By joe gorman
Humane agents in Mahoning County have had a hectic three days because of the cold, and one of them says there is not much they can do if an animal is left outside in extreme conditions.
Christopher Flak, a humane agent for the Mahoning County Humane Society, said people need to contact their state representatives to add penalties for animal neglect during extreme weather conditions.
The Ohio Legislature is currently addressing tougher companion animal cruelty legislation.
But for now, Flak said all state law provides is that animals must have food, water and shelter when left outside.
He said there is no provision requiring animals to be taken inside during extreme weather conditions, such as the extremely low temperatures below zero the last two nights.
Flak said agents answered 107 calls and traveled more than 400 miles, and a lot of those calls were for animals that were left outside.
He was powerless to force the animals to be taken inside, however, because the Ohio Revised Code does not require it.
He said he recommends that they be taken inside, but that is as far as he can go.
“That’s a moral issue. That’s an ethical issue,” Flak said. “We can’t enforce that.”
State Rep. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, who recently pushed through “Nitro’s Law,” which makes the abuse of a companion animal in a kennel a fifth- degree felony, said a bill has recently passed the House that toughens animal laws and would make keeping a pet in extreme conditions against state law.
Gerberry said he urged people to write to state senators to get the law passed.
He said for reasons he can’t explain, there are some state senators who do not believe abuse of an animal is a felony, noting that it took four years to get Nitro’s Law passed.
“I don’t understand the logic,” Gerberry said.
In December the House passed what is known as “Goddard’s Law,” named after Cleveland meteorologist Dick Goddard, but the bill is now awaiting action in the Senate. The bill makes some animal-cruelty cases felonies even for a first offense.
In neighboring Pennsylvania, the law for keeping animals outside in severe weather is similar.
Shelley Rosenberg, an assistant for humane officers at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society in Pittsburgh, said the law in Pennsylvania only requires that companion animals have access to food, water and shelter. There is no requirement that they have to be taken inside during inclement weather, Rosenberg said.
Flak said Mahoning County agents took one dog from a South Side home that was clearly being neglected but that was the only action they were able to take.
Flak, too, urged people who want to change the law to contact lawmakers and ask them to pass legislation that would give humane agents the power to force people who are caring for companion animals to take them inside during extreme weather.