Pet owners may want to familiarize themselves with the state’s new animal-abuse laws before frigid weather sets in.

Libre’s law, which was approved this summer and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf, sets requirements on how long an animal is allowed to be tethered outside in adverse conditions.

Although the law centers on dogs, it also protects cats and horses.

“This is the first cold weather season since we strengthened the animal cruelty laws in Pennsylvania, which include temperature and shelter restrictions for outdoor pets,” Wolf said.

Animal advocates had charged that, until now, Pennsylvania’s dog laws had no teeth.

Wolf agreed.

“For far too long, we have heard stories of neglected and abused animals who suffered because of deplorable treatment,” the governor said. “With our new landmark anti-cruelty legislation in place, penalties will be enforced for individuals who abuse or neglect an animal.”

Libre’s law — which was named for the Lancaster County puppy that was perhaps hours from death when he was rescued — sets limits on how long an individual can leave his or her pet tied up outside, said Cpl. Michael Spada, the animal cruelty officer for the Pennsylvania State Police.

But the legislation could also be confusing. It states that a dog tethered for less than 30 minutes in harsh conditions is not necessarily being neglected.

The breed, size and condition of the animal comes into play, Spada said. For example, a Chihuahua left in the cold could be considered a neglected animal, but a St. Bernard or husky probably would be OK.

Size, breed and physical health of the canine could be determining factors to neglect, Spada said.

The law serves as a guideline to “promote responsible ownership,” Spada said.

Under the terms of the measure, anyone cited for neglect would face a summary offense, unless the animal has been injured.

In that situation, the owner can be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor, which can carry a penalty of up to 12 months in prison.

Fines range from $300 to $15,000.

As with any wrongdoing, the perpetrator must be caught before he or she can be charged. Under the new legislation, any state trooper or local police officer can investigate an animal abuse accusation.

“And they should,” Spada said. “This is in the crimes code, and it should be investigated.”

Veterinarians, vet technicians and humane society police officers are protected from frivolous lawsuits for reporting animal abuse.

Anyone who suspects an animal is being treated inhumanely should call his or her local police department, the state police or officers from animal welfare groups such as the humane society or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“This is a public function that private organizations have been doing” since the 19th century, Nicole Wilson, director of humane law enforcement for the Pennsylvania SPCA, said.

The state’s dog wardens, Spada said, do not respond to animal cruelty complaints. Their responsibilities lie mostly with inspecting kennels, making sure canines are properly licensed and investigating dog bites.

The state police are adding animal cruelty liaisons to their ranks to help enforce the law, Spada said.

The liaisons will respond to complaints or advise other troopers who have been summoned to investigate animal cruelty.

The law is meant to make animal owners responsible for their actions as well as to protect the animals.

The public should do its part and report suspected abuses. They may save an animal from needless suffering or death.

—The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat

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