Senate approves bill protecting dogs from uncaring owners

DOVER — Legislation approved by the Senate Tuesday would outlaw dog owners from keeping their canines outside and unattended during hazardous weather.

Intended to protect dogs, the bill, which passed 15-4 with two senators absent, would establish civil penalties for violations.

Under the measure, a dog would be considered to be outside and unattended when it “is exposed to the elements for a duration of longer than 15 minutes and not in visual range and physical presence of the owner,” including pups kept on a rope in a yard.

Inclement weather is defined as when an advisory or warning has been issued by the National Weather Service or when conditions could harm or otherwise have a negative impact on a dog’s safety.

Farm dogs would be exempt.

The bill would also prohibit keeping a dog outside on a rope for more than two hours when the owner or another “responsible person” is not on the property.

“Dog owners, by and large, do right by their four-legged friends,” Sen. Stephanie Hansen, a Middletown Democrat, said in a statement. “But, tragically, every year we hear new, heartbreaking stories about dogs being left outside in the freezing cold, overheating in the summer, or being otherwise harmed by neglect.

Stephanie Hansen

“Adding the kind of clear language included in this bill won’t just help enforcement agencies do their job, it will help owners pursue best practices and keep pets and people safe in the First State.”

Violators would be fined $100 for a first offense and $250 for a second. All other violations would be $500.

Similar legislation passed the Senate last year but never received floor votes in the House.

But while everyone who spoke in the Senate debate Tuesday denounced animal cruelty, a few lawmakers expressed concern the bill goes too far.
Describing himself as a huge dog lover, Sen. Colin Bonini said the bill will “make violators of everyday folks who commonsensically you would say are not abusing their animals.”

Weather that’s too cold for one dog breed may be just fine for another, the Dover Republican noted, citing his Akita as an example of a canine that loves freezing temperatures.

“I’m also afraid of using these regulations as a means to punish your neighbor. If your neighbor has a dog, you don’t like him, I think these rules are so broad that it’d be easy for neighbors to use them against each other,” he said.

The measure now goes to the House. The General Assembly adjourns for the rest of 2019 at the end of the month, but legislation not passed by then can be picked up again when lawmakers return in January.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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