates. Imagine the impact this can have on shutting down puppy mills, ending the 24/7 tethering of dogs, and protecting pigeons from inhumane and unnecessary shoots. This future is in our grasp if we work for it. And without a doubt, volunteer power is the key ingredient in our recipe for change. Volunteers fuel the engine in this effort, and they are the key to making Pennsylvania a friendlier state for animals.

making a difference (2)If you aren’t already volunteering for Humane PA, there are so many different ways you can get involved, whether it’s writing to your legislators, door-knocking for humane candidates, phone banking, envelope stuffing, or hosting a Pawlitics Happy Hour! Each person has skills to bring to the table. And when you volunteer, it is contagious. It creates a ripple effect of positive change that inspires others to volunteer as well. Volunteering doesn’t have to be time consuming or exhausting either. In fact, it can be a great way to spend time with your family and friends while working to elect humane candidates that will bring the reform animals so desperately need. So grab one of your friends, and sign up to volunteer for a humane candidate or Humane PA today!

 

 

Posted in Pennsylvania Politics, Political Action Committees, Volunteers

Join us on Humane Lobby Day!

lobby dayFor the past 7 years, citizen animal advocates have gathered in Harrisburg for an annual event called Pennsylvania Humane Lobby Day.  Participants at this one-day event, sponsored by The Humane Society of the United States, attend a training to learn about lobbying, as well as pending state-level humane legislation. Right after the training, advocates meet face-to-face with their legislators (or key staff members) to ask for their support on animal welfare measures.  This year’s Humane Lobby Day will be held on Monday, April 28th , followed by Humane PA’s Pawlitics Happy Hour (please register in advance) and lunch buffet where we can relax and get to know fellow advocates.   Humane Lobby Day organizers make appointments with legislators on participants’ behalf, so it is important to register for Humane Lobby Day well ahead of time.

Here are a few key reasons to join your fellow advocates in Harrisburg to support better laws for Pennsylvania’s animals:

Make a Real Difference for Animals

    • As a constituent, an in-person visit with your legislator is the most effective thing you can do to help secure the votes to pass animal friendly legislation.
    • The concerned voices of just a few constituents can be enough to sway a legislator’s vote on a particular issue.  Every advocate really does count!

First-time Citizen Lobbyist?  Have no fear! 

    • Meeting your lawmakers in person at the state capital might sound a bit intimidating if you’ve never lobbied before.  But no need to worry, because Humane Lobby Day is carefully tailored for all animal advocates – beginners included.  First time citizen lobbyists are most definitely welcome and needed at Pennsylvania Humane Lobby Day.
    • The pre-lobbying workshop will teach you about selected humane legislation and how to communicate effectively with your legislators.  The event organizers will provide you with all the tools necessary to be a great citizen lobbyist – all you need to bring is your care and concern for animal welfare.
    • Don’t worry, you won’t be alone:  all constituents for a given legislator will have the same appointment time, and will lobby as a group.
    • As a constituent, you will be a respected guest in your legislator’s office, and will be treated with courtesy, regardless of the lawmaker’s views on animal protection issues.

 It’s Fun!

    • Meet animal advocates from all over the state.
    • Enjoy the camaraderie of working together with other humane-minded Pennsylvanians to give animals a voice.  Come to the state capital, and experience the strength in our numbers firsthand – it’s a great feeling.

Humane Lobby Day only comes once a year, and this is a golden opportunity to show your state lawmakers how much Pennsylvanians care about animal welfare.  This year’s lobby day is shaping up to be the biggest and best yet, with more people already registered than ever before – so don’t be left out! Join your fellow citizen advocates in Harrisburg on April 28, and take a stand for animals – you’ll be so glad that you did.

Haley Courville Photo for Blog Post (3)Haley Courville is a member of the Florida Bar and has been an active volunteer with Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, Inc. since 2009.  She has previously served as a volunteer legislative assistant in the State Affairs department of The Humane Society of the United States  and is currently a volunteer intern with Humane PA.  

Posted in Animal Law, Legislation, Pennsylvania legislation

Vote for your Favorite Gubernatorial Animal Policy

votegubWe want to thank the four Democratic contenders in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race who issued  strong position statements on animal policies!

We are asking Pennsylvanians to rate the statements in order to gauge  which position statement our members think is the strongest.

The candidates who have posted position statements on animals so far are: Tom Wolf , Rob McCordKatie McGinty and Allyson Schwartz.*

Please read each hyper-linked statement below and then vote for which one you think is the strongest:

Please vote here for which statement you like best.

Thank you for participating in Humane PA’s  opinion survey and as always, thank you for giving animals a political voice in Pennsylvania.

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 mcginty2Mccordstatement

 

Posted in Pennsylvania election, Pennsylvania Governor, Pennsylvania Politics, Political Action Committees

Who’s That Knocking at my Door?

Blog by Humane PA President, Elissa Katz

Spring is here! The days are longer, bulbs are popping, birds are singing and candidates for political office are out and about in our neighborhoods, knocking on our doors, seeking our votes. What a great opportunity to make sure that issues relating to the humane treatment of animals are put front and center in the election process. And, lambhow much easier can it be? The candidates are coming to us, interested in hearing what we have to say and what is important to us so that they can get our votes!

An essential part of campaigning for any candidate seeking state office is knocking on doors throughout their district, meeting their potential voters (hoping to win them over), putting a piece of campaign literature in your hand, and reminding voters to vote on election day. This presents a real opportunity for us to educate candidates about humane issues, pending legislation and anti-cruelty concerns, and to pin down the candidate on his or her position regarding these important issues. When we open our doors to a candidate, we have the ability to demonstrate the power of the animal vote by asking questions and talking to the candidate about these issues. This is our chance, unlike no other, to have a private audience with the candidate and to make sure that the candidate understands that the level of his or her commitment to and interest in humane positions is how to earn – or forfeit – our vote.
humane candidates2Door knocking season presents another effective opportunity for us to make a difference for animals – and that is by volunteering to walk your neighborhood with a candidate who has a strong stand on humane issues. Candidates are eager for your company – after all, neighbors are much more likely to open their doors and be receptive to a candidate when the candidate is introduced by another neighbor. And, walking the neighborhood with a candidate is a great way to get to know the candidate better, develop a relationship and discuss how he or she can effectively help animals once in office. Additionally, the candidate will see that people who care about animals get involved in the process and can be counted on to actively support legislators who actively support humane legislation.

So, as door knocking season begins, be prepared! Review the various bill fact sheets available on the Humane PA website as well as the legislative scorecard so you will know the track record of that door knocking candidate seeking reelection. And, remember, the disruption to our day brought by that knock on the door is a unique opportunity to speak up for animals. Who’s that knocking at my door? A candidate who is about to be reminded of the power of the animal vote! Let door knocking season begin!

katz_fullElissa B. Katz is the President of Humane PA and a partner in the law firm of Meranze, Katz, Gaudioso & Newlin, P.C. in Philadelphia. She is a regular volunteer with the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), assisting with cat care and adoption applications at an adoption site.  She is also a board member of The Humane League and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

Posted in 2014 Pennsylvania Election, Animal Law, Pennsylvania election, Pennsylvania Politics, Political Action Committees, Voters

“Rocco’s Law” leads animal bills as PA legislature returns

Amy Worden writes the Philly Dawg blog for The Philadelphia Inquirer. With her permission we are reposting her blog about the status of anti-cruelty bills as the legislature returns.

Lawmakers will consider a flurry of animal-related bills as they return to the Capitol  after the five-week long break for budget hearings.

Topping the list is “Rocco’s Law” – bills designed to stiffen the penalties for anyone who severely injures of kills a police animal.

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The introduction of the bills in both the Senate and the House came after the Jan. 30 stabbing death of Rocco, a Pittsburgh police K-9 officer, as he defended officers trying to apprehend a suspect.

An outpouring of grief followed the death of the 8-year-old German Shepherd. Rocco was given a hero’s funeral for his actions to save his human partners and 1,000 people lined up to say goodbye to him.

Two bills (Senate Bills 1260 and 1261) – which already have 27 sponsors in the Senate – would increase the offense to a second degree felony, which comes with a fine of $25,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

The federal penalty for killing a law enforcement dog is up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $1,000. Current state law classifies the torture or killing of a police animal as a third degree felony offense punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine, but the same penalty applies to the taunting or striking of a police animal.

“This bill recognizes the fundamental differences between the two crimes and seeks to rectify the disparity by strengthening the penalty for the more serious offense,” said lead sponsor Sen. Matt Smith (D., Allegheny).

Smith said he wants to get the bill on Gov. Corbett’s desk by June.

Meanwhile, a similar bill introduced in the House may get there first. Legislation to boost penalties for harming a police animal introduced by Rep. John Maher (R., Allegheny) is slated for a committee vote this week.

In other animal-related legislative news, a bill that passed the House unanimously last month is being held up in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will not move in its currently form, the committee chairman, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montogmery) said in an interview.

The bill [HB 913], sponsored by Rep. Kathy Watson (R., Bucks) would direct all fines collected by the Dog Law Enforcement Office as a result of guilty pleas or verdicts in a wide range of dog law offenses go to the dog law restricted account

Under legislation dating to the 1990s, dog law agency keeps all court fees until the total collected tops $70,000. All monies over that amount go to support the courts computer system.

The animal agency’s tithing to the court system was not an issue back then when laws involving kennels, stray dogs, licensing and dangerous dogs were not as aggressively enforced as they are today.

In fact between 1998 and 2011 the dog law fines and penalties accumulated over $3.5 million. Almost $3 million was forfeited to the judicial computer account (an average of $226,000 a year). The total revenue retained by the dog law restricted account during those same years was only 26% of the total monies collected.

Greenleaf said he is concerned about the loss of revenue to the courts.

“I’haven’t seen compelling reason to take away from courts,” said Greenleaf. “It takes all the money and leaves court without any. I woudn’t support that “.

But Greenleaf said he was open to “some type of compromise” if it was offered.

The court collects fine money from other enforcement agencies as well (not however the Pennsylvania Game Commission which prosecutes animal-related crimes we learned). It also tacks on a separate $8 fee to every case heard in the state’s court system.

A top official in the Department of Agriculture said the dog law office which relies on the fine revenue along with license sales to support employee salaries and equipment purchases – needs the fine money to stay solvent.

“The fact of the matter is that the requirement to send this money to the judicial computer fund is a morale buster, it deters some [dog wardens] from putting in the massive amount of work needed to win a $300 maximum fine for not having dog licensed/rabies vaccinated,” said Michael Pechart, special executive secretary for the department.

Often times he says judges will throw out the fine after the person says they got their dog license or vaccination after being cited, said Pechart.

Greenleaf also said his committee is considering a bill to ban 24/7 dog chaining but that he remains concerned about the “unintended consequences” of such a ban.

“I think it’s important legitimately put dog out for short periods of time when the weather fine or to do what they to do,” he said, adding, “we’re looking at it.”

Animal welfare activists have been working on a statewide tethering bill for at least six years without getting a floor vote in either chamber. In the interim, anti-dog chaining movement has had success on a local level enacting bans in the City of Harrisburg and several York County municipalities.

A six-year struggle to win a bill’s passage is just a blip on the timelime of those seeking to end live pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania. Humane advocates have tried unsuccessfully to end the practice for 20 years.

But is there a glimmer of hope on the horizon? Greenleaf, a supporter of the ban who moved a bill out of his committee last session is ready to bring it up again this year but he wants assurances it will get a vote before the full Senate.

Advocates say they feel strongly that the votes are there to pass the bill despite opposition from the National Rifle Association. “I think it has a chance to pass this year,” said Greenleaf.

Among the sponsors this time around? Senate Majority leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware.)

Amy_WordenAmy Worden is a politics and government reporter for the Inquirer. In that capacity she has explored a range of animal protection issues from dog kennel law improvements and banning horse slaughter to the comeback of peregrine falcons and pigeon hunts. From hamsters to horses, animals have always been part of her life.

Posted in Animal cruelty, Pennsylvania Law and animals, Pennsylvania legislation

Justice Finally Comes to Animal Victims – “Costs of Care” is Law

Guest blog by Penny Conly Ellison

coc2All you needed to do was visit the shelter and walk the rows of kennels and cages and take a glance at the paperwork on each one.  Each kennel card provides some information about the animal, his or her name and the “intake date.”  As I walked the rows in the greenhouse at the Pennsylvania SPCA in Philadelphia about three years ago looking at those faces, I took particular note of those dates.  Some were a week or a month ago but many were a year ago, two years ago, some even three years ago.  Three years of living alone in a cage or kennel after what was likely a prolonged period of neglect or abuse. Pennsylvania law allows humane police officers to seize animal victims but that did not give them ownership rights.  Shelters simply had to hold them pending the outcome of a criminal trial and potentially appeals to higher courts.  Particularly when their abusers were also charged with other more “serious” offenses, that process could drag on for years. During this period in limbo, the animals remained the legal property of their owners.  They could not be made available for adoption; they simply had to wait in kennels or cages cared for as well as possible with the incredible cost having to be absorbed by local humane societies and SPCA’s. In large hoarding or fighting cases, both the expense to the shelters and the suffering to the animals was tremendous.  In addition, because of the need to hold these animals for such long periods of time and the limited amount of kennel space and funds, shelters would sometimes be forced to turn away animals in need, or, if that was not an option, to euthanize healthy, adoptable animals for lack of space.

The passage of Costs of Care brought a sigh of relief to shelters and, more importantly the chance for a quicker path to freedom for these animals who have already been victimized and/or neglected.  With its passage, owners of animals that are the subject of animal cruelty cases can either pay for the costs of caring for them (as they would if their animals had never been seized) or relinquish them, allowing shelters to make them available for adoption. The law is already operating to help humane society police officers gain voluntary surrenders of animals for owners who, when told about the law, are unwilling to pay the costs of medical care, housing and feeding of their animals.   In those cases where owners wish to retain ownership (in the event they are acquitted or the court does not order surrender), the shelters must be paid the costs of care as they are incurred.  This allows them to use their limited resources to care for homeless animals.

In addition, the costs of care law eliminates the need for prosecutors to offer plea deals in cruelty cases just to get a voluntary surrender of the animals.  Previously, a prosecutor’s desire to see justice served had to be weighed against the likelihood that taking the case to trial was sentencing the animal victim(s) to many months or years of confinement in a shelter awaiting an uncertain future.

Before costs of care, the financial burdens of caring for animal victims had been devastating to local SPCA’s and humane societies, making the decision to seize animals a very difficult one because the financial burden could potentially break the bank for the nonprofit shelters charged with enforcing the cruelty laws.  I am so happy to say they no longer have to make the choice between enforcing the cruelty laws and surviving to help stray animals.  The passage of costs of care is truly the biggest step forward for animals in Pennsylvania in a very long time and, hopefully, a sign that Pennsylvania is ready to lead on animal protection issues.

1964581_442096935921537_991688755_nPenny Conly Ellison is Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and has taught a course in Animal Law and Ethics since 2006.  She is a member of the board of the Pennsylvania SPCA and Executive Director of The Hand2Paw Foundation, a nonprofit that enables homeless youth to volunteer in Philadelphia’s animal shelters.

Posted in Animal cruelty, Animal Law, Animal shelters, Pennsylvania Law and animals, Pennsylvania legislation

We’re Here for You!

helpOur goal at Humane PA is to build the most powerful political bloc imaginable, a voting bloc of Pennsylvania residents from every corner of the state who not only believe in and are committed to the humane treatment of animals, but are actively involved in the political process to make it happen. We want every candidate currently in office and those running for office to be sensitive to animal issues and to sponsor and support humane legislation. We want issues relating to the humane treatment of animals to be issues which are at the forefront of the political agenda – because not only is treating animals humanely and protecting them from cruelty the right thing to do but because those running for public office need to understand that these issues are important to their constituents.  How is the best way to accomplish all of this? We at Humane PA are working to provide you with the resources and tools you need to feel confident, inspired, and effective advocates and citizen lobbyists.
The Humane PA website aims to be a comprehensive and constantly updated resource to arm you with what you need to productively participate in the political process and to make positive change in public policy concerning animals. We want to be there for you – so that all of us can be there for the animals.
Our website is chock full of information and can serve as an easy to navigate one stop resource! Are you new to political advocacy? We have tips on how to take action from a primer on citizen lobbying to how to make the best use of social media to help animals from a public policy perspective. We explain the sometimes circuitous route a bill travels to become law, a process that can be confusing to the novice as well as those already knee deep in advocacy! Our website provides fact sheets on important pending animal related legislation as well as email contact lists for every legislator to make it easy to give input to your elected officials. Wondering about the track record of your legislators? Our website provides a comprehensive scorecard which discloses the voting record on animal bills, as well as bill sponsorship, of each sitting legislator – making it easy to see who are friends of animals, and who are not.
 Interested in helping to grow the strength of the animal vote and increase the numbers of Pennsylvania residents involved in political advocacy? We also provide outlines on tabling and hosting events to help bring Humane PA to the attention of your own community. And there is more – our website also features blogs by coordinators, volunteers and special guests on so many important issues concerning advocacy, public policy and how to help make positive change for animals.
 knowledge 3Humane PA is here for you. We want to make effective advocacy easy, and we want to provide the resources you need. And, we welcome your input – if there is information you would like included in our website, please let us know. As always, thank you all so much for your hard work, energy and commitment to make Pennsylvania a kinder place for animals.

Posted in 2014 Pennsylvania Election, Animal law, Animal Law, Pennsylvania Law and animals, Pennsylvania Politics

Pursuing Your Passion – Cheryl Caldwell’s Story

Humane PA is grateful for the talents and dedication of our volunteers who give so much of themselves to help strengthen the ability of the humane vote to elect humane legislators, who will in turn advocate and support anti-cruelty legislation.  The backbone of Humane PA is volunteerism. This guest column by Western Coordinator, Cheryl Caldwell highlights her transition from a career in education to one of volunteerism.

Pursuing a Passion for Something New and Different

by Cheryl Caldwell

cherylI spent 37 years as a public school speech/language pathologist. I loved my job and the children. As I approached my last few years of teaching, I began to think about life after retirement. I wasn’t married, no children……the usual time-consuming activities. I knew I would have to find something as important as teaching to occupy my time. I always had a love of animals and that little voice in my head began to grow louder. I needed to become active in animal welfare. I had kept up to date on the problems in the country with wildlife. The bison in Yellowstone, the wolves in the West, and the prairie dogs in the Midwest……I had signed all the petitions to save them. Now I would have time to do more.
One evening I happened to see a program on TV called Fifteen Legs. It followed a rescue transport of a dog along a route that was divided into 15 driver segments to get a shelter dog to a new home. I thought; “I can do this!”. After doing some research on dog rescue transports, I joined a Yahoo group called On The Road Again and started driving adoptable cats/dogs pulled from shelters to foster homes, rescues or forever homes on weekends.
Once I retired, I took training classes to volunteer at a local animal shelter, Animal Friends. I walk dogs, socialize cats and help with events. I am able to use my teaching skills by working with the Humane Education Department. I give tours, work with Girl Scout groups to earn their Pets badge and help with school field trips.
The biggest impact I have made was becoming involved with Humane PA PAC. The PAC’S mission is to increase the engagement of the Pennsylvania animal community in public policy and to elect officials who will support anti-cruelty legislation. I have attended two Humane Lobby Days in Harrisburg and met with my Representative and Senator to discuss animal welfare legislation pending in the state. I have also met with my legislators in their local offices. I am a volunteer Western Pennsylvania Coordinator for Humane PA to organize and inform people in my area to contact legislators when bills come up for a vote. I helped plan and organize two fundraisers to elect anti-cruelty legislators across the state. Eighty percent of our endorsed candidates were elected in 2012! I have met many Sophienew friends who share my passion for helping animals. My advice for people who are retired or soon will retire is to take that jump into something you have always wanted to do. My career was helping children learn to speak; now I speak for the animals who do not have a voice! Take a chance, do some research, talk to others and step forward into a life beyond the workplace.

Get involved: Take action to give animals a voice in Harrisburg

Posted in Animal cruelty, Animal shelters, Community outreach, Pennsylvania legislation, Political Action Committees, Volunteers

Pets Are No More Than Kitchen Chairs

by Walter Brasch  Ph.D.
Wanderings – Social Issues Journalism 

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In Johnstown, two abandoned puppies died from starvation and freezing weather in an unoccupied house.
In Lancaster County, two puppies were left in a backpack in freezing weather.
In Centre County, a dog was frozen to the floor of its doghouse.
In Edwardsville, a woman abandoned 19 dogs after she was evicted from her mobile home. Seven dogs had died of starvation. The others were near death.
In Monroe County, police found three dogs, each in a plastic bag, abandoned along the side of roads. Each was dead. One had been shot.
All the cases were reported the past two weeks.
Four years ago, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) rescued 253 dogs from the Almost Heaven puppy mill near Allentown. “It was the most horrific house of horrors I had seen,” says Sarah Speed, Pennsylvania HSUS director.
“When you walked into the kennel,” says Speed, “you got slapped by the stench of filth and disease.” The kennel had a make-shift “hospital.” “If they got better, usually without treatment,” says Speed, “they went back to the kennel; if they didn’t, they died.”
The owner had been convicted twice before of animal cruelty. This time he was given a three to six month jail sentence.
Sentences for animal abuse and cruelty in Pennsylvania are minimal. For killing or mutilating a domestic animal, the fine is usually no more than $50-$75, and jail time is usually no more than 30 days, if it’s even imposed.
The reason the penalty is so small is because Pennsylvania, like most states, believes pets are nothing more than chattel. Like a kitchen chair, an animal may be bought, sold, traded, or thrown away. Pennsylvanians may kill their own pet, and there are no charges—“as long as the death was done humanely,” says Speed. “You can choose where to allow an animal to live and when and how to allow it to die.”
For many breeders, dogs are nothing more than crops. The good crops are sold. The bad crops are destroyed.
Pennsylvania, especially in the south-central region, has a national reputation of being one of the largest “puppy mill” farm areas in the nation. Regulations passed during the Ed Rendell administration improved the conditions of the breeding kennels, and eliminated many that failed to meet minimal standards of care. When he was attorney general, Tom Corbett was vigorous in enforcing those new regulations. However, enforcement declined significantly during Corbett’s first two years as governor. Part of the problem was that he appointed an individual to head the Office of Dog Law Enforcement who had been a banker and not qualified for the position. That has recently changed with a new appointment.
Last year, Pennsylvania shut down 44 unlicensed kennels, and revoked the licenses of four kennels. But the problem, says Speed, “is the number of unlicensed kennels and breeders who used social media to sell to individuals throughout the country, and who have informal contracts with pet stores to supply puppies.”
Most cases of animal abuse aren’t reported; those that are reported usually don’t result in charges being filed. The problem, says Speed, “is that humane officers are so overburdened by the calls they take that they can only pursue the calls of the most egregious cruelty.” If you’re going to abuse an animal, says Speed, “you’ll probably get away with it.”
One of the reasons for a lack of humane officers is the cost to train, employ, and insure the officers. Those costs aren’t borne by taxpayers but by non-profit organizations. About 70 percent of all costs for county dog wardens come from license fees. Wardens often spend their time enforcing dog licensing and kennel licensing laws.
The State Police now have an animal cruelty liaison officer to assist the humane animal police officers.
A contributing factor to animal abuse is the nature of what has become a “throw-away society.”
Some people get a pet and then find out it’s just too much trouble to care and feed it. Maybe, they just got new carpeting and the pet sheds. Some people get a pet—whether it’s a puppy, kitty, bunny, canary, gecko or whatever—and decide a grown-up pet isn’t as “pretty” or as “playful” as it once was. Or, maybe, they just decide to trade a husky for a pug. And then a couple of years later, they trade the pug for a furry golden retriever. Perhaps, a pet becomes ill, and the owner decides that a hundred or so dollars is just too much money to cure whatever problem the pet has. So, it’s off to the local shelter to trade that pet in for another one.
Every year, about 2.7 million healthy and adoptable pets in the United States are killed by the staff of animal shelters, according to the best data the HSUS can determine. But most shelters won’t release the number of those killed. “It’s a PR problem for them,” says Speed, pointing out that the shelters “are afraid of public outcry or backlash.”
The shelters prefer to use the term, “euthanized,” but the reality is that animals that are abandoned or voluntarily placed in shelters and are not adopted within a few months are usually killed. Most shelters in Pennsylvania are usually full, so when new animals are taken in, others must be killed to make room. The problem is so severe that the state now has a new job classification, euthanasia technician; these individuals will now be licensed by the Animal Veterinary Board.
Spaying and neutering dogs and cats is only one way to help reduce the problem. But, until the people’s elected representatives believe that animals are more than chattel and crops, and are willing to write stricter laws and back them up with a budget for enforcement, not much will change.

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Walter Brasch Ph.D.

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D., is an award-winning syndicated columnist and the author of 17  books, most of which fuse historical and contemporary social issues. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, multi-screen multimedia writer–producer, and professor emeritus of mass communications and journalism.

Walter Brasch’s latest book is the best-selling critically-acclaimed investigation, Fracking Pennsylvania

Check here for a list of current anti-cruelty bills in Pennsylvania legislation and what you can do to help.

Posted in Animal cruelty, Animal law, Legislation, Pennsylvania Law and animals, Pennsylvania legislation