Pet owners would face punishment for not providing animals with shelter under proposed law

Stock image depicts a dog tied up to a chain | Photo by ErimacGroup/iStock/Getty Images Plus; St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The scorching desert sun and freezing winter nights are no place for furry loved ones to be left alone.

Pet owners would be subject to animal cruelty violations if they fail to provide their animals with access to appropriate shelter under a bill introduced in the Utah legislature this year.

A cat sleeps in a cage without a solid surface | Photo by Ryanichsanulhakim / iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News

“We really don’t describe what we mean by adequate shelter in the current law,” Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said. Davis is the sponsor of the bill, Animal Welfare Amendments, designated as SB 91 in the 2018 Legislature.

In addition to clarifying what an appropriate shelter looks like, the bill would also make it a crime to leave an animal tethered or unattended in a manner that prevents the animal from reaching shelter.

The Humane Society of Utah lobbied for the bill’s creation on behalf of animal control officers who are seeking better guidance on what constitutes animal cruelty violations, Davis said.

“When they go out to take a look whether an animal was being treated appropriately or not, they thought it was a little vague at what we were really trying to get at,” Davis said of the animal control personnel.

The bill, which doesn’t apply to wildlife or farm animals, describes an appropriate shelter as natural or artificial protection against inclement weather and direct sunlight.

The bill includes much more specific rules for shelters intended for cats and dogs, including the following guidelines:

  • Prevents penetration by moisture.
  • Includes a floor with a solid surface, a roof, coverage on all sides, a door and room for freedom of movement.
  • Contains hay, straw, bedding or a safe, artificial heat source that allows the dog or cat to maintain a normal body temperature.
  • Is adequately ventilated and clean.

“In St. George during the heat of the summer, it’s probably inappropriate to leave your dog on a deck or a patio where it can’t get out of the hot direct sun,” Davis said. “You have to provide some sort of shade so the animal doesn’t literally cook in a very small space it can’t move around in.”

A dog sleeps in a cardboard box | Photo by Wichatsurin / iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News

The bill also clearly indicates what can’t be considered adequate shelter, such as a cardboard box, building crawlspace, stoop or the space under a vehicle.

Davis noted that the specifics of the bill are still under review and could change before the bill is up for consideration.

The bill is a step in the right direction, Kris Neal said. Neal runs a nonprofit animal rescue in Southern Utah under One More Chance C.A.T.S and Petmatchers.

In her experience dealing with rescues, Neal said animals left in the elements suffer greatly.

“They have winter coats to some degree, but like us, when it gets really, really cold, they freeze to death,” she said. “They get frostbite. I’ve trapped cats before where their ears were frozen off – even here in St. George.

“In the summertime, they’ll die at 100 degrees not getting into shade.”

In this file photo, a dog laps water in the summer heat, St. George, Utah, July 4, 2015 | Photo by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News

“I’ve never been able to understand why anyone would treat them differently than we would treat ourselves and our family members,” Neal said. “How do you leave a dog in the backyard for days on end with no shelter?”

The Libertas Institute, a lobbyist group for libertarian causes, argues the bill is too specific.

“This bill limits a court’s discretion and automatically places anyone who has left their dog outside in the snow, for example, as a lawbreaker – even if that dog was happy to be out in the snow, playing with a toy,” the institute wrote in a policy review of the bill.

Instead, the institute said, courts should have discretion in determining whether cases of animal abuse should be punished, adding that the law could result in unnecessary convictions.

The bill is awaiting consideration by the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee. A fiscal analysis of the bill by Ivan D. Djambov found that if enacted, the law would likely result in no expenditures for the state.

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16 Comments

  • 12345 February 6, 2018 at 9:32 am

    lol This is nothing but a load of hogwash Utah is now getting around to protecting animals.. things must be slow in SLC. oops I forgot we have elections coming up

    • desertgirl February 6, 2018 at 9:57 am

      What? You would rather nothing happen? We have a long way to go as humans regarding respect and protection of life in general. It is better in some places than just a decade ago. Hopefully, people will ignore people like you and continue to fight the good fight and improve conditions.

  • Caveat_Emptor February 6, 2018 at 9:36 am

    Clarification, to ensure consistent enforcement of animal cruelty regulations, makes good sense.
    Pet adoption agencies do their best to qualify prospective pet owners, but that is only a piece of the puzzle.
    Animal Control officers need help, and this is a start.
    Licensing, vaccinations, and proper facilities (shelter and water) are only appropriate.

  • desertgirl February 6, 2018 at 9:53 am

    As a libertarian, I would like to tell the Libertas Institute to go suck an egg. It doesn’t make one weak or unwilling to be led by the nose by government to make laws (and expect) that protect any living creature from being abused, tortured, or voluntarily abandoned to die. Decency and humaneness should always trump any other action or non-action.

    Now, lets help and insist that the state enforce the new law.

  • Steve February 6, 2018 at 10:00 am

    People who ignore and abuse their pets and other animals are monsters. My neighbor is a good example!

  • ladybugavenger February 6, 2018 at 10:16 am

    What about a homeless person that has a dog? Never mind, they are together 24/7 and the owner would give is dog shade and water. I think The article is talking about people that work and leave their dogs outside in the scorching heat.

    We have such tough leash laws in Tulsa county, you can’t even have a cat outside. If it gets caught outside without a leash, its a huge fine (over $100) or if they don’t know,the owner, its a trip to the kill shelter) and people report dogs barking. The elements are tough here, hot, cold, coyotes, hawks. My kitty cat stays inside and honestly, I wouldn’t have rescued him if I had known the law first. I wanted an indoor/outdoor cat. Not possible here. Cleaning the litter box everyday sucks! Just sayin’

    Tough laws

  • Who February 6, 2018 at 10:23 am

    Um,,,don’t Libertarians oppose new laws? Especially those that are merely obvious?

    • Real Life February 6, 2018 at 12:07 pm

      Libertarians usually do oppose new laws that are merely obvious. However laws like this are necessary, given the the number of stupid people who are either too dense, too ignorant, or just too cruel and inhumane to have a child, let alone a pet.

  • Who February 6, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    So why not educate them or test their animal competency before letting them adopt as opposed to another law.

    We already have WAY too many laws. It’s time for education, NOT MORE LAWS!!!!!

  • hiker75 February 6, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    Their are so many idiots that do realize that animals they own come with responsibility. That is why you need laws. Because people do not have common sense to take care of them so they do not die! If you do not want to take care of them do not get animals.

  • NickDanger February 6, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    This is great legislation. God has given us dominion over the animals. Some he has given us to eat, some he’s given us to enjoy as companions, and some he’s given us to maintain our environment. ALL of these should be treated with the respect due any of God’s creatures.

    It’s always been interesting to me that some people think nothing of harming or killing animals for sport, or more often merely out of neglect. NO, THIS IS NOT OKAY! You are a custodian. You have a responsibility to all creatures great and small who fall under your oversight.

    I have less patience for animal abuse than I do for human abuse. At least humans have autonomy and will. But all our pets know is, they’re with you, you’re the mommy, the daddy, the everything. To violate that trust is, to me, either the lowest form of human behavior, or indicative of a person who has not fully grasped the concept of what it means to be a human being among the animals on this planet. Not sure which is worse.

    I would be just fine with leaving “adequate shelter” undefined. Our police and animal control officers know how to define it. If a pet is suffering, the shelter is not adequate.

  • Who February 6, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    Yeah,,,
    That’s right. We need more laws. I’m thinking we should have a number of committees to analyze our desperate need for new laws. There has to be a multitude of issues that require more laws. As a matter of fact I think it’s time for the REAL thought police, not the perceived notions. You could stop ALL crime immediately if we could just stop all these needless thoughts. I’m sure that’s lots more things we could regulate.
    You know, we lost the best controller of useless humans when we lost Obama.

    Get a grip! This is STILL AMERICA!!! God bless America and our God given freedom.

  • dodgers February 6, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    This bill would be a great start. There are too many pet owners who should not be allowed to have one. They buy the cute puppy, then neglect it later, leave it outside in the blazing sun/heat or in the freezing cold. It’s unfortunate we need such a bill, but because some people have no heart or conscience, it’s necessary—and welcomed.

  • PlanetU February 6, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    It’s about damn time! I even doubt it will pass because so many of these MORONS don’t care about animals/pets. I’ll bet some of my own neighbors don’t even feed their animals daily. I adopted a yellow lab from St. G. shelter years ago. Gal brought him in ’cause “he got to big” for her kids! WTF? DUH! No brain, no headache. And people here don’t fix their pets. They need to get fixed first tho! BLESS Kris Neal.

  • jaltair February 7, 2018 at 1:14 am

    I have never known laws that make people behave ethically, morally, or decent. All laws tend to do is make criminals. The behaviors required for humans to behave humanely are common sense and are learned from an early age. Legislating laws to make people take care of their animals won’t work. Enforcement will be difficult and time consuming. I love animals and wish every domesticated animal were treated with love, and I detest seeing animals abused. People who hurt innocent animals are animals of the worst kind!

  • Rob83 February 8, 2018 at 12:12 am

    Went to the park with my young kids the other day and it was covered in dog poop. People, clean up your dogs poop seriously, so gross, it ruined our day of hanging our hammock on the trees. Maybe I should let my child poop on your door step eh? LOL..

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