Pennsylvania Abuse Highlights The Need For Stronger Animal Protections

One of the abused dogs rescued from the house in Frackville.

Police in Frackville, Pennsylvania recently rescued fourteen dogs from horrific conditions in a local home, which they said underscored the weaknesses in current animal welfare law. Sgt. Marvin Livergood, the officer who found the dogs, said he had never seen dogs kept in conditions this dire:

Livergood could tell that one dog had wounds on its body.

He said they encountered an “overpowering smell and strong urine and dog mess.”

Some dogs were found running in the basement, cages were faced against the wall and a dead dog was on the floor, Livergood said. …

Two of the dogs are in critical condition at a veterinarian’s office. One of them has a torn ACL and the other has a high fever and other complications, she said. The surgery for the ACL will cost about $2,000, she said.

Part of the reason cases like this, which are not as uncommon as one might think, happen is that laws protecting dogs are either not strong enough or not well enforced. One’s first animal cruelty charge in Pennsylvania is a charged as a summary offense, which carries only a minor fine. “It’s a slap on the wrist,” Frackville Borough Police Chief Michelle Ashman told ThinkProgress, adding “the penalty is not strong enough for the first offense.” Police Chief Dave Mattson of nearby Tamaqua, where nine dogs apparently similar to those in Frackville were recently found dead in a dumpster, went further, calling for fatal animal abuse to be upgraded to a felony.

Only a fraction of animal cruelty cases are actually uncovered as a consequence of under-resourced enforcement authorities. Wendy Marano, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (which did not handle the Frackville case), pointed to the large caseload shouldered by humane officers as one of the principal reasons many cruelty cases go unreported.

While the Pennsylvania code illustrates the significant weaknesses in current state law protecting dogs from violent abuse, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is working to undermine federal protections in Washington. King recently defended dogfighting and then doubled down on his comments in a nonsensical rant about child abortion. This is of a piece with King’s legislative history, which includes a recent assault on state-level protections for farm animals and a long-standing commitment to undermining laws against dogfighting.

You can find a petition to support the Frackville dogs and strengthen Pennsylvania’s animal protections here.