| Senator Dinniman and his poodle, Henry.
I want to let you know about two pieces of legislation that I have introduced to help deter and prevent incidents like the one that occurred last month in West Vincent Township where a family’s two dogs got out of their yard and were shot and killed by a neighborhood resident.
Senate Bill 628 would let pet-owners seek civil damages for the injury or death of their dog or cat if the harm was inflicted intentionally or through negligence. While Pennsylvania law currently allows pet-owners in such situations to recover their economic loss – specifically the price paid for the pet – this bill would also let Pennsylvania’s courts award damages in recognition of the companionship and affection provided by our pet dogs and cats. Suits for damages would be heard at the magisterial district court level; the maximum civil penalty would be $12,000.
My other bill, Senate Bill 645, will amend the Pennsylvania Dog Law to try to stop incidents such as what happened in West Vincent from happening in the first place. The bill would more stringently limit when one can shoot a dog on their property under the Pennsylvania Dog Law by only allowing such action when that dog is pursuing another animal “with apparent intent to harm.”
Unfortunately, the tragedy that happened to the Bock family and their Bernese Mountain dogs, Argus and Fiona, in West Vincent Township is not an isolated incident. That is why my staff and I began researching and drafting the civil damages legislation, modeled after a Tennessee law, prior to the February 12 shooting of the Bock family’s dogs.
My civil award bill can’t be retroactive and if passed will have no direct effect on parties in previous cases one. But I don’t consider the civil damage award to be the bill’s only message. The main message is that it is time that Pennsylvania courts recognize the companionship and affection provided by pets and that both have value. It is time for Pennsylvania to recognize that our pet dogs and cats are not commodities, but members of our families.
When I met with members of the Bock family to discuss the need for legislative changes, William Bock said the following: “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else. We want something in the books to make someone think twice before they go out and do this. And these two bills would be a significant step in the right direction”
As the suburban communities continue to grow, residents and families must find ways to live in harmony with farmers. This legislation is an avenue to that goal.
Finally, as a dog-lover and owner I am compelled to remind fellow dog owners to regularly walk your fence perimeters, double check your gates and keep a watchful eye on your dogs whenever they are outside. Responsible pet ownership is vital.
Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that at some point or another, they are bound to get loose, if only for a matter of seconds or minutes. Sadly, not everyone is going to help a lost or wandering dog get home safe. However, there is no excuse to hurt or kill an innocent animal that is doing no harm.
Offices of State
Senator Andy Dinniman