Sarah Gamard - Delaware Online
Delaware is about to have more protections for dogs.
The Senate on Thursday afternoon passed a bill that would prevent dogs in Delaware from being tied up for more than nine hours at a time or left outside in extreme, life-threatening weather.
“Tragically, every year we hear new, heartbreaking stories about dogs being left outside in the freezing cold, overheating in the summer, or being otherwise harmed by neglect," said Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, one of the bill co-sponsors, in a statement after the bill passed. "Adding the kind of clear language ... will help owners pursue best practices and keep pets and people safe."
The bill by Sen. Jack Walsh, D-Stanton, first surfaced during the summer, a few weeks before lawmakers went on a six-month break. The General Assembly reconvened last week.
The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. John Carney, who signs bills into law.
Not everyone in the General Assembly likes the new rules in the bill.
“This bill goes too far when it tells a homeowner what materials they have to use when constructing a dog house,” said Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford, one of the five Republicans to vote against the bill on Thursday. “Also the time limits included in the bill make it difficult to enforce. I am also annoyed that we can spend so much time on protecting animals, yet bills protecting human lives stay locked up in committee.”
Richardson is presumably referring to two bills he’s sponsoring this year to restrict abortion access in Delaware, neither of which have gotten a floor vote this session.
Here's a breakdown of what the dog protection bill does:
No dog could be left outside and unattended when there is a hazardous weather advisory or warning from the National Weather Service OR when conditions pose a serious adverse risk to the health and safety of a dog. The definition of "outside and unattended" is "exposed to the elements for a duration of longer than 15 minutes and not in visual range and physical presence of the owner," regardless of whether they have an outdoor dog house or similar structure.
The law would not apply to working dogs protecting livestock and farms as long as they have uninterrupted access to a barn or similar building.
Dogs would have to be provided access to food and water in a manner in which the contents would not freeze.
Shelters for dogs would have to be moisture-proof and windproof, as well as raised off the ground with solid, not wire, floors. They would have to be capable of preserving heat and have a flap or tarp over the entrance from Nov. 1 to March 31 or when temps are 35 degrees or lower.
Dogs couldn't be tethered for more than two hours at a time when the owner is not on the property.
Tethering a dog for nine or more consecutive hours in any 24-hour period would be considered "cruelty to animals," a serious misdemeanor or a low-level felony, unless they're on a farm. Under current law, that threshold is 18 hours.
Dog houses can no longer be made primarily of metal, and a dog can no longer be put in a shelter with just wire flooring.
Dogs can still be off-leash in a dog park or "area permitted by a governmental entity" if there's someone tending to the dog.
Dogs don't have to be on a leash if they are in a car, on their owner's property or permitted on someone else's private property. Working dogs also don't need leashes.
Under the current law, dogs who are under four months of age or who are nursing can't be tethered at all. That would not change, except if on a farm.
Owners that break the rules could be fined $100 for the first violation, $250 for the second violation and $500 for any additional violations.
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