Some New Residents Unaware of State's Strict Canine Laws
Complaints of Dogs Runnig Loose On the Rise
By Rick Hiduk
“Happiness is a warm puppy,” cartoonist Charles Schultz penned in a single-panel Peanuts strip years ago. But, as we move from spring into summer, state dog wardens Dale Cole of Bradford and Sullivan counties and Ray Smith of Susquehanna County and their regional supervisor Ellen Howarth are concerned about a variety of dog-related issues that are on the rise. Part of their challenge has been reaching out to gas industry-related workers from other states who are unaware of Pennsylvania’s strict laws on licensing, rabies vaccinations, and other regulations for canines.
Cole, Smith, and Howarth, who were each interviewed separately for this story, agreed that the biggest obstacle they face is an apparent lack of dog laws in the states from which the workers and their families have come. Local dog law enforcers lament the fact that they meet many of the out-of-state dog owners for the first time while processing complaints from their neighbors.
“We are getting more calls about dogs who are running loose,” said Smith, who noted that when he knocks on the dog owner’s door and introduces himself and the reason for his visit, he is often told, “They’re allowed to (run loose) where we come from.” Coincidentally, he tells them, “It doesn’t matter. You’re here now, and Pennsylvania has dog laws.”
“They’re kind of surprised that there is an officer at their door asking about a dog,” Howarth related in reference to visiting dog owners in person. “What, to me, is an everyday thing might be a once in a lifetime experience for them.”
Smith added that the long hours worked by the contractors and gas employees make it difficult to catch them at home, so the wardens leave cards that explain the commonwealth’s dog laws and ask that they be filled out and returned by mail as a measure of compliance.
By-and-large, the dog wardens and the Region 3 supervisor also agree that new residents have been cooperative with officials once they understand what is expected of them here as dog owners. Officials add that this is not simply a matter of imposing the regulations. Getting the word out about the laws has become especially important because reports of rabies are up statewide, as are dog-bite incidents.
Howarth reported that 114 raccoons and 12 skunks have tested positive for rabies so far this year, a moderate increase over previous years that does not take into account roadkill and other dead animals who are never tested.
Cole asserted that current incidents of dogs with rabies have been few and far between, but that could change if untethered canines without proper inoculation come in contact with a rabid animal and then pass it on to humans via bites. “That poses a danger to the dogs and the people who have them,” Cole stated.
“There was a case in Bradford County of a road crew flagger who was seriously injured by two dogs,” Howarth related. “She had traffic stopped at her end, and a trucker risked his own life by putting himself between her and the dogs, thank God.” All outdoor workers and children who are out of school need to be more aware of the potential dangers posed by loose dogs, she added.
Local hunters have expressed concerns that untethered canines may become deer chasers, which is not well-tolerated in the area and has resulted in the past in dogs being shot as a vigilante-type preventative measure.
Howarth concurred that door-to-door visits to area dog owners by her and the wardens have been well-received by both longtime Pennsylvanians and new residents, but she is concerned about the larger percentage of people whom officials cannot reach in this manner. She worries that a lack of awareness or apathy will compound a situation that is already difficult to manage.
“I don’t know what the laws are and what the rabies situation is where they are from,” said Howarth, “but dogs cannot run at large here, and they shouldn’t be running around on the back of a flatbed truck.” The latter comment was in reference to a photo submitted to her by the Rocket-Courier of a dog running back and forth on a worker’s truck with Texas plates on a busy stretch of Route 29 between Tunkhannock and Lake Carey.
“Containing a dog inside a vehicle is part of being a responsible pet owner, for your safety and for that of other people,” Howarth continued. In addition to the hazards posed by an untethered dog in the back of a truck, she stated, “Loose dogs on your lap or in the window are distracting and dangerous.”
She laments that a proposal to state legislators a few years ago that would have required that pets be tethered or placed in carriers during transportation did not become a law. This would not, however, prevent a dog owner from being fined or facing other legal consequences should an untethered dog fall off a vehicle and cause an accident among other motorists.
“I think that education is the first step. It all goes hand-in-hand,” said Howarth. “We can’t enforce cruelty. But, if I am on site, and I see that the dog is ill or underfed, I will refer it to a police officer or a vet.” Another summer pet safety tip she stresses is, “Don’t leave them in the car in this type of weather.”
Pennsylvania’s dog laws are summarized as follows:
- All dogs three months or older must be licensed. Licenses are issued by the county treasurer.
- All dogs must be under control and may not run at large. Dogs are personal property, and owners are responsible for any damages caused by their dog.
- It is illegal to abuse any animal. (Violations should be reported to the local humane organization or the police).
- You may not place any poison or harmful substance in any place—your property or elsewhere—where it can be easily found and eaten by dogs.
- It is illegal to abandon or attempt to abandon any dog. (Fines for abandonment range from $300 to $1,000).
- No dog under eight weeks of age may be bartered, traded, sold, or transferred.
- You must have a current kennel license if you keep, harbor, shelter, sell, give away, or transfer 26 or more dogs in any calendar year.
- It is illegal to interfere with an officer or employee of the state Agricultural Department engaged in the enforcement of dog laws.
Abandonment of canines is a particular pet peeve of Cole, who, like the other interviewees, is a dog owner. “I think that we are having a lot of dogs dropped off. I don’t know if it’s because they can’t afford to keep them, but we are picking up more strays than normal. It’s a shame because some of these are very nice dogs that you can tell have lived in homes.” The canines are taken to the Bradford County Humane Society shelter in Ulster, where operators of the facility work to find new loving homes for them.
Licensing of all dogs in the area remains Howarth’s most important goal. “Responsible pet owners should make sure that the dog is licensed so that if he gets away from you, he’s going to get back home.” The incidents of dog bites could be reduced sharply, she added, if dog owners would work harder to keep their pets from becoming a nuisance. “If he (or she) is overly protective, keep (the dog) away from visitors,” she stated. “It’s not just an injury to the victim, it’s the penalty to the animal as well. And there’s a large penalty to the owner if they are found guilty of harboring a dangerous dog.”
According to Howarth, a rabies vaccine clinic is slated to begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 24, at the Agway store in Dushore, Sullivan County. Dr. T.W. Shoemaker will serve as the primary veterinarian.
Readers who would like more information about dog laws in particular may contact Howarth at her Tunkhannock office at 570-836-2181, Smith in Montrose at 278-9030, and Cole in Towanda at 265-8191.