STATE NEWS: Veterinary Immunity and Animal Cruelty Law Passed

June 26, 2017
Kerry Lengyel

House Bill (HB) 1238—which strengthens the penalties for those convicted of excessive animal cruelty and gives immunity to any veterinary professional who reports suspected cruelty—marks a huge victory for both animals and the professionals who care for them.

House Bill (HB) 1238, also known as Libre’s Law, which was passed unanimously by the Pennsylvania Senate Tuesday, will establish a higher violation for those guilty of animal cruelty throughout the state. HB 268 is included in the sweeping changes to HB 1238, providing immunity from liability to any veterinary professional who reports suspected animal cruelty.

This marks the most significant changes to Pennsylvania’s animal abuse laws in more than 3 decades, according to the Associated Press.

Governor Tom Wolf is expected to sign the legislation to make it a felony to intentionally torture or neglect an animal to the point of severe injury or death. “I applaud the sponsors and advocates who have fought for too long to improve Pennsylvania’s protections for animals,” Wolf said in a statement. “We are long overdue to join the rest of the country in having higher standards of care for our pets and other animals.”

Pennsylvania law previously considered it only a misdemeanor if a domestic animal was harmed or killed, but a felony for the same crime against a zoo animal.

The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, expresses that animal abuse in certain situations—such as fighting or severe and repeated abuse—will now be considered a felony. The bill also makes tethering dogs for more than 30 minutes in temperatures above 90°F or below 32°F punishable offenses in certain situations.

Rep. Mark Keller advocated for protecting veterinary professionals. "I am pleased we were able to include my proposal in this comprehensive animal protection legislation to provide veterinarians, technicians and assistants with civil immunity when reporting cases of cruelty," said Keller. "This should end any legal concerns they may have when spotting an abused animal and lead to more prosecutions of those responsible for that abuse. HB 1238 is a huge win for those in the veterinary profession and the animals that receive their care."

Libre’s Law is named after a Boston terrier that was saved last year from a dog-breeding facility in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Libre had been abused and neglected and was within hours of death when he was rescued.

His condition and treatment were recorded by the Dillsburg Veterinary Center. His recovery and story drew international attention.

Pennsylvania was 1 of only 3 states that did not have a felony statute for severe animal abuse, but now its representatives can say they are no longer a part of that group.