“Cordelia’s Law,” a bill dealing with cruelty to horses, passed the Pennsylvania Senate June 3 with a vote of 49-0 and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on June 5.
Senate Bill 294, sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger, improves the clarity and uniformity of animal cruelty laws as they apply to horses. It ensures that equine animals are covered by current animal cruelty laws and improves the definitions of the crimes. In addition, it calls for the development of standards and procedures in determining violations and the necessary probable cause to support seizure of animals.
The bill amends Title 18 (Crimes) to better define “torture” and to provide appropriate penalties with language drafted with the assistance of the Farm Bureau. The bill will also amend Chapter 37 of Title 22 (pertaining to Humane Society Police Officers) to require the development of standards and procedures for determining violations under Section 5511 and the need for seizure of animals in extreme instances of torture or cruelty.
The bill defines starvation caused by deprivation of food, resulting in the loss of more than one third of the animal’s normal body mass without veterinary care, as torture, a first degree misdemeanor. Punishment of a fine of not less than $1,000, imprisonment for up to two years, or both, applies to dogs and cats only.
Eichelberger, of Bedford County, introduced the legislation following the tragic death of a horse in his District. Cordelia was discovered in a Bedford County auto salvage yard, barely able to stand, starving and without shelter. Despite several days of veterinary and foster care in an attempt to get Cordelia back on her feet, including intravenous feeding, she could not be saved.
“As these efforts progressed, the inadequacy and lack of clarity in the animal cruelty laws in these types of situations became evident. Horses are expensive, requiring specialized care and significant resources. They clearly present a much larger responsibility on both the owner and society than a typical domestic pet. When their owners no longer provide care for them, for whatever reason, a large burden falls on the community, and there are frequently not enough volunteers, funding or placement opportunities for unwanted or neglected horses,” he said.
“Unfortunately, I learned that this is not an isolated case, not even in my own district. Since Cordelia’s death, Bedford County alone has received 4 more calls for intervention for extremely malnourished horses. One of those horses died while still on the owner’s property waiting for help while the County’s Humane Society pleaded with law enforcement for a seizure order. According to the Center for Equine Health at the University of California-Davis, the number of unwanted, abandoned or "problem" horses has been increasing at an alarming rate over the past decade, estimated now to average about 170,000 per year within the United States alone.
“In Pennsylvania, non-profit humane societies have the primary responsibility to enforce violations of animal cruelty laws, in much the same manner as a police officer. These humane "police officers" provided by the non-profits are appointed and must undergo training and meet certain qualifications. I believe Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty provisions lack clarity and fail to provide necessary guidance and uniformity, especially to those who are tasked with protecting the humane treatment of these large animals, “Eichelberger concluded.