Local animal advocates visit Harrisburg

Local animal advocates who visited the state capital in Harrisburg Monday as part of the HSUS Humane Lobby Day include, from left Tara Czekaj of Brighton Heights, The Citizen publisher Connie Rankin of Bellevue, and Brian Bonsteel of Allison Park.

Animal advocates from across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gathered in Harrisburg this past Monday with one objective: blitz their representatives in the state house and senate with information on pending legislation that will, if adopted, add legal protections for countless animals, as well as the people who love them.

Although I have been a regional coordinator with the Humane PA PAC -- an organization that lobbies for stronger animal welfare laws in the state -- for several years, this was my first trip to Harrisburg for Humane Lobby Day, sponsored annually by the Humane Society of the United States, and supported by the Humane PA PAC, which is a separate organization.

Residents from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, and everywhere in between, brought varying levels of lobbying experience to the event, which included a briefing on current legislation and meetings with each visitor’s representative and senator.

I was happy to meet with Sen. Wayne Fontana, who is a strong supporter of humane legislation. Fontana has co-sponsored many of the animal welfare bills that have come through the senate in recent years.

Fontana and his colleagues in the state senate have already introduced more than a dozen animal welfare bills, and on Tuesday the full senate approved a bill that would ban the sale of shark fins. Shark “finning” is a practice in which poachers capture sharks, cut off their fins, and return the sharks to the ocean, where they die slowly because they are unable to swim. The fins are primarily used to make soup.

Also on Tuesday, the senate approved a bill that will double the penalties for acts of animal cruelty committed as part of a domestic violence situation.

Both of these bills now go to the house for consideration.

Among the other bills currently being considered by the senate are those that would end live pigeon shoots, prohibit private ownership of exotic animals, strengthen the puppy “lemon” law, and ban the 24-hour tethering of animals.

Former PA Sen. Roy Afflerbach, who since his retirement has worked with the HSUS and the Humane PA PAC, said that the number of animal bills introduced so early in a senate session is “unprecedented.” He attributed the growing awareness of animal welfare issues to the many citizens across the state who contact their representatives to advocate for the adoption of legislation, or sometimes to fight against pending bills. Last year’s “Ag-Gag” bill was never adopted after citizens opposed the legislation that would have imposed penalties on people who documented animal cruelty on farms.

The influence of constituents also makes a difference in the state house. Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, who represents Bellevue, Avalon and Brighton Heights, said, “I’ve certainly been impacted by it.”

Ravenstahl said that he has noticed in recent years a growing interest in moving animal welfare legislation, and called the number of bills now pending in the legislature “impressive.”

Ravenstahl was a co-sponsor of H.B. 164, which has passed the full house and now goes to the senate. The bill would create criminal penalties for the possession of paraphernalia used in animal fighting operations.

He also co-sponsored the house version of the anti-tethering legislation.

Ravenstahl said that constituent contact is important due to the hundreds of bills that are introduced each session. A call or e-mail from a constituent can draw a legislator’s attention to particular bills and let the representative know constituents are concerned about the issue, he said.

Area residents who are interested in learning about pending state legislation concerning animals can follow the Humane PA PAC on Facebook, or visit the group’s Web site at humane-pa.org to sign up for e-mail alerts.

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