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With new animal cruelty laws, Deptford Police doing its part to help man’s best friend

About 24 hours before the latest winter storm would sweep through Deptford and the Delaware Valley at large, Bruno Bonanno and his German Shepherd, Storm, were enjoying a pleasant stroll at Deptford Doggie Park.

Storm is still a few months shy of his first birthday. He’s also about 65 pounds (and growing) and full of puppy energy.

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“He loves the outdoors, loves the snow,” said Bonanno, Woodbury Heights resident. “If there’s snow outside, he won’t come in. He’ll run through it, rubs himself in the snow and rolls in it.”

Bonanno is a responsible pet owner, though. He won’t let Storm have his way and frolic through the snow all day. And when Bonanno brings Storm in, he follows a smart routine.

“The one thing you have to watch for is the paws,” Bonanno said. “They come back in and they’re wet, sometimes with it being so cold it can freeze up and they can get frostbite just like we do. So I’ll usually wipe him down, have him hang out near the heater.”

Not everyone is as caring as Bonanno, of course, and some can be downright neglectful with their pets. Thankfully for those animals, New Jersey is putting its best people on the case.

On Feb. 1, three new animal cruelty laws went into effect concerning the safety of dogs and companion animals. To make sure residents are aware of and are following the new laws, the Deptford Township Police Department was one of many that sent officers to a recent series of classes at Gloucester County College to become certified humane law enforcement officers.

Detective Sergeant John Gigante, Detective Corporal Chris Eavis, and Detective Louisa Medany represented Deptford’s department in the four-day program.

“There were about 60 police officers there, the first wave of training,” Gigante said. “I think there about 400 in the state that are qualified (certified humane officers) and they’re trying to train more.”

The new Title 4 laws pertain primarily to rules for proper shelter for an animal, usually depending on the weather, and whether it is tethered properly outdoors. Deptford officers’ first objective in leading the department’s new investigative group is to educate the public on the laws. So, as one does, the department took to social media to share the information with its wide audience of Facebook followers.

The post was very thorough.

Regarding restraint of a dog deemed unlawful:

  • A dog that is tethered outdoors, must be in view from within the owner’s home.
  • The dog must remain indoors between 11pm-5am. (The exception to this rule is if the animal has proper shelter in place).

Regarding exposure of any dog, domestic companion animal or service animal to adverse environmental conditions:

  • It is unlawful to expose any dog to adverse environmental conditions for more than 30 minutes unless the animal has continual access to proper shelter.
  • Adverse weather conditions include, but are not limited to, wind, rain, sleet, ice, hail, snow, ambient temperatures of 32 degrees and under, and temperatures of 90 degrees and over.

The proper structure of shelter for a dog must meet, at minimum, the following requirements:

  • Allows the animal to remain dry and maintain normal body temperature.
  • Access to water in a liquid state
  • Exposure to natural or artificial light in a regular cycle of day and night
  • Space for the animal to turn around, lay down with limbs outstretched, and remain upright without its head touching the ceiling.

And if it’s 32 degrees or colder, that shelter:

  • Must be a solid roof, walls, one opening no larger than necessary to enter and exit
  • The floor must not be the ground
  • There must be insulation, dry bedding, and a windbreak entrance to keep the animal dry/warm.

Gigante said the department plans to print the same “cheat sheet” onto the township newsletter, continue to share it on social media (including when the weather goes to the other extreme this summer), and keep educating its own officers of what to look out for so they can respond and then pass it on to himself, Eavis and Medany.

“Luckily, we don’t have an overwhelming amount of complaints yet,” Gigante said. “We’re trying to educate first. Someone has seven days according to the law to correct the action, if they don’t correct it, then you can charge them.

“As a humane law enforcement officer, we have the authority to remove the animal or … enter the property to help the animal. We have a little more power as far as the immediate authority, taking action.”

As Gigante said, a person who does not correct the issue seven days after an initial warning will be cited. First and second offense fines range from $100-200; a third offense would bring a higher fine at the discretion of a judge.

If an animal is in immediate danger, other cruelty offenses may apply, according to Gigante, which could constitute a third or fourth degree offense. The prosecutor also has the option to impose civil penalties, too.  

Gigante, who has 19 years of service with the Deptford Police, said it’s been “exciting to be on the ground level” of a new initiative.

“We had to have the police training commission sign off on it, it’s a dual role, we’re police officers and we’re humane law enforcement officers,” he said. “It’s pretty neat.” Since animal control officials don’t have the authority, detectives like Gigante, with his recent training and certification, can now do everything from investigate possible dog fighting rings to break open a car window in hot weather if a dog is panting and showing signs of distress.

“They’ll cook, especially guys like this, with all that fur,” Bonanno said, giving Storm a friendly pet and voicing his approval of the new laws. “Absolutely, 100 percent.”

Ryan is a veteran journalist of 20 years. He’s worked at the Courier-Post, Philadelphia Daily News, Delaware County Daily Times, primarily as a sportswriter, and is currently a sports editor at Newspaper Media Group and an adjunct journalism instructor at Rowan University.

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