Ronald A. Arnoni, District Judge
We love our pets and consider them part of our family. That is why we need to make sure they are taken care of. The following is some helpful information related to taking care of your pets and some new information regarding Pennsylvania law. Always review your local rules and regulations, since some of the regulations and provisions may be unique to USC as it relates to the care of your best friend.
Puppy Mill Forum
What do the advertising director of the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, executive director of Humane Animal Rescue, and State Representatives Harry Readshaw and Jason Ortitay have in common? They have all joined together in the fight to end puppy mill misery in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania is currently the fourth worst state for commercial puppy breeders in the country. Humane Action Pittsburgh, a coalition of citizen lobbyists dedicated to animal protection through legislation, policy, and education, has put together a forum in partnership with Spring Point Partners, of influential individuals, including representatives from the Attorney General’s office, Allegheny County District Attorney’s office, Director of the Western Pennsylvania office of the Lieutenant Governor, shelter and rescue directors from across the region, and Allegheny County Treasurer to tackle and solve this important issue.
The goals of the forum include redefining minimal breeding standards of dogs, cats, and rabbits, while also creating the most humane model that other states can replicate across the country. This isn’t the first time Pittsburgh has led the way. Humane Action Pittsburgh helpedpass Pennsylvania’s first two puppy mill laws in December 2015. Spearheaded by City Council president Bruce Kraus, the spirit of the bill was soon passed in Los Angeles and then the state of California. Now, legislation has come back home where State Representatives Readshaw and Ortitay are championing the bill in the House, while State Senators Tom Killion and Andy Dinniman lead the bill in the Senate. The bill was dubbed “Victoria’s Law” in honor of Victoria, a German shepherd who as a result of overbreeding has a genetic neurological disorder that now leaves her paralyzed. It’s believed she passed this gene along to 150–200 puppies sold in pet stores. Unfortunately, Victoria is by no means an isolated case. The bill would require commercial establishments to sell dogs, cats, and rabbits sourced only from shelters and rescues. The bill would also place restrictions on advertising animals for sale.
With the cold weather behind us, but hot weather soon to come, it’s important for residents to understand dog law as it relates to inclement weather. The following are some facts to consider:
• No dog should be tethered outside for longer than 30 minutes in temperatures below 32 degrees or above 90 degrees. Owners who violate this statute can be cited for neglect. In certain municipalities, like the city of Pittsburgh, Sharpsburg, North Versailles, and Wilkinsburg, this law applies to dogs tethered or untethered.
• Regardless of weather, dogs cannot be tethered for more than nine cumulative hours in a 24-hour period.
• Tethered dogs must not be surrounded by excess waste or have open sores and they must have access to water and shade. Their tether cannot be a tow or logging chain, and must be at least ten feet long and attached to a well-fitting collar with a swivel (no choke/prong/chain collars allowed).
• All dogs must have access to adequate shelter, which is defined as “sufficient to permit the animal to retain body heat and keep the animal dry.” An officer can cite the owner if they find a dilapidated, damp, and/or uninsulated structure, and/or the dog appears to be in distress.
• If a dog lacks appropriate shelter or is exposed in extreme weather, a humane or police officer can cite the owner and seize the dog.
• Public safety professionals can remove a dog or cat from an unattended motor vehicle if they believe the animal is in imminent danger, without fear of liability for damages to the vehicle or its contents. A reasonable search for the owner must first take place and the public safety professional must leave behind a note telling the owner where the pet can be picked up. If you are aware of violations, phone your local humane officer or dial 911. Remember to lawfully document the situation as best you can. Photographs with recorded dates and times are very helpful to law enforcement. If your local police department is unfamiliar with any of these laws, have them contact Humane Action Pittsburgh, who can help facilitate training free of charge to the department on the area’s animal cruelty codes.
As a dog owner, it’s important to license your dogs. Not only is it the law to license every dog you own, but if your pet goes missing, having it licensed will drastically improve your chances of having it returned safely. In fact, Allegheny County sells more licenses than any other county in Pennsylvania and has reunited thousands of lost dogs with their families as a result of this effective program. When County Treasurer John Weinstein first took office in 1999, only about 44,000 dogs in the county had licenses (not including the City of Pittsburgh, which licenses dogs separately). Today, that number has grown to 120,000.
As citizens of Allegheny County, we are fortunate to have a County Treasurer’s office that makes licensing easy. Go to the Allegheny County website, where you can find an online application and even apply for a lifetime license.
Pennsylvania is one of only two states that requires a dog to be under the control of his or her owner when not on the owner’s premises. Pennsylvania law declares that it is unlawful for a dog owner to fail to keep his/her dog: 1) confined within the premises of the owner; 2) firmly secured by means of a collar and chain or other device so that it cannot stray beyond the premises on which it is secured; or 3) under the reasonable control of some person, or when engaged in lawful hunting, exhibition, or field training. (See 3 P.S. § 459-305.) In other words, as long as a dog is not engaged in lawful hunting, exhibition, or field training, a dog owner must keep his or her dog confined, on a leash or other similar device, or otherwise under his or her control. Failure to comply with this law may result in a dog owner being liable if his or her dog causes harm to a person while off-leash in a public area.
Pittsburgh has additional regulations in place, including that dogs may not run unleashed on public streets, sidewalks, other public places, or other people’s property. Furthermore, all leashes used must not be more than six feet in length.
Cleaning Up After Your Pet
In Allegheny County, you can be cited for a nuisance violation if you do not clean up after your dog on school grounds, a city park, or other public or private property. However, it is not considered to be a nuisance violation if you immediately clean up after your dog. While cleaning up after your dog is courteous to your neighbors and community members, it is also essential for the community as a whole. Dog waste contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that can harm our land, water systems, and wildlife. Additionally, dog waste is full of bacteria and parasites that can harm humans and spread disease to other dogs. If left alone, dog waste can take as long as one year to break down naturally, and the bacteria and parasites can linger in the soil for years to come. Therefore, it is important for all dog owners to clean up after their dogs in public and in their own backyards.
Under Pennsylvania law, a dog or cat owner must have his or her dog or cat vaccinated against rabies within four weeks after the date the dog or cat attains 12 weeks of age. (See 3 P.S. § 455.8.) All dog and cat owners must be able to produce proof of vaccination within 48 hours after a police officer, state dog warden, department official, or designated municipal animal control officer requests proof. Further, unless otherwise indicated by the directions of the vaccine manufacturer, a booster vaccination shall be administered between 12 and 14 months from the date of the initial vaccination, and the animal revaccinated on an ongoing basis in accordance with the directions of the vaccine manufacturer. Failure to comply with this law enables a police officer, state dog warden, or designated municipal animal control officer to issue a citation. The only exception is for rare cases when a licensed veterinarian examines a dog or cat and determines that it would be medically contraindicated to vaccinate.
While Pennsylvania law only requires rabies vaccinations, most veterinarians require additional vaccines that are considered vital to the health of your pet. For dogs, these include vaccines for canine parvovirus, distemper, and canine hepatitis. For cats, these vaccines include panleukopenia, feline calicivirus, and feline herpesvirus type I. For cats and dogs, additional vaccinations may be required depending on your pet’s risk of exposure to certain diseases and viruses. A veterinarian will help you determine what vaccines are best for your pet.
I am hopeful this information has been helpful regarding the care of your pets, and encourages you to be a responsible pet owner. Check for updates to the law, and do your best to treat your pets with respect and kindness.
Ronald A. Arnoni, District Judge
District Court 05-2-20
Hiras Professional Building
2414 Lytle Rd #200
Bethel Park, PA 15102
This first appeared in UPPER ST. CLAIR Summer 2019, pages 22 and 23.