Speranza

Wally the pig pokes his nose through a hole in his pen at Speranza Animal Rescue in Mechanicsburg, Monday, June 7, 2021. The animal rescue is where Libre recovered after being abused and found in Lancaster County in 2016.

Last week, 13 dogs were removed from a farm in Ronks. Many were sick, with matted fur, rotten teeth and overgrown nails.

It wasn’t the first time that dogs had been removed from the Esh family. Since 1996, they have have been repeatedly cited and sometimes fined related to animal abuse allegations at their breeding facility.

But 2017’s Libre Law gave humane law enforcement officers more power in conducting surprise visits like the one that led to charges against Daniel, Verna and Omar Esh on June 4, PSPCA director of humane law enforcement Nicole Wilson said.

She added that one of the most impactful sections of Libre's Law is the section regarding the ability to remove animals from those who are prohibited from having them, even when no new abuse or cruelty is reported.

Five years after Boston terrier Libre was found abused and neglected on a Quarryville farm, what has been the impact of the legislation that bears his name?

Lancaster County courts have seen animal cruelty cases skyrocket since the implementation of Libre’s Law in August 2017.

The number of animal cruelty offenses rose from just 16 cases in 2017 to 130 cases in 2018, 127 in 2019 and 121 in 2020, according to data compiled by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. A total of 290 animal cruelty charges have been filed so far in 2021 through May 31.

“What I can say is that there is an impact,” said Nicole Wilson, director of humane law enforcement with the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “For severe crimes, the impact is not only on the case at hand but the length of time future animals are protected.”

Convictions rose from 11 in 2017 to 75 in each 2018 and 2019, but fell slightly to 45 in 2020. Through May 31, 118 animal cruelty cases have resulted in a conviction -- and that does not include offenses that have been filed but not yet landed in court.

Overall, 324 animal cruelty cases have resulted in convictions in Lancaster County since August 2017, when Libre’s Law went into effect. In that same amount of time, a total of 684 cases were filed.


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Libre's Law defines animal abuse by grades of severity, from neglect up to animal cruelty. It also increased the penalties for animal cruelty, ranging from 90 days in jail and a $300 fine to seven years in jail and a $15,000 fine. The law allows felony penalties to be filed for first-time cruelty offenses outside of animal fighting or killing an endangered species.

Before Libre's Law, offenders were charged under the state's animal cruelty code that was drafted in 1983 and only charged under a single section, and the highest charge at the time could only be a misdemeanor.

Libre's Law breaks down the penalties for different grades of cruelty and different penalties based on the seriousness of the crime and how many prior offenses there were. The grades established by Libre's Law are neglect of an animal, animal cruelty and aggravated cruelty.

If someone is convicted of abusing an animal, the animals that were victims of the abuse must be forfeited to an animal shelter.


Increased accountability and process

Lindsay High, community relations and site director at PSPCA Lancaster Center, said she couldn't estimate how many abused animals the organization handles on an annual basis, but she said they’ve had a much lighter workload in that area since Libre’s Law went into effect.

SPCAs in Pennsylvania rescue animals from cruelty and neglect, rehabilitatesthem and place them into new homes with loving families, according to their website. The programs have a no-kill policy and do not euthanize animals for time or space.

The SPCA boasts a 97 percent life-release rate.

“We’re seeing less cases, I think in part because people now know there’s accountability and know that there’s a process in place where if they are having animals in these inhumane conditions that the public is going to alert us to it,” she said. “There’s going to be a follow-through and action.”

Wilson added that one of the most impactful sections of Libre's Law is the section regarding the ability to remove animals from those who are prohibited from having them, even when no new abuse or cruelty is reported.

The law has also helped change the public’s perception of what PSPCA is and does, High said.

“Specifically here in Lancaster County, we’ve struggled with the public’s understanding of the work that we do,” she said, noting that the organization is housed where a similarly named, but unrelated, high-kill animal shelter used to be located. “Work with Libre’s Law has really helped educate the general community that we are a no-kill facility."

Remaining challenges in existing animal cruelty laws relate to the wording surrounding tethering, Wilson said, noting that the law “doesn't provide penalties for such violations or a clear path for ownership for the removing agency” or resolve holes in cost of care issues.

High said there’s also still plenty of work to be done in educating the public about how to best meet their pets’ needs, particularly when it comes to dogs during the hot summer months.

But the law has also helped in ways that go beyond charges and convictions, High said, serving as a reminder to the public that they can be the eyes and ears for PSPCA.

“It helps the public be watchdogs, for lack of a better term, when they suspect some sort of abuse or neglect or cruelty is going on,” she said.

High noted that Libre himself may not have been saved, had a member of the public not alerted authorities.

“We would never have been aware of his situation had a community member not stepped in,” she said.


Puppy mills in Lancaster County

While charges and convictions have increased since Libre’s Law went into effect, Pennsylvania still has issues with puppy mills, according to the Humane Society of the United States. It defines a puppy mill as "an inhumane high-volume dog breeding facility that churns out puppies for profit, ignoring the needs of the pups and their mothers."

Eight facilities in Pennsylvania are on the Humane Society's annual “Horrible Hundred” list, with three in Lancaster County. The list is not a list of puppy mills, but problematic puppy breeding and/or puppy brokering facilities.

“Since 2013, the Humane Society of the United States has published the report annually to warn consumers about common problems at puppy mills and puppy selling dealers, including the brokers that sell to pet stores,” according to the organization. “Documented problems at many of these facilities have included sick or injured dogs, inhumane and unsafe conditions, and a lack of protection from the heat and cold.”

The puppy mills listed in Lancaster County are:

- Pennsupreme Puppies, New Providence

- Walnut Run, Strasburg

- Meadow View Kennel, Ronks, Pennsylvania

"It is not possible to list all of the problematic puppy mills in the country in a single report," according to the methodology section of 2021's report. "Due to the patchwork of laws across the U.S., spotty enforcement, and 2020-2021 COVID-19 restrictions in many areas, many puppy mills are not licensed or regulated, and very little information on them is available to the public."

The sellers listed in reports were based upon a number of factors, including:

- Availability of state kennel inspection reports showing violations

- The availability of federal kennel inspection reports showing violations

- Federal, state or county warnings or fines, if available.

In previous years, here are the number of puppy mills from Lancaster County that appeared on the Horrible 100 list:

- 2017: 7

- 2018: 4

- 2019: 3

- 2020: 1

Following the pandemic and the increase in puppy sales, the PSPCA’s Wilson thinks that puppy breeding mills have popped up more frequently. 

“You’re seeing people who may have gotten out of the business (of breeding) get back into it,” Wilson said.

Last week, 13 dogs were removed from a farm in Ronks. Many were sick, with matted fur, rotten teeth and overgrown nails.

It wasn’t the first time that dogs had been removed from the Esh family. Since 1996, they have have been repeatedly cited and sometimes fined related to animal abuse allegations at their breeding facility.

But 2017’s Libre Law gave humane law enforcement officers more power in conducting surprise visits like the one that led to charges against Daniel, Verna and Omar Esh on June 4, PSPCA director of humane law enforcement Nicole Wilson said.

She added that one of the most impactful sections of Libre's Law is the section regarding the ability to remove animals from those who are prohibited from having them, even when no new abuse or cruelty is reported.

Five years after Boston terrier Libre was found abused and neglected on a Quarryville farm, what has been the impact of the legislation that bears his name?

Lancaster County courts have seen animal cruelty cases skyrocket since the implementation of Libre’s Law in August 2017.

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