Two Years after Libre’s Law, PA Making Strides in Animal Protection
Jul 30, 2019 08:57AM
By Vanessa Orr
Gov. Tom Wolf and Libre celebrate the passing of Libre's Law.
Two years ago in August, Libre’s Law, otherwise known as Comprehensive Animal Cruelty Act 10, was passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature. Centered around a horribly abused and emaciated dog, the law brought awareness to animal cruelty in the state, and created a movement to provide more protection to the state’s animals and their guardians.
At the time, Pennsylvania was ranked 36th in the list of the most humane states for animals. And while the wheels of justice grind slowly, in less than two years, the state has jumped 21 places to reach #15.
“Pennsylvania has proudly risen in the ranks of humane states over the last several years with the passing and enforcement of ground-breaking animal protection measures,” said Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania state director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “Because of advocates’ and humane legislators’ hard work, we are within reach of the top 10, and will continue to do the work it takes to get to #1.”
Libre's Law features a number of changes to the state’s animal welfare laws, including increased penalties for animal cruelty; the possibility of 90 days to seven years in jail and/or fines ranging from $300 to $15,000; mandatory forfeiture of the animal upon conviction; a new grading system for animal abuse that includes aggravated cruelty for cases in which the animal suffers serious bodily injury or death; and new laws on tethering and sheltering of outside animals.
“What is most encouraging to me is that Libre’s Law is not just limited to cruelty to dogs and cats, but it encompasses all animals,” said Elissa B. Katz, president of Humane PA PAC of the law that is now act-based, instead of species-specific.
“We’re also seeing more serious charges brought against perpetrators of cruelty; under the prior law, animal cruelty was largely a summary offense, so offenders received penalties tantamount to a smack on the hand,” she added. “Even egregious acts of cruelty we’re not penalized commensurate to the severity of the crime.
“Penalties are greatly enhanced under the new law,” she continued. “For instance, aggravated cruelty is a felony, which is the first time that felony charges can and have been rendered in cases that are not related to animal fighting or harming an endangered species.”
In addition to helping animals, Libre’s Law also protects those who help them, providing civil immunity to veterinarians and police and humane officers. The Animal Distress Law, passed in 2018, adds to these protections, allowing officers to remove animals from locked cars in extremely hot or cold temperatures.
Enforcing the Law
Over the course of the past year, HSUS and humane organizations have partnered with humane police officers, state and local agencies, and legal authorities to provide training on Act 10.
HSUS has trained more than 200 officers across the state, and 555 magisterial district judges on the new statutes. They have also provided training about the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence, and provided a webinar for legal counsel through the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
“We wanted to reach all different sections of law enforcement in order to increase prosecutions,” said Tullo, adding that there are currently at least 150 pending misdemeanor and felony animal cruelty cases in the state.
A recent case, in which a man killed his dog in a very violent way, tested the new laws and was a victory for those trying to end animal cruelty. The man received 6 to 18 months in jail, two consecutive years of probation, and is not able to have an animal for the next 16 years.
“Although it’s very sad that the dog died, we are pleased that the animal found justice in court,” said Tullo, adding that this decision could help to set precedents in future cases.
As cases move through the courts, more legislation is being created to fill in the gaps of Libre’s Law.
“We have seen improvements in the lives of dogs kept outside with the tethering provisions of Libre’s Law, but there are still issues remaining to be addressed, such as establishing minimum standards of outdoor sheltering,” said Katz. “Unfortunately, Pennsylvania also still has live pigeon shoots, which is a horrendous form of animal cruelty and needs to be squarely addressed and prohibited.”
Recent bills, including Senate Bill 551 to enhance shelter provision and extreme weather protection for dogs that live outdoors, and Senate Bill 787 to ban live pigeon shoots, are geared toward fixing these gaps in coverage.
“Act 10 was so huge and stimulated support of the importance of appropriate laws to address cruelty and protect animals that we knew there would be more to come,” said Katz. “The good news is that because there was so much publicity and public involvement with Libre’s Law, the issue remains front and center.”
What Can You Do?
While new laws continue to move through the legislature, there are still many things that animal advocates can do to help.
“First off, if you see something, say something,” said Tullo. “Report animal cruelty and be a voice for the voiceless. Report what you see to a humane police officer, or if there isn’t one in your town, call your state or local law enforcement agency.”
When there is legislation pending that benefits animals, Tullo says that it is important to call your legislators. “Advocates need to understand that their voices count—because of them, we have the most historic animal legislation in state history. We need to continue this momentum.”
Tullo also advises supporting local animal protection agencies in any way you can, including volunteering, donating, and of course, always adopting from these shelters.