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Dog owners who don't provide warmth in cold weather face up to $300 fine, jail term

Debra Erdley
| Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, 4:33 p.m.

A new animal protection law that limits the amount of time a dog may be tied outside has kept phones ringing at the Humane Society of Westmoreland County during the winter's first prolonged cold snap.

Libre's Law, a comprehensive animal cruelty law named for a puppy rescued at the brink of death, took effect last summer. It prohibits tethering a dog outside for more than nine hours a day and further limits the amount of time it may be tied outside to no more than 30 minutes when the temperature rises above 90 degrees or falls below 32 degrees.

Those found to be in violation of the law can be cited for neglect, a summary offense that can carry a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and/or a $300 fine.

Animal advocates say the law makes sense. Pets exposed to extreme cold can face frostbite and even death. That's what happened in Toldeo, Ohio, last week when a female dog was found frozen solid on the front porch of a home.

Kathy Burkley, executive director of the Humane Society of Westmoreland County, said the Pennsylvania law is raising questions in some areas.

“Yesterday we probably had 14 or 15 calls about it. A lot of them were neighbors calling to see what the law says,” Burkley said.

Burkley said her staff believes dogs kept in a clean outside pen, with a dog box containing straw, are probably complying with the law.

“There's a lot you can do with heaters and straw or even pads you put in the microwave that stay warm for 12 hours. But when we see dogs tied to boxes outside, that's where the problem is,” she said.

Although the new law has snared extensive publicity, Westmoreland County Humane Officer Megan Fritz said many of the dog owners aren't aware of the change.

“It's not uncommon to see it. We have a rural county. There are a lot of outside dogs in Westmoreland County,” Fritz said.

For some, complying with the law isn't as simple as it might seem.

“One of the biggest problems we hear about is when people have multiple outside dogs and the dogs don't get along. People ask what are they supposed to do. I'm telling people to start planning ahead and make arrangements for when the weather is frigid to bring them into a garage or a basement or to get them kennels. When the dogs don't get along, it's not simple,” she said.

Nonetheless, local humane officers will be enforcing the law this winter.

Fritz said one family she warned earlier last week already has complied.

“They weren't happy about it, but they complied,” she said.

Fritz said the Humane Society's no-kill shelter, located off Route 119 in Hempfield, is at capacity because of dogs rescued from the cold.

“It's putting a pinch on us,” she said of the prolonged cold snap.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996, or via Twitter @deberdley_trib

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