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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.
- Read the bill: Utah 2018 SB 91 – Animal Welfare Amendments
- Contact legislators
- Bill sponsor: Gene Davis
- Southern Utah Sens. Evan Vickers, Don Ipson, David Hinkins and Ralph Okerlund | Listing of all senators.
- Southern Utah Reps. Jon Stanard, Bradley Last, V. Lowry Snow, Walt Brooks, John Westwood, Merrill Nelson and Michael Noel | Listing of all members of the House of Representatives.
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