New law helps animal shelters
HARRISBURG - Animal shelters have greater legal recourse to seek reimbursement for the costs of caring for abused animals under a new state law.
When the law takes effect in September, shelters and local prosecutors will be able to petition a Court of Common Pleas for an order requiring defendants to pay reasonable costs associated with their animal being seized in a cruelty case.
Reasonable costs are defined as up to $15 a day for each animal and necessary medical care as determined by a veterinarian.
The law provides for a hearing within three weeks on a petition. If the animal owner doesn't pay what the court orders, the animal would be legally forfeited to the shelter and made available for adoption.
Until now, shelters have had to wait to seek reimbursement in these cases until an owner is convicted of charges. Meanwhile, the shelters faced the burden of paying costs up front while cases continue for months. And, the shelters do not always getting full restitution in the end.
The Pennsylvania SPCA said it petitioned various courts for $744,000 in restitution for costs of care last year, but received only $31,000.
This law will be a big help because sometimes it can take years before a cruelty case is resolved in court, said Cindy Starke, shelter manager of SPCA of Luzerne County on Friday. On one occasion, the shelter cared for nearly 100 animals brought there for safekeeping as a result of a hoarding case, she added.
"It's (new law) going to help us out," said Warren Reed, executive director of the Humane Society of Lackawanna County.
The society is caring for about a dozen cats and dogs pending court action in cruelty cases, he said.
"Each year, hundreds of animals are seized by law enforcement and placed in shelters as a result of animal abuse cases," said Rep. Brian Ellis, R-11, Lyndora, the law's sponsor. "The shelters that take in these abused animals are typically private, nonprofit organizations that rely heavily on donations to operate."
If an owner is found innocent, the law provides that the animals and sums spent for care in the interval would be returned to him or her.
The law will shift the financial burden to those responsible for an animal's suffering, support enforcement of animal cruelty laws and make it easier to find new homes for abused animals, said Jerry Buckley, CEO of the Pennsylvania SPCA.
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