DOVER – Dog owners that tether or crate their dogs outside may face tougher rules and penalties under two bills making their way through the state Senate this week.
The Senate Judicial and Community Affairs committee voted to release Senate Bills 216 and 217 on Wednesday, sending them to the full floor for debate and a final vote.
Both bills deal with dogs kept outside, especially during sub-freezing or extremely hot days (90-plus degrees Fahrenheit).
SB 216 strengthens shelter requirements, defining failure to provide proper shelter as cruelty to animals under state law. The bill mandates that enhanced shelter be provided for dogs being kept outside at night (11p.m.-6a.m.) or during extreme weather and bans cages, crates, and carriers intended for travel or short-term confinement from being used as permanent outdoor shelters.
“We respect that there are all kinds of dogs and dog owners in Delaware,” said Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown. “But, while we recognize that some dogs may love the cold and some may love the heat, we want to make sure that all of them – regardless of breed – are protected from abuse and neglect. These bills set some commonsense ground rules that I believe will do just that without placing a one-size-fits-all ban on keeping dogs outside. We have always strived to protect our pets in this state and these bills are not only the logical next step, but the moral one.”
The second bill, SB 217, places restrictions on tethering. Specifically, it lowers the time a dog can be tethered in extreme weather or at night (11p.m.-6a.m.) to 30 minutes, removes the exemption for tethering a dog that is a nursing mother or under 4 months old, prohibits the use of choke, pinch, and prong collars in combination with a tether, and requires that the owner be present on the property while tethering their dog.
“It’s a shame that we have to write this bill at all,” said Sen. Jack Walsh, D-Stanton. “But, after witnessing far too many cases of animal cruelty in Delaware, I am proud to sponsor a bill that will lay out exactly what kind of tethering is cruel or negligent. Ultimately, all we want is for pet owners to be responsible and for pets to be happy and healthy. These dogs have a special bond with their owners and Delawareans have expressed overwhelming support for commonsense laws to ensure that that trust isn’t betrayed.”
Both bills raise the minimum civil penalty for repeat offenders to $100, $500, and $1,000 for first, second, and third citations, respectively.
Prime House sponsor Rep. Andria Bennett, D-Dover, cited the clarifying language in the bills as a way to close loopholes in state law.
“I am proud that the General Assembly is addressing this critical issue, and closing loopholes that put our pets in jeopardy,” said Rep Bennett. “By strengthening our animal welfare laws we are protecting them from the cruel and irresponsible actions that place them in harm’s way.”
Advocates appeared in Legislative Hall to testify in favor of the bills and added that both would support efforts to enforce animal cruelty laws.
“I am thankful for the acknowledgement and support of SB 216 and SB 217 from today’s committee members,” said Cheryl Crowe, Deputy District Leader for the Humane Society of the United States. “I am hopeful that Delaware can soon join the ranks of many surrounding states recently passing similar inclement weather provisions, as well as the 22 other states that currently have existing tethering laws. The updated language in both bills promotes responsible pet ownership and allows Animal Welfare Officers and staff a basis of measurement with realistic, applicable enforcement to prevent and stop cruelty and suffering through implementation and action.”
The bills are expected to face a vote in the full Senate on Thursday.