Photo provided by Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch
Every winter, we receive multiple reports of dogs being kept outside in unsuitable temperatures and conditions. Given our community members’ well-intentioned concerns, we thought it would be helpful to share what Pennsylvania law deems as punishable animal neglect regarding unsafe weather. From our perspective, there is a very important distinction between what we can legally enforce verses what we believe is appropriate animal care. It can be very frustrating to the team when we learn about pets whose living conditions many would consider to be unacceptable, yet Pennsylvania animal cruelty law differs.
According to section 5532 of Title 18, Act 10 under the Pennsylvania General Assembly, a case is considered animal neglect if the dog is deprived of "...access to clean and sanitary shelter which will protect the animal against inclement weather and preserve the animal's body heat and keep it dry."
This means that if an owner keeps their dog contained outside but provides shelter, food, and water, then there is no legal ground for removing the dog and prosecuting the owner. While the York County SPCA does not condone housing dogs outside, we follow and are bound by Pennsylvania law.
You may ask, “But what about Libre’s Law?” Under Libre’s Law, a dog cannot remain outside for more than 30 minutes if the temperature rises above 90 degrees or drops below 32 degrees. However, this applies ONLY to tethered dogs. There is no law in Pennsylvania stating an animal cannot live outside if they are safely contained untethered outside.
Read a condensed summary of Pennsylvania animal cruelty laws here.
If you are a dog owner, we recommend housing your dog(s) inside all year round. Of course, we also recommend plenty of outside time for walks, play, hikes, or sunbathing, but we strongly advocate for dogs to live inside the home surrounded by the love of their family.
We understand this is not how all dogs in our county live, and believe us, we find it just as distressing as you do. Which is why our advocacy efforts are so critical. The York County SPCA, in collaboration with our fellow animal shelters from across the commonwealth, regularly fight for a legislative environment that favors strict animal cruelty and neglect laws. Stricter animal cruelty laws give us more authority to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty offenders.
In fact, on February 16th, our Executive Director and Humane Society Police Officer will be joining Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (York County) and other elected officials at a press event to announce a new animal welfare bill that will be introduced to the general assembly.
So, what can you do? Help us educate the community about our legislative efforts and animal care recommendations by sharing our social media content. When we post about legislative progress, and we include a call to action, support our call to action and share the action among your networks. A few examples of calls to action include: calling, emailing, or writing to a specific Senator or Representative and encouraging them to cosponsor a specific bill; when it’s safe, we will host press events at our shelter or at the capitol and we will ask people to join us at these events – the more people attend, the better chance the media will cover the event which shines a light on animal welfare causes and puts pressure on the general assembly to pass stricter laws; continue to report any cruelty or neglect to the York County SPCA. Remember, if it appears like we are not taking action, it is not because we don’t care, it’s because the law prevents us from going in. Finally, keep supporting us, stay positive, and know that we are fighting hard to ensure all York County animals receive the care they deserve.