W-B Police Chief: We Respond To All Animal Cruelty Calls
WILKES-BARRE — Despite some claims to the contrary, the city police chief says his officers respond to all complaints of animal cruelty and neglect, including people leaving their dogs out in extreme weather.
Some city residents posted comments to the Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch Facebook page Sunday and Monday alleging city police were not responding to complaints about dogs being left outside while temperatures were in the single digits or even below zero.
State law and a county ordinance prohibit owners from leaving pets outdoors in extreme temperatures for more than 30 minutes, but each law has different caveats.
“We respond to all calls,” Chief Joe Coffay said Tuesday. “We will enforce any law that has been provided to us based on the circumstances.”
Coffay said police had five animal-related calls between Saturday and Tuesday.
There were two calls for an East Main Street address on Saturday.
• At 6 p.m. Saturday, an officer responded and found a dog with food, water and access to a porch. A short time later, the officer checked back on the dog and it was already inside.
• At 10 p.m. Saturday, an officer found the dog was inside the house while responding 20 minutes after Luzerne County 911 received the initial call.
There were two calls for service on North Main Street on Sunday.
• The first call, at 4:30 p.m., was for a little dog barking for several hours; the caller was concerned for the dog’s welfare. The animal enforcement officer was notified.
• After the second call, which was received at 6 p.m., the animal enforcement officer was on-scene and was concerned for the welfare of the owner because he had been shoveling snow. The officer requested police assistance, but then canceled the request after making contact with the owner.
• On Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., police received a call about a runaway dog on Ralph Street. An officer checked the area as requested by the caller.
City animal enforcement officer Adam Oliver said he’s on call 24/7 and has responded over the weekend and Monday to “a bunch” of complaints about people leaving their dogs out, sometimes along with police.
Oliver said he responded to calls about dogs on North Main Street being left out in the cold on Sunday. When he went to check, he saw the dogs run inside the house through a doggy door, he said.
While Oliver said he thinks the owner might have had a moral obligation to prevent the dogs from going outside whenever they wanted in the cold weather, he believed it was a gray area legally because the dogs had access to the warm house.
Luzerne County SPCA humane officer Wayne Harvey said he has issued only one citation related to extreme-temperature neglect since a Luzerne County ordinance related to neglect of animals in extreme weather took effect in 2017, and it was on a day when the temperature exceeded 90 degrees.
The county law prohibits leaving an animal outdoors for more than a half hour in those conditions.
Although Harvey has responded to several complaints about dogs being left out in freezing weather over the past several days, numbers aren’t as high as he expected them to be. And he said he hasn’t found evidence of any dogs being left outside more than 30 minutes.
“I think people are wising up,” Harvey said. “For the most part, I think, complying with the law.”
Both Harvey and Oliver said sometimes people call after seeing a dog out for 15 or 20 minutes. But neither want people to feel that they shouldn’t call in with concerns and complaints if they feel an animal’s health or welfare is in jeopardy, they said.
Harvey said it’s possible some dogs have been left outside longer than 30 minutes before he arrives to find the dogs indoors, and he would be glad to cite the owners. But the callers who made the complaint would have to testify, and so far, none have agreed to do so.
Attorney Garry Taroli, who prosecutes animal neglect and abuse cases pro bono for the SPCA, said Tuesday that some owners might think big-breed, long-hair dogs or those with thick coats are fine in single-digit temperatures, but that’s not necessarily the case.
“These last two days, there is no such dog,” Taroli said.
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What the law says
There are two laws that specifically address neglect of animals in extreme weather in Luzerne County.
Act 10 of 2017, also known as Libre’s Law in honor of a badly neglected Boston terrier puppy rescued from a Lancaster County farm, is a state law that covers many aspects of abuse and neglect, imposing fines of up to $15,000 and jail time for the worst cases.
Libre’s Law prohibits tethering a dog outside for more than 30 minutes in temperatures below 32 or above 90 degrees.
The law also requires owners to provide access to clean and sanitary shelter and protection from the weather. The shelter must be sufficient to permit the animal to retain body heat and keep the animal dry.
Convictions for neglect can result in $300 to $2,000 fines and up to 90 days or even a year in jail depending on whether the animal suffered injury or was placed in imminent risk.
Luzerne County Council passed an ordinance that went into effect in March 2017 and allows for a $500 fine if someone leaves a dog unattended outside for more than 30 minutes when temperatures drop below 26 degrees or rise above 90 or when the National Weather Service issues a severe weather advisory.