Little Egg Harbor Animal Advocate Worked to Get Tether Law Passed

Aug 23, 2017

A grass-roots effort started by a local woman has resulted in a change to the state’s animal cruelty laws to prohibit the tethering of a dog outside during extreme weather or for extended periods of time.

Beginning in March 2015, Louise Mary O’Brien of Little Egg Harbor began traveling to municipal government meetings throughout Ocean County and beyond, proposing an update in their animal control ordinances to prohibit tethering or chaining dogs outside for more than four hours and not at all during extreme heat or cold.

She also developed a Facebook page, “Change NJ Animal Cruelty Law S495,” that attracted the attention of the animal control officer for Cape May County.

Starting with her hometown of Little Egg Harbor and neighboring Tuckerton, O’Brien handed out packets to each government official wherever she went. They included a cover photo of a chained dog and the slogan “A chained dog is a choked soul.” Inside were facts about dog deaths from overexposure to weather conditions, getting tangled in chains, jumping fences and being hung.

O’Brien’s quest to change the animal cruelty laws in the state started with a tragedy. During the Christmas season in 2015, she tried hard to get someone in power to help her save a dog that she saw being chained outside, day and night, even in the worst weather. “I called the animal control officer, the police and the ASPCA, and no-one could do anything because the law was written in the 1800s and updated in the early 1900s and just requires food, water and shelter, and shelter could be a piece of wood nailed to a tree,” she said at the time. Later, the dog died, O’Brien believes because of the extreme cold.

“It seemed every time I turned on the news there was another dog frozen to death. It really, really bothered me – especially that the government didn’t do anything. So I started a Facebook page.”

She also started going from community to community to try to get them to change their own ordinances.

The Cape May animal control officer was particularly interested and brought it to the attention of Democratic State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1st). On Aug. 7 of this year, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law S-1640 sponsored by Van Drew.

The bill strengthens New Jersey’s animal cruelty laws by making it a crime to leave pets exposed outdoors to excessively hot or cold temperatures without proper shelter.

“Most owners treat their pets well, but, unfortunately, we continue to see devastating cases of animal cruelty each year,” said Van Drew on his legislative district homepage. “Leaving dogs, cats or other pets to suffer outdoors in scorching or freezing temperatures, or keeping them chained in a restrictive way or for hours on end is cruel and could result in injury or death. Those responsible for this kind of abuse should face punishment consistent with the severity of the crime. This measure strengthens our laws and hopefully will deter people from subjecting animals to harsh conditions without regard for their health and welfare.”

The new law makes it a violation of the state animal cruelty laws to leave a cat, dog or other domestic companion animal unattended outdoors without proper shelter for an extended period under certain conditions: when the outside temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or less, or during precipitation-related events such as snow, or when the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more or the animal is exposed to direct sunlight, hot pavement or heat, without readily available access to shelter at an appropriate temperature. The law also defines appropriate shelter for pets.

The law also makes restraining a dog without access to water for an extended period of time, and if tethered overnight, with a tether shorter than 15 feet in length, or by means of a choke collar, a criminal offense.

In the case of evacuation, the law directs that a pet be evacuated with its owner, if possible. Otherwise, the law requires the animal to be delivered to an animal kennel, shelter, or other suitable animal care facility, or secured in an indoor area constructed to be as protective of the animal as possible under the circumstances, and local emergency responders should be alerted to the animal’s location.

Violations of any of the law provisions regarding adverse weather conditions and proper shelter would constitute failure to provide “necessary care.” Current law defines “necessary care” as care sufficient to preserve the health and well-being of an animal, and includes, but is not limited to: food of sufficient quantity and quality to allow for normal growth or maintenance of body weight; adequate access to water in sufficient quantity and quality to satisfy the animal’s needs; access to adequate protection from the weather; and veterinary care to alleviate suffering and maintain health. A violator may be liable for civil penalties of $500 to $2,000 for failure to provide necessary care. Failure to provide necessary care would be a disorderly persons offense, a crime of the fourth degree, or crime of the third degree, depending on the consequences of failure to do so. Violations of the law’s provisions regarding cruel restraint of a dog would be subject to fines of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense; for a third or subsequent offense, the offense would constitute failure to provide necessary care.

The law requires that a person be issued a correction warning prior to being cited for a violation of the law unless the dog, domestic companion animal or service animal involved in the violation was seized immediately as a result of reasonable suspicion that the animal is at risk of imminent harm.

The legislation was approved by the Assembly with a vote of 71-1-6, and the Senate approved it with a vote of 34-0 on June 29.

O’Brien has three dogs and three cats of her own, and all were rescues. “I do a lot of cleaning, but I knew that having a pet means taking responsibility for the life of the pet – maybe 15 or more years,” she had said previously. “But not everyone feels that way. They get a dog and then they have a child or they lose interest and chain it outside where it has no interaction with people. It’s cruel.”

When Bill S1640 was signed into law, O’Brien was vacationing in Ireland, where she is today. She posted on her Facebook page, “Chris Christie signed 50 Bills into law in NJ today – One being the Limited Tethering of dogs and restrictions. It’s been a Long exhausting Rd for all involved trying to get this done this is a step in the right direction for us and man’s best friends.

“Teamwork (works) when all are on the same goal and strangers came together to make a difference.”

Pat Johnson

Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McDonald | Aug 24, 2017 21:55

Congratulations. Well done. Never underestimate the accomplishments the 'power of one' is capable of achieving.

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