Dogs can't pay rent.
For that matter neither can any other animals, which makes housing creatures of the non-human persuasion a budget-negative proposition for agencies sheltering them following abuse or neglect.
When an animal is seized by a municipal authority or non-profit organization, such as a humane society, caring for the animal can be a costly endeavor. Food and basic hygiene for the animal must be provided and, in the case of many abused or neglected animals, additional veterinary care is often required.
The agency in possession of the animal until the case can be resolved sometimes more than a year later shoulders the burden of those costs.
Funding those costs on the budget of a non-profit or government agency can be a tricky proposition. After all, animals can't pay for their stay and they probably won't respond to any bills they are sent, but their owners can.
A bill currently working its way through the Pennsylvania General Assembly aims to move the burden of those costs away from agencies caring for abused or neglected animals and back to the owners they were seized from.
"This is something that we have been supporting for several years," Warren County Humane Society Director Karen Kolos said. "It's something that we have been hoping for."
At present, costs incurred for caring for these animals can only be recovered if an animal's owner is found guilty and restitution of costs is included as part of the sentence.
As with any restitution sentence, actually receiving the funds after the fact is not guaranteed.
"We have had several cases where we have assumed costs and not received anything," Kolos said.
Kolos cited a 2006 case in which the humane society has still not received thousands of dollars in restitution, and pointed out it is not the only case it has not been reimbursed costs.
"This legislation would lift an enormous burden off of local shelters by shifting the costs of care of an animal to who it belongs, the owner," Pennsylvania State Director for the Humane Society of the United States Sarah Speed said. "Shelters across Pennsylvania are downsizing or eliminating their humane law enforcement departments because they cannot afford to care for these animals for years awaiting trial. This legislation protects our pets and our shelters."
If passed into law, the bill provides organizations the ability to petition the court for costs of care for animals. If granted, the petition would result in a hearing specifically addressing the costs of care for seized animals separate from any hearings or trials for the underlying cruelty case which resulted in the seizure.
The bill would allow an assessment of up to $15 per day for general care of the animal with a provision allowing for additional penalties to cover costs of medical care. The owner of the seized animal would be responsible for providing monthly cost of care payments in a judicially-determined amount over the period between the animal's seizure and resolution of the underlying cruelty case.
"The owners have to be responsible," Kolos said. "I think if they are held responsible they'll think twice (about delaying the cruelty hearing process)."
The bill will now move on for evaluation in the Pennsylvania Senate.