Rick Roman was walking his dog, Desi, last fall when a chance encounter with a stranger pushed the South Abington Township man to make a change.
A driver along Layton Road had a border collie in his back seat. The man was searching for the Griffin Pond Animal Shelter and he told Roman that the dog had been thrown out of a car in Wilkes-Barre and its owner threatened to kill the animal if it found its way home.
"People aren't afraid to abuse animals," Roman said. "The fines can't be enforced; if you can't pay them, you can't get blood from a stone so, usually, you get away with it. They aren't allowed to garnish your wages if you can't pay the fine."
Roman joined with Clarks Summit residents Jess Farrell, Kera Sollami and Jennifer Critchley and Patricia Suarez of "In Pursuit of G.R.A.C.E." a local animal advocacy organization, to form the Volunteer Citizen's Task Force Against Animal Cruelty. The group decided that talking about more stringent laws against animal abuse meant nothing if they did nothing to get those laws changed.
The border collie's plight helped give their group a mission, Farrell said.
"This incident really sparked the movement toward getting the laws in Pennsylvania changed regarding animal abuse," she said. "We want to do things better for the animals. Laws are not favorable to animals; they don't have a say. That episode really taught us that we have to be their voices because they do not have any."
Roman feared if the border collie went to the Luzerne County ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) the dog was as good as dead because of state laws.
Current Pennsylvania law treats animal abuse as a misdemeanor with a fine ranging from $50 to $750. Most of the time, the fines remain unpaid. The only way to make a difference is to inspire change to the laws, Roman said.
Members of the Volunteer Citizen's Task Force Against Animal Cruelty recently held a meeting with State Rep. Kevin Haggerty, who represents the state's 112th district (Scranton, Dunmore, North Pocono).
The group advocates changing state laws to make animal abuse a felony, with mandatory fines of no less than $1,500 plus community service. If those conditions aren't met, the offender would serve jail time. Although the group has only existed for three weeks, it has already garnered attention and support from the Humane Society of the United States.
Haggerty said state laws need to be changed because abusers often progress from cruelty to animals to cruelty to human beings.
"In all honesty, the laws on the books are not enforced; animal cruelty cases are severe," he said. "We've seen what goes on with animals and there is a progression because the next step after animal abuse is hurting a child or a human being. We need to be more serious in our judicial system in bringing animal abusers to accountability.
"The fines need to be substantial," he continued. "A lot of times, abusers can't pay off the fines. If they can't afford to, we are proposing community service so the abusers can become educated about animals' importance in society. We aren't going to sit around waiting for animal abuse cases to continue, we want to stop the abuse before it goes any further."
Both Marty Flynn, who represents the state's 113th district, which includes Clarks Green, South Abington Twp., and parts of Clarks Summit, and Sid Michaels Kavulich, who represents the state's 114th district, which includes Waverly, North Abington Twp., Dalton, Glenburn and parts of Clarks Summit, expressed their support for the task force.
"Mr. Flynn is absolutely against any kind of animal abuse or neglect," said Thom Welby, Flynn's chief-of-staff. "He is planning to work with other legislators in Harrisburg and groups to craft legislation against animal abuse or neglect that stands a good chance of being passed."
Kavulich said he wants to learn more about the task force and mentioned that state laws do have a good chance of being changed.
"I support any legislation that would prevent or act as a deterrent to animal cruelty, and I would like to learn more about the task force, as I am not familiar with the group as of yet," he said. "I have seen in Harrisburg that there is a sentiment toward toughening the laws against cruelty to animals. It will all depend on what laws they want to change. I can see a favorable reaction. Changing laws is a long process but I would think it would be possible."
Roman is glad the task force has become so popular so quickly.
"We've been amazed with the overwhelming response we've received with the task force's Facebook page," he said. "Seeing just how many people love animals makes us realize that we can make a positive change for them.
"We just want people to think before they act because once the animal is dead, there's no way to help it," he continued. "The whole idea of what we are doing is to prevent repeat offenders and prevent any more animals from being abused because once they are, it is too late."Newly-created task force seeks to strengthen state animal abuse laws