Animal law is a funny thing. Socially animals kept as pets share our lives, our homes and our beds, we have a deep emotional bond with our pets, but legally they are still considered property in most of the United States and most other countries. Combine that with our principle that people are considered innocent of charges brought against them until they are proven guilty in a court of law, though property considered evidence can be seized and animals considered in danger can be seized as well. Computers, guns, drugs, the usual things that are seized can be kept in storage forever, but what happens to animals who need humane living conditions and who may be injured or ill or traumatized from their experience?
When animal cruelty cases are investigated, the animals are often left in the hands of the perpetrator until evidence shows they have violated humane law set by their community or state unless it’s clear the animals have to get out of there and into safety to avoid abuse, receive medical attention or sometimes simply food and water. When animals are confiscated, however, the owner is not required to relinquish ownership of them—under the premise they are innocent of the crime with which they are charged until proven guilty, they own those animals until it is proven they are not fit to own them.
The animals are housed in a shelter or animal control facility of some sort but they are in limbo, cared for but kept in a kennel instead of a home, often for months or even years as a case progresses. Until their owner is proved unfit or legally relinquishes them, they have to wait.
As if this isn’t bad enough for the animals, it’s an extra expense for the facility where they go with no compensation while they care for the animals, and a burden on the space of smaller shelters. Consider a hoarding case where 30 or 40 cats are taken from a home or a small farm where all sorts animals have been left abandoned. If they are removed they have to go somewhere that meets humane standards. Sometimes the only facility available is a small non-profit community shelter or animal control service that is totally overwhelmed by the volume of animals, and animals in need in the community are turned away because their available space is full of animals held for legal proceedings. Just as often the animals, rescued from possibly abusive and filthy conditions, are traumatized and physically ill from their experience and need critical and long-term care at immense cost to the shelter. Animals have been held for years through trials and appeals, and multiple proceedings if their owner is charged with multiple offenses, waiting for the outcome which determines who will pay for all that is owed and permit them to either go home or be adopted. This, after they themselves have been the victims of the crimes being tried.
The result of this was that cases sometimes weren’t pursued because humane officers and prosecutors knew there was no place for the animals to go and little funds to care for them. Other times prosecutors would offer a plea deal to get the owner to release the animals so they wouldn’t have to be held through the criminal proceedings.
HB 82 – Cost of Care for Abused Animals Seized in Pennsylvania, or “Costs of Care” for short, mandates that owners of animals that are the subject of animal cruelty cases have two choices: pay for the ongoing costs of caring for them as if the seizure had never occurred, or relinquish all rights to them allowing shelters to make them available for adoption. According to one report on the Humane PA blog,”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.” When owners do not relinquish they must pay all costs as they are incurred.
There are already enough obstacles in the way enforcing of humane laws including too few humane officers to lack of funding, a situation that’s only worsened in the recent economy. This bill is helpful at any time but right now it’s especially welcome as many counties have no humane officers at all and sometimes no shelter. Humane law in Pennsylvania still needs to be changed to truly ensure humane treatment of animals, but this is a step in the right direction for enforcement of the laws we do have.
If you live in Pennsylvania, find your legislators and find out how your representative and senator voted. If they voted for this bill thank them with a phone call—encourage voting for the rights of animals! If they did not, ask them why not, and you may be able to start a conversation on the subject of animal rights that can make a difference with the next vote.
(Thanks to Humane PA for keeping me up to date on animal legislation in Pennsylvania.)
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Note: I used a photo of Lakota and Emeraude in their cage the day they came to me because it just didn’t feel right to use photo from one of the shelters or rescues I’ve visited. I hope it’s not confusing to those of you who knew the two!
Browse some rescued cats and kittens!
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Weekly schedule of features:
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Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
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