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Centre County DA Calls for Tougher Animal Cruelty Laws

by on January 25, 2014 11:45 AM

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller intends to lobby the state legislature this year for tougher animal cruelty laws.

For two years, state Rep. Dom Costa of Allegheny County, has introduced legislation known as "Angel's Law," which would institute harsher penalties for those who abuse or neglect household pets.

As part of her 2014 New Year's resolutions, Parks Miller says she will make a case to the Generally Assembly that the approval of animal cruelty legislation is necessary, including Angel's Law.

"I support Angel's Law because cruelty offenses in Pennsylvania are equivalent to a traffic ticket, a summary offense," says Parks Miller. "You can starve your dog or domestic animal to death, tie it to a chain and let it freeze to death, both painful and horrific, and only get a ticket. I have dealt with these cases and they are heartbreaking."

The legislation went before the state legislature in 2012 and 2013, though the bill has yet to become law.

The legislation amends the Pennsylvania Crimes Code to increase the grading for all animal cruelty summary offenses to third-degree misdemeanors. Additionally, the bill increases the grading for the offense of killing, maiming or disfiguring a domestic animal from a second-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor.

Subsequent offenses for killing, maiming or disfiguring a domestic animal would result in a third-degree felony charge.

"By increasing summary offenses to misdemeanor offenses, I believe we can better ensure that all offenders are processed through the criminal justice system in a way that will enable us to properly monitor animal cruelty perpetrators in the Commonwealth," Costa, the bill's sponsor, said in a statement after introducing the bill.

Parks Miller also wants to see Pennsylvania recognize aggravated animal cruelty as a separate offense.

"A major disappointment in Pennsylvania is the lack of an aggravated cruelty statute to obtain a felony for torture of an animal on the first arrest," she says.

Parks Miller says her office is paying particularly close attention to residents who chain their dogs outdoors, especially during severe weather, like we had this week.

"Chained dogs and animals live miserable lives and are lonely and isolated. They often are neglected and in danger when temperatures drop or soar. ... My office did attempt to make people aware of their obligations under the law during the recent cold snap and we found that many people who chained their dogs outside were not totally aware of their obligations or the animal's limits," she says. "We will continue to monitor this issue and enforce the law as it pertains to protection of animals."

Last year, the District Attorney's office successfully sought jail time for a man who allowed a herd of cattle to starve. Roughly 32 of Thomas Shawley's starving cattle were discovered in an enclosed, stripped, muddy field with no sustenance at a farm in Burnside Township. Nine of the cattle were dead with the herd.

A jury convicted Shawley, 56, of Milesburg, of 19 summary offenses related to animal cruelty and nine summary offenses for failure to properly dispose of dead domestic animals. In December, Common Pleas Judge Jonathan Grine sentenced Shawley to one to three years in prison followed by one year and nine months of probation.

Before sentencing, Parks Miller explained to the judge that Pennsylvania has some of the weakest animal cruelty laws in the country. She argued that while the charges were summary offenses that Shawley deserved a jail sentence due to the severity of the cruelty and prolonged suffering of an entire herd.

Parks Miller says the sentence was somewhat groundbreaking in that the charges were all summary offenses but the defendant still received jail time.

Additionally, the court ordered Shawley to pay restitution for bone marrow testing conducted to confirm the cows starved. The court also fined the defendant $9,750 for animal cruelty and $2,700 for not properly disposing of the dead cows, which created a health risk to the starving herd. The court also prohibited Shawley from purchasing, managing, possessing, or having any intentional contact with any animals throughout his sentence.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government. jenn.miller@statecollege.com
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