Pa. bill aimed at making owners of abused animals pay for care

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A bill that would require owners suspected of abusing animals to pay for their care after they’ve been seized cleared the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Wednesday by a vote of 163-34.

The issue has affected humane societies and similar groups across the commonwealth, tasked with rescuing animals from dangerous and unhealthy conditions but also finding a way to pay for their care.

“Sometimes the cases can be resolved pretty quickly. Sometimes they do drag on,” said Dylan Heckart, communications director for the Humane Society of Lebanon County.

To read the bill, click here.

Just this month, the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area saw firsthand just how challenging the problem can be when it seized more than 20 horses from a farm in Dauphin County. Immediate health care alone was estimated to cost thousands of dollars, on top of food and other needs in the coming weeks and months.

Rep. Brian Ellis (R-11th) sponsored the bill. He said, “People kind of forget about what happens after we get the animals. Who’s taking care of them? Who’s paying for them?”

Under the bill, the organization would have to take the animals’ owner to court soon after the animals are seized. The judge could require the owner to pay up to $15 per day per animal plus veterinary costs, unless the owner gives up rights to the animal.

Heckart said the amount provided for in the bill would not cover the entire cost of care, but he still views it as an important step in getting these cases resolved more quickly.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs takes issue with the bill, citing concerns for owners eventually found to be not guilty.

“All it takes is one person who is found not guilty, whose animals are seized, to have a violation of their rights,” said Julian Prager, legislative chair of the federation. To read more about the federation’s position on the bill, click here.

In a letter Prager also writes,” While we support requiring payment for the care of their animals by those convicted…we cannot support the current bill.” He goes on to say the bill “is deficient in that it: deprives persons of property rights without a conviction on the underlying offense, fails to include the State Police in the covered entities, fails to return all monies paid for the care of the animals if the defendant is not convicted…and creates a system subject to potential criminal abuse.”

Prager said humane societies could seize other property after a conviction, but those groups say that’s proven difficult to do.

“And the folks that may be innocent out there, will have their day in court a heck of a lot faster than something being drawn out for years,” said Ellis.

A similar bill passed the House last fall but was not taken up by the Senate in enough time to act before the legislative session ended.

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