Paws for Action


Stephanie Santore, Staff Writer

The responsibility for the welfare of animals falls upon varying state laws when fighting against acts of mistreatment, abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Currently, Pennsylvania has no felony penalty for first offense charges regardless of the severity of the cruelty or neglect. The courts may order counseling for the offender and restitution to agencies involved, but it is not mandatory. Potential felony charges are reserved for second offenses.

The most common charge for a first time perpetrator is a summary offense, a fine of no less than fifty dollars, but no more than seven hundred fifty dollars, and imprisonment for no more than ninety days. In other words, an offender who willfully and purposefully starves or tortures, shoots or stabs an animal to death is charged and released with a fine less than that of a traffic violation. Violence is violence, regardless of the victim, and should be treated as such. They should face serious penalties first offense or not.

In the last five years, there have been several cases ending in animal casualties in northeastern Pennsylvania, ranging from mutilation, skinning, beating, shooting, and drowning, all cases of the extreme. WNEP 16’s Bob Reynolds reported in July that State Representative Jerry Knowles promised to review Pennsylvania’s animal abuse laws for potential revisions after nine Pit Bulls were found dead, left in a mass grave inside a dumpster in Tamaqua. This was one month prior to the two separate cat stabbings that occurred in the same week here in Scranton, resulting in the death of three out of five cats. The cruelty cases reviewed yielded minimal fines or worse, dismissal of all charges, only one offender receiving jail time due to previous criminal activity.

Both Scranton Police Chief Carl Graziano and PA State Director Sarah Speed from the HSUS agree these acts of cruelty against animals are a prelude to more serious offenses, possibly the escalation of violence to humans. Studies reviewed by Speed reveal animal torture is one of three indicators of serious mental illness. Violent offenders are more likely to have harmed animals or witnessed animal cruelty. Pennsylvania should mandate mental evaluations of those prosecuted for the safety of our citizens. Three of several cases in NEPA in the past five years involved domestic disputes and/or violence where animals were harmed or killed in the process.

Sarah Miletta, a veterinary technician at Veterinary Medical Center, feels a felony charge under extreme circumstances is reasonable. “If I was an employer, I would want to know that a potential employee was capable of such violence regardless of animal or human victim. A charge that warrants disclosure of this cruelty is justifiable to me. The perpetrator should carry this stigma of committed violence with them instead of tossing a citation away like an ignored parking ticket,” she explained.

Revision of current Pennsylvania law should include felony penalties for circumstantial first offenses if the act results in the extreme torture, neglect, or death of an animal. Court ordered psychological evaluations for offenders and restitution to the agencies that care for the animals after seizure, if they survive, should be mandatory. All of these in which the Humane Society of the United States found in a 2011 study to be the most protective laws of animal welfare. Pennsylvania should increase penalties when a case involves multiple animals, the offender has a past criminal history, or if a crime is witnessed by children. We have to consider how many cases go unsolved, unreported, or unprosecuted due to Pennsylvania’s current laws and level of enforcement against cruelty. If they were improved and revised, we may not only protect the future lives of animals, but the lives of the people with whom these animals rely on for safety and shelter.