The Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled that pet owners in the state cannot be prosecuted for shooting and killing their pets. The appellate court overturned the conviction of Wendy Colleen Kneller who, in 2006, shot her 6-year-old pit bull-chow mix, Bouta. The state anti-cruelty statute was deemed too ambiguous to sustain such a charge.
Writing for the majority in th 8-1 ruling, Judge Richard B. Klein held ”[i]f the Legislature wishes to make it criminal to shoot one’s own dog or cat, it must do so in a clear, unambiguous manner to give reasonable notice that the act is criminal. It did not do so in this case.”
Looking at the statute, there seems ample reason for finding the question ambiguous. 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5511(a)(2.1)(i) states that it is a misdemeanor of the first degree if one willfully and maliciously “kills, maims, mutilates, tortures or disfigures any dog or cat whether belonging to himself or otherwise.” Yet, subsection (2.1)(iii) of section 5511 states:
The killing of a dog or cat by the owner of that animal is not malicious if it is accomplished in accordance with the act of December 22, 1983 (P.L. 303, No. 83) referred to as the Animal Destruction Method Authorization Law.
The Animal Destruction Method Authorization Law, 3 P.S. § 328.2(b) states “[n]othing in this act
shall prevent a person or humane society organization from destroying a pet animal by means of firearms.”
In securing the conviction, prosecutor showed how Kneller gave her boyfriend, Randy Miller a .40-caliber pistol and told him to shoot the dog after it bit her 4-year-old son. Witnesses said that Miller beat the dog in the head with a shovel before shooting it.
Both of their convictions were overturned, though Miller’s conviction on terroristic threats was upheld.
For the ruling, click here.
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