A photograph of two beagles left outside in raised doghouses amid subzero temperatures in Youngstown went viral last week. It quickly triggered hundreds — if not thousands — of calls and emails of outrage to the city police department, Valley animal-welfare agencies and even The Vindicator.
In that one case, outrage produced results. The owner eventually handed over the beagles to the Mahoning County Dog Warden’s staff who in turn gave them to Angels for Animals to be made available for foster care.
Despite that happy ending, what about the plight of thousands of other dogs, cats and companion animals left out to fend for themselves last month when wind-chill temperatures plummeted as low as minus 40 degrees?
Many were left helpless, shivering, frightened and frostbitten. What’s worse, Ohio’s current callous law could do little to help them.
That’s because the state’s animal-cruelty statutes lack sufficient bite in both specificity and in punishment.
CURRENT LAW LACKS TEETH
According to the Animal Charity Humane Society of Mahoning County, state law says that dogs, cats and other companion animals can be kept outside regardless of the weather as long as they have shelter and access to food and water. In fact, Animal Charity investigated complaints of animals left outside in extremely frigid conditions but could only request that owners provide proper indoor heated shelter for them. They could not demand such compassion under threat of arrest.
That loophole in state law is one reason why a bill in the Ohio Senate desperately needs enacted to bring our state into conformity with most others in the nation that recognize exposure to extreme cold and heat ranks among the harshest of animal abuses.
The legislation, House Bill 274, passed the House in December with bipartisan support and yes votes from the entire Mahoning Valley delegation.
It’s now in the Senate where it merits swift committee consideration and rapid passage.
One provision of the bill, nicknamed Goddard’s Law after animal advocate and longtime Cleveland weatherman Dick Goddard, would expand how the state defines animal cruelty.
It proposes to revise Section 959.131 of the Ohio Revised Code that defines animal cruelty to read thusly: “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 would become sick or suffer in any other way as a result of or due to the lack of adequate shelter.”
Among its many other noble provisions, Goddard’s Law also for the first time makes the most serious animal-cruelty crimes felonies on a first offense with the potential for serious jail time for abusers.
Of course, when it comes to animal compassion, the Legislature is not known for its speed. For example, it took three separate two-year sessions of the General Assembly to finally pass Nitro’s Law, the Youngstown-inspired legislation that cracked down on abusive kennel owners.
This commonsense legislation should not have to suffer the same fate. Contact state senators, including those from the Valley — Joe Schiavoni of Boardman and Capri Cafaro of Liberty — to urge them to fast-track this compassionate and long-overdue legislation.
After all, no dog, cat or other household companion animal deserves to be left out in the biting cold to suffer and, in some cases, to die.