CT dog owners could face new rules when pets are outside

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Dog owners in Connecticut would face a new requirement for sheltering their pets during extreme weather conditions and additional rules for tethering them under a bill advanced Friday by the Legislative Planning and Development Committee.

The proposal was prompted by concerns about the living conditions of a dog in Fairfield, which led to a police investigation. Police said the probe turned up no violation of animal control laws.

Supporters of the bill said it would empower animal control officers to act in cases of abuse and neglect. Officials who responded to the Fairfield home said existing law was “not as clear as it needed to be for them to take action,” said Rep. Jennifer Leeper, D-Fairfield, the major proponent of the bill along with Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield.

The bill defines adequate shelter as providing space for a dog to sit, lie down and turn, is soundly constructed, and during cold weather conditions is enclosed and insulated “to an extent sufficient to permit a dog to maintain normal body temperatures,” among others requirements.

If a weather advisory or warning is issued by the National Weather Service, including for extreme heat or snow, posing a health or safety risk to a dog, depending on its “breed, size, age, thickness of coat or physical condition,” owners would be prohibited from tethering the animal outside for longer than 15 minutes and would be required to provide adequate shelter for the dog if they are outside for more than 15 minutes.

The bill stipulates those conditions would only come into play if the owner is not outside with the dog during the weather event.

The Connecticut chapter of the US Humane Society advised lawmakers to consider temporary amnesty periods to give dog owners time to adjust to the new requirements.

Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, was among the three opposing votes during the planning and development committee’s meeting Friday. Dubitsky said changes to the bill’s language are needed, including to address the concerns of owners of sporting dogs “who very often spend their lives outside and are perfectly happy and healthy doing so.”

Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield, co-chair of the committee, said conversations would continue on how to best craft the legislation, but there’s “universal agreement” among members to ensure dogs are “safe and adequately cared for.”

The proposal, which has bipartisan backing in the General Assembly, received overwhelming support at a public hearing last month.

Julie Loparo, president of the Westport Animal Shelter Advocates, described some of the cases of neglect that she and other volunteers have witnessed, including a “mother golden retriever digging desperately in the dirt to create a hole for her young pups to provide them relief from 90-plus degree heat as the mesh ‘shelter’ provides them with no relief inside their pen.”

Loparo said town officials were contacted about the “clearly deplorable and cruel” situations they observed, but they said they couldn’t do anything because there’s no definition of adequate shelter for dogs in state law.

Speaking against the bill, Marlborough resident Carol Phelps said she is supportive of efforts to look out for the welfare of animals, but was concerned about a “one-size-fits-all” approach to address “a very complex issue like shelter and tethering .”

“It is possible a perfectly adequate and safe solution developed by a loving owner will fall short of the requirements of this bill,” Phelps said in testimony.