JUSTICE FOR OSCAR:
New Law Fights Animal Cruelty in Baltimore County, Maryland
April has seen another victory for animal legal protection in one county in the state of Maryland. This victory is significant because many states either lack adequate animal protection laws or fail to enforce the laws that are already on the books. Animals provide many benefits and support to people; they give unconditional love and don’t ask for much in return. The legislation passed this month is another step in the right direction. It is critical to understand that animals need our support and stronger legal protection. We can make a difference as the citizens have done in this community. Although this story is heartbreaking, it can inspire other communities to gather and take action!
In January 2018, a chow chow mix dog, named Oscar, became well-known in Baltimore. His story went viral on social media however Oscar’s celebrity was not because of a cute dog trick or talent, it was because his owner left Oscar outside in subzero temperatures and a neighbor posted a photo of him online lying in the snow and freezing outside. The neighbor’s Facebook post read, “Once again our neighbor across from us leaves their dog out all night,” She has since taken down her Facebook page (or made it private), she stated: “Poor guy has been moaning and basically crying for help since 2:00 a.m. this morning and the owner will not bring him in and it absolutely breaks my heart!! I called animal control like everyone else already has all year long because this is an ongoing thing and they basically say there is nothing they can do since the owner has a doggy door.” On December 30th, further neighbor’s comments revealed that Oscar had died. This heartbreaking news went viral and sparked outrage in the Baltimore community.
Prior to Oscar’s death, the Baltimore County Animal Services received several reports from concerned neighbors about Oscar being left outside in the severe cold. While Oscar’s owner contends that he died of old age, an autopsy concluded that Oscar died of hypothermia. In a victory for animal’s legal rights, the Baltimore County Council unanimously passed new legislation on April 16, 2018, named after Oscar, which aimed at fighting pet abuse.
Oscar’s Law requires that animals be brought indoors during severe temperatures and weather conditions. This law was passed primarily due to the outrage expressed by community members who formed a Face book page called the “Justice for Oscar” movement. In January 2018, following Oscar’s death, about 70 people gathered outside in the cold in Baltimore County to remember Oscar the dog and held a memorial which instigated a discussion about animal cruelty.
The new legislation specifies weather conditions for pets left outside, the kinds of shelter, and gives police officers more authority to investigate alleged cases of animal abuse reported. Also, the bill requires police officers to investigate animal abuse instead of the health department or animal services.The legislation was prompted by this one dog’s situation, and is appropriately named after Oscar. As a result of his death, being left outside neglected in the severe cold for years a community decided speak up and do something for other animals in similar situations.
The people of Oscar’s community and his movement, “Justice for Oscar” provide an inspiring example of standing up against injustice and how people can make a huge difference in the lives of helpless animals. In fact, these concerned citizens actually helped lawmakers draft this bill. Darla Freeley, one of three citizens who co-authored the bill stated, “The laws were not strong enough on the books to prosecute someone or to have any kind of parameters of heat or cold.”
Oscar’s owner has been charged with a long list of charges, including neglect and animal cruelty. The charges could lead to up to one year and nine months of jail time for Oscar’s owner which is not enough however it is the beginning of positive change and can lead to stronger punishments.
Oscar’s Law defines the conditions that are unsafe for animals to be left outside without shelter. The law makes it illegal to leave pets outside when it’s below 32 degrees or above 90 degrees. Animals cannot be left outside when there is wind, rain, snow, ice, sleet, hail and exposure to direct sunlight or hot pavement that a person should reasonably conclude would pose a safety risk to the animal. An animal must be brought inside within 30 minutes of any of these adverse weather conditions being present and the animal’s shelter must be clear of waste, debris, standing water or other issues. Additionally, the law allows police officers to enter any property if there is probable cause of animal abuse. According to animal advocate Joy Freedman, “Oscar was in an extremely bad situation, and we know there are a lot of Oscar’s in Baltimore County, and that was the reason we wanted to write this law.”
What can we learn from this story? Concerned citizens can come together and change the laws as this community did in honor of Oscar, the dog, and speak up against animal abuse. Oscar’s law is a triumph and a shining example of how a community can gather and enact change for animals.