Cordelia, an abused 22-year-old mare that died in Bedford County, was the inspiration for including horses in Pennsylvania's humane law that currently protects only dogs and cats.
(Harrisburg) -- A bill placing horses on par with dogs and cats under Pennsylvania's animal cruelty law has passed the Senate.
Cordelia's Law (Senate Bill 294) was one of four anti-cruelty measures that the Senate passed Wednesday by overwhelming majorities. Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Hollidaysburg, sponsored Cordelia's Law.
"This bill was named after a horse that was kept in a junkyard in Bedford County and was rescued by a former staffer of mine," Eichelberger said. "The horse was slowly starved to near death before the owner agreed to allow someone to take her. Sadly, even with all of the medical attention and efforts of the new owner, Cordelia died within a matter of days.
"The bill adds equine to the animal protection law and adds starvation to the list of abuses. This will provide the legal basis for criminal charges when appropriate. Now we have to get this legislation through the House."
Humane officers say that cruelty to horses currently is covered by a vague agricultural law and not the state's anti-cruelty statute, which is specific about adequate food and shelter for dogs and cats.
They say increasingly people are getting horses as pets.
"People want a pet horse and think they can raise it like a dog," said Cindy Byers, humane society police officer at the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, Chambersburg.
Horses require veterinary care, expensive feed, plenty of space, even dental care when they get older.
"It's mostly people who don't get how much responsibility there is to owning horses," said Lori Copley, treasurer of the Bedford County Humane Society.
"Someone having an animal doesn't mean they know how to properly care for the animal," said Andrea Haugh, a humane society police officer and executive director of the Antietam Humane Society Inc., Waynesboro. "We have seen a horse living in the basement of a house. Depending on the municipality, it may or may not be legal."
One horse lawfully resides in a basement in Quincy Township, she said. Miniature horses kept in a garage in Washington Township had to be relocated because of a local ordinance.
Cordelia, a 22-year-old mare in Alum Bank, Bedford County, died in 2012.
"Cordelia probably was the worst case we'd ever seen," Copley said. "We went to take her from the man. She looked like the walking dead. He had no clue. The hay was moldy. He just didn't care."
Soon afterwards three more horses came to the attention of the Bedford humane society.
"There are no cruelty laws dealing with horses," Copley said. "By the time we went though all the red tape, one of the horses died."
The other two are doing OK, she said.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau helped draft Cordelia's Law, according to Eichelberger.
A provision creating a committee to set guidelines for the seizure of animals by law officers was part of the original draft, but not in the final bill.
The bill however defines torture as breaking bones, inflicting prolonged and severe pain or allowing the loss of more than one-third of the animal's normal body mass through starvation.
"Any clarification of the cruelty laws is an improvement," Haugh said. "Ambiguity makes it hard to prosecute."
Haugh said she investigates about one horse cruelty case a month in southern Franklin County. Rarely has she gone to court. Seeing an animal's living conditions improve is the aim of humane officers, not seizing animals. It's often an issue of education.
The three other anti-cruelty bills passed Wednesday cover tethered dogs, kennel operators and animals injured in domestic violence:
The three bills are part of a pet protection package that Alloway and Dinniman unveiled in April.
"Our pets deserve a safe, comfortable environment both before and after they are adopted by loving families," Alloway said. "Although the vast majority of people would never dream of harming a pet, stiff punishments are still necessary for those few bad apples who abuse defenseless animals. These bills will go a long way toward realizing that goal."
"When legislators work in a bipartisan manner, we can create effective legislation," Dinniman said. "I want to thank Senator Alloway for his leadership in this effort. Senator Alloway, Senator Eichelberger, and myself realize that if we treat animals in a humane way, we are more likely to treat each other in a humane way."
Jim Hook can be reached at 717-262-4759.
This article comes to us through a partnership between Public Opinion Online and WITF.
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