Dinniman proposes bills to tighten law regarding shooting of pets harming livestock

State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester)
State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester)
Posted: March 02, 2013

When a Chester County man shot and killed his neighbors' Bernese mountain dogs, which he said were threatening his sheep, the uproar led to criminal charges against the farmer.

And the case also could lead to changes in state law. State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester) plans to introduce bills that would fine-tune legal language to address the question of when deadly force against domestic pets is justified.

Dinniman said one of the bills, which would be introduced before the end of next week, was directly inspired by the Chester Springs shootings, in which FedEx driver and sheep farmer Gabriel Pilotti shot and killed dogs belonging to his neighbors Mary and William Bock.

Pilotti initially said the dogs were pursuing his sheep. Under state law, property owners who see dogs going after livestock have the right to kill them.

Dinniman is looking to tighten that law. Under his proposal, property owners would be able to kill dogs only if they pursue livestock "with the apparent intent to harm," he said.

"It doesn't take a brain surgeon to know whether a dog is herding or going to hurt a group of sheep," Dinniman said.

Pilotti was charged with animal cruelty after investigators determined that the Bocks' dogs had not been pursuing his sheep. He is scheduled to appear in court this month.

A second bill, inspired by the Bocks' loss, would allow dog and cat owners to seek up to $12,000 in damages if their pets are killed intentionally, Dinniman said. Owners can sue for up to $5,000 if their pets are killed as a result of negligent acts, Dinniman said.

Currently, pet owners can seek damages equivalent only to the amount they paid for the pet, he said.

Dinniman's proposal would make Pennsylvania the second state in the country after Tennessee to allow pet owners to sue for damages beyond the monetary value of the pet.

"Everything you look at - the vets, the pet stores that line every mall - demonstrates that people love their cats and dogs and have a very special relationship with them. It's just not a piece of property," Dinniman said.

Animal-rights advocates said they supported the bills and had been appalled by the Chester Springs case.

"Anything that goes to clarify a law that would help prevent innocent animals from being hurt or killed is something we're 100 percent behind," said Rich Britton, a spokesman for the Chester County SPCA.

Tom Hickey Sr., a member of Gov. Corbett's Dog Law Advisory Board, said he supported stricter laws regarding the killing of dogs but added that it was important to ensure that language in the bill isn't too vague.

"It's very difficult when you try and change laws, and if we're going to do it, I want to make sure we nail it," he said. "These horrible examples show us that we still have more work to do, and I'm glad we're doing it."

Dinniman stressed that his bills wouldn't exempt irresponsible pet owners.

"If the dog has gotten into someone else's property and they were killing livestock, the law doesn't protect them," he said. "But what this does protect is intentional harm being done to them."

Contact Aubrey Whelan at 610-313-8112, awhelan@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @aubreyjwhelan.

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