Update: bill passed Senate Judiciary Committee onto full senate - please contact your senator to ask them to support HB 82!
What currently happens to animals who are seized in large cruelty cases?
Thousands of animals are seized by Pennsylvania law enforcement officers every year because of reports of animal cruelty. Pennsylvania state and local agencies and shelters, already overtaxed with the cost of basic animal control operations, must care for these animals during the pendency of criminal cases. Local authorities are often without adequate resources and thus become overwhelmed. Smaller municipalities may simply choose not to prosecute these cases because of the large and sometimes insurmountable financial burden of caring for the large numbers of abused, sick and suffering animals. While these cases move through the courts, the animals involved can be tied up in a legal limbo that leaves them languishing, many times for years, in cramped, crowded conditions.
With this new bill, Pennsylvania would join close to 25 other states in providing a legal means for significantly reducing or eliminating the need for public funding of the care of animals held during the pendency of cruelty cases. The new bill presents a solution to the problems described above, providing at least four important benefits: (1) it shifts the financial burden of animal cruelty from municipalities and nonprofit shelters to those responsible for the animals’ suffering; (2) it supports the enforcement of the animal cruelty laws; (3) it expedites the release of animals from long-term confinement to permanent homes in an expedited fashion in many cases; (4) it encourages regional shelters and national groups to increase their assistance and support in Pennsylvania large-scale cruelty cases.
Why is this law needed now?
Pennsylvania cities are having an increasingly difficult time financing basic operations. On multiple occasions in the last several years,, local governments have had to make significant cuts in their allocations of municipal funds to animal control and sheltering programs. One large component of those programs’ expenses — the cost of housing and caring for animals who are victims of animal cruelty – will be greatly reduced if this bill is passed. As the incidence of large-scale animal cruelty cases rises and fiscal budgets continue to shrink, this law will provide a means to serve the public’s dual desires to stop animal cruelty and conserve governmental resources. It also ensures that quality care for rescued and abused animals will be placed in the hands of experts who are experienced in dealing with similar situations.
The current anti-cruelty law, Pennsylvania Crimes Code Section 5511, addresses animal cruelty, but provides local jurisdictions with no ability to reduce the costs of caring for animals while criminal cases move through the legal system. Subsections (l) and (m) of Section 5511 provide only that courts may order convicted defendants to pay the costs of care, and that abused animals may be forfeited – and these provisions are triggered only after final disposition of a case, which can take years. This bill protects defendants’/owners’ rights while allowing courts to require that animal abusers pay the costs of care of seized animals while a case is pending, or forfeit the abused animals if the defendant/owner refuses to pay for the costs of care. Specifically:
- Sections (1) and (2) provide the title of the Act and relevant definitions.
- Section (3) allows those in possession of and caring for seized animals to petition a court for the costs of food, water, shelter, and medical care.
- Section (4) provides for appropriate notice to the defendant/animal owner that a hearing will be set to determine the costs of caring for seized animals not to exceed $15 a day for a maximum of 30 days.
- Section (5) requires those seeking the costs of care to prove both the costs and the basis for the seizure. It also sets an expedited schedule for the hearing, and the criteria to be used in ruling on the costs of care petition.
- Section (6) establishes the procedure for payment of costs of care after a court’s ruling, and provides for forfeiture of all interests in seized animals if defendants/owners do not comply with the court order for payment. It also describes the procedure for caregivers to obtain funds and clarifies permissible treatment of seized animals.
- Section (7) addresses the administration of the funds during and after trial.
- Section (8) gives the defendant/owner the right to examine seized animals before they are transferred.
- Section (9) creates a lien for costs of care expended during criminal cases.
- Section (10) grants immunity to those acting in good faith pursuant to the statute.
Please support legislation to ensure that the costs of caring for abused animals is placed on the abusers, not municipalities and shelters:
HB 82 provides for the costs of care of seized animals pending resolution of cruelty cases. Here are some of the reasons to support this bill:
- Thousands of cruelly treated animals are seized by local law enforcement and animal care and control officers across the state every year.
- The costs for caring for these animals are often astronomical, especially in cases involving large numbers of animals, and where the cases take years to resolve.
- The combination of huge costs, years-long cases, and the burden of housing and caring for animals does discourage the enforcement of anti-cruelty laws.
- Many states have enacted laws similar to this to address and prevent these problems.
- This bill will have no significant fiscal impact and will ultimately reduce the costs of animal cruelty cases to public entities and non-profit shelters and rescues.
- The law will ensure greater enforcement of Pennsylvania’s anti-cruelty laws, greater protection for its animals, and a massive reduction in suffering and warehousing of animals kept in shelters or other facilities awaiting final disposition of anti-cruelty cases.
HB 82 passed the House of Representatives - and is scheduled for a vote in Senate Judiciary Committee on June 11th. Please contact your state senator now to ask them to support HB 82!