Earlier this month the Lancaster, Ohio community approved an ordinance to toughen laws so that animals left outside in the cold have proper shelter and reliable access to sufficient food and water. Many of these animals risk hypothermia, frostbite and even freezing to death in near-zero and subzero temperatures.
One councilwoman commented she received a call about a pet owner who tied a tarp over a picnic table and considered that adequate shelter. Although some people cite the fact that animals have furry coats, this characteristic falls far short of providing sufficient protection against winter’s harshness for most breeds.
The Lancaster ordinance, like others passed in Ohio cities and towns in recent years, exceeds current state law. It calls for dry, enclosed insulated shelters with one entrance and moisture-proof flooring at least two inches above ground. Water bowls must be weighted or mounted to prevent tipping and animal owners are not permitted to restrain their animals in any manner that could cause entanglement or injury.
State rules, defined in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC), provide a minimum standard of care requiring the pet owner to provide water, food, shelter and veterinary care. ORC 959.131 (C)(2) states,
“No person who confines or is the custodian or caretaker of a companion animal shall negligently do any of the following:
- Deprive the companion animal of necessary sustenance;
- Confine the companion animal without supplying it during the confinement with sufficient quantities of good, wholesome food or water;
- Impound or confine the companion animal without affording it, during the impoundment or confinement, with access to shelter from heat,
cold, wind, rain, snow, or excessive direct sunlight, if it can reasonably be expected that the companion animal could become sick or suffer.”
A “companion animal” is an animal kept inside a residential dwelling and any dog or cat regardless of where it is kept. Livestock and wild animals are not included in the definition.
Take Action To Prevent Animal From Suffering
Humane officers and other law enforcement are authorized to seize a suffering animal, but you don’t have to be a humane officer to rescue an animal from what appears to be a devastating situation. If you have seen the animal confined hours without food or water, ORC 1717.13 permits a citizen to take action to prevent the animal’s suffering or death.
Animal cruelty in Ohio is a misdemeanor of the first degree for a first offense and a felony of the fifth degree for each subsequent violation. It is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,000. However, there are gray areas in animal neglect law, according to Humane Society representatives, who note severe neglect can mean extended periods of extreme suffering and can actually be more serious than other forms of abuse.
As of 2014, all 50 states view animal neglect and abandonment as a crime but punishment varies. All states currently have the power to enact felony provisions for animal cruelty. Ohio passed a law in 2013 making cruelty to companion animals a fifth degree felony upon a first offense but the law is primarily aimed at kennel owners and operators and their employees and those involved in animal boarding, training, breeding and rescue facilities.
Currently under consideration is Ohio House Bill 22 which increases the penalties for violations of all companion animal cruelty laws. It would be a felony of the fifth degree for the first offense instead of a misdemeanor violation. The law would also make it a felony to violate other cruelty laws on the second and subsequent offenses. The measure passed the House in June 2015. Similarly proposed laws have passed the House in previous attempts, but have failed in the Senate.
In a recent national Humane Society listing, Ohio ranked 30th of all states in severity of punishment for animal cruelty offenses. According to prison records, no one has been sentenced to prison in Ohio on an animal cruelty charge since 2003.
Cleveland Ordinance Prohibits Pets From Being Left Outside in Severe Weather
The City of Cleveland recently enacted a tethering ordinance under which residents can face fines and jail time. It prohibits pets from being left outside and restrained in severe weather. A “tether” is any rope, chain, cord, dog run, pulley or similar restraint that holds an animal in place. The animal’s shelter must also be large enough for him to stand, turn around and lie down.
The first violation of the tethering ordinance is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $150. The second offense is a fourth degree misdemeanor with a possible fine of $250 and 30 days in jail. The third offense and subsequent violations are first degree misdemeanors punishable by not more than a $1,000 fine and 180 days in jail.
Akron also revised its animal cruelty laws in April, partially modeled on the Cleveland rules. Akron residents are prohibited from tethering dogs for more than three hours at a time or for longer than six hours a day. They are prohibited from tethering them from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and any chain or line used to tie must be at least five times the animal’s body length.
The Akron law increases the penalty for animal cruelty for a first-time offense from a minor misdemeanor to a fourth degree misdemeanor with a possible 30 days jail time. Requirements for outdoor shelter are similar to Cleveland’s. The animal owner must bring pets inside if there is a heat advisory, wind chill, cold advisory or severe weather warning.
What You Can Do
If you see an animal that does not appear to have adequate shelter, food and water, document the date, time and location and as many details as possible about what you observed. If possible, take a video or cell phone photograph. Contact your local animal control agency, sheriff’s office, or the police and present your evidence when you make your complaint. Take notes about whom you speak with and follow up in a few days to see if the situation has been handled.
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