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When is it Too Cold for Fido? Baltimore County Council May Weigh In

Yuya Tamai/flickr

The Baltimore County Council is considering tightening up the laws on pet owners to protect animals from extreme weather. 


But council members were warned Tuesday that what they were considering might actually do pets harm.




The proposed legislation spells out that people need to bring their pets inside if the temperature falls to freezing or below, or rises to 90 degrees or above at the same time some other weather issue is going on, like snow or the direct heat of the sun. Councilman Tom Quirk, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the county needs some kind of catch all law on the books.


Quirk said, “When a dog is left out in Arbutus to freeze to death, that we’re just not going to sit there as a government and say, ’oh, sorry, can’t do anything about it.’ That’s ridiculous.”


This legislation, which is called Oscar’s law, came about because a dog named Oscar died from hypothermia this past winter in Arbutus, which is in Quirk’s district. Oscar’s owner has been charged with animal cruelty.


But Timothy Carrion, of the American Kennel Club told, the council the legislation applies a one-size-fits-all criteria that doesn’t fit. Carrion said the council would be legalizing abuse if it passes the legislation. 


“Because there are many dog breeds and mixed breeds that cannot handle even 40 degrees of prolonged exposure,” Carrion said. “But now you’ve made that legal.”


Carrion said some dogs can handle below freezing temperatures just fine and pointed to the state dog, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, as an example.


But there is wiggle room built into the legislation for pet owners, according to Legislative Counsel Thomas Peddicord, who helped to draft the bill.  In addition to the temperature and weather rules, it says owners can also take into account the animal’s size, age, physical condition, or hair and fur thickness in their decision about bringing in the pet. 


“Can it withstand that temperature and those weather conditions?” Peddicord asked. “The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is much different than a chihuahua.”


Carrion also criticized the bill for not mentioning anything about having a veterinarian get involved in alleged animal abuse cases. He challenged the members of council if they could determine whether a dog was at risk.


“How many of you know the clinical symptoms of hypothermia or hyperthermia?”  Carrion asked. “Do you know it in dogs? And do you know it in 200 different breeds?”


Baltimore County Attorney Michael Field has issues with the legislation as well. He questioned whether the average pet owner in the county would be able to apply the standards that are in the bill. Field urged council members to sit in on a meeting of the county’s animal hearing board to see for themselves the people who are abusing their pets.


“They’re often poorly educated, the ones who have citations,” Field said. “They’re often poor, also. And they don’t understand until the animal hearing board tells them, for perhaps the first time in their lives, that the reason you’re having behavior problems with your dog is that you’ve just told us that you never walk it."


The legislation also spells out what is a suitable outdoor shelter for a pet. For instance, the crawl space under a house doesn’t cut it. Neither does a car. Julianne Zimmer told council members she supports the bill, pointing out a shelter would be legal if it maintains the body temperature of the animal.


“So if you’re saying that you are going to be affected by this bill because you can’t do that, then this bill was written for you,” Zimmer said.


The legislation also would allow the county police department to investigate animal cruelty cases. The legislation is scheduled for a vote Monday.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2