EDITORIAL: Continue momentum on animal protections

York Dispatch

Here a little good news for Pennsylvania’s animal lovers (a population, we hope, that includes many, if not all):

In just one year, Pennsylvania has surged from one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to animal protections to among the top 25.

That’s according to Animal Legal Defense Fund’s 2018 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings, which annually assess each state’s animal protection laws. Pennsylvania jumped from No. 44 nationwide to No. 24.

The ALDF cited “major improvements like a new felony provision for first-time offenders of aggravated animal cruelty (including torture) and granting civil immunity to veterinarians who report suspected animal abuse,” in lauding the state for improving the climate for animal protections.

Thank Libre’s Law, the comprehensive anti-cruelty legislation passed last year that broadened the definition of animal abuse, raised fines for offenders and put into place long-sought tethering regulations. It was spurred by — and named after — Libre, a  Boston terrier found near death from severe neglect at an Amish dog-breeding farm in Lancaster County.

More:New tethering guidelines come with Libre's Law

More:Libre likely gets to go home soon, to the rescuer who saved his life

“Perpetrators of the most unthinkable violence against animals deserve more than a slap on the wrist, and now prosecutors in Pennsylvania have more important tools they need to tackle these horrific cases,” Lora Dunn, director and senior staff attorney for the ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program, told Newsweek.

Those new tools are welcome because, sadly, they are needed.

As Sen. Pat Toomey reminded Pennsylvanians last month, there are still too many people out there who not only abide animal cruelty but luxuriate in it.

The senator visited the York County SPCA to advocate — along with agency Executive Director Melissa Smith and Kristen Tullo, the state director of the Humane Society — for Congressional  passage of the Prevent Animal Cruelty and Torture Act.

More:Toomey joins advocates in York to call for animal cruelty bill passage

Among other provisions, the bill would ban a heinous form of animal abuse known as "crushing," in which people — usually women — are recorded stepping on or otherwise torturing animals. Videos of these atrocities, sickeningly, were shared online.

Congress banned the videos several years ago but not the violent acts themselves, which is the aim of the PACT Act.

The Senate passed the Toomey-sponsored bill back in December, but it is languishing in the House. What’s the holdup?

The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, before which the bill sits, has no members from Pennsylvania. But we nonetheless urge Keystone State representatives to nudge their colleagues to move along this legislation.

Even amid the calcified partisanship that grips Washington, a bill to combat animal cruelty ought to be a rallying point of bipartisanship unity.

Libre’s story has a happy ending. The pup was not only eventually adopted by the rescuer who saved his life, he even attended the gubernatorial signing ceremony of the law he inspired.

More:Libre likely gets to go home soon, to the rescuer who saved his life

But the story remains all too sad for too many other animals — in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation. That story must be rewritten: Congress must pass, and President Donald Trump must sign, the PACT Act.