TRENTON — In 2017, then-Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill that prohibits leaving dogs outside in extreme cold or heat for extended periods of time.

The bill was sponsored by several lawmakers from South Jersey, which had several incidents of dogs being left outside in the cold.

Dogs, domestic companion animals, service animals and other pets would not be allowed to be left outside longer than 30 minutes in temperatures above 90 degrees or below 32 degrees between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., or during wind, rain, snow, ice, sleet, or hail unless the animal has unlimited access to proper shelter.

A first offense has a fine of $100 and a $200 fine for a second offense, both at the discretion of the court. For a third offense, penalties already levied under existing animal cruelty laws would apply and allow for fines up to $1,000 and the confiscation of an animal in certain circumstances.

In 2017, Atlantic County SPCA inspector Kate Warden found a dead puppy in its dog house outside a home in Buena Vista after receiving an anonymous call, the group said. A second dog was taken from the property in poor condition and passed away during the night, the SPCA said.

Shortly before that, the Shore Animal Control in Seaville, which works with police in Cape May County cases of animal abuse, reported a case of a dog freezing to death in Middle Township after its owner let it outside but he fell asleep. In Lower Township, a short-hair Labrador was found in a yard with a frozen bowl of water.

A dog before being rescued by the Atlantic County SPCA from a Buena Vista yard
A dog before being rescued by the Atlantic County SPCA from a Buena Vista yard (Atlantic County SPCA)

The law supersedes local ordinances already in place in many communities, including Lower Township, Plainfield and Woodbridge, some of which had higher fines.

Linda Gentille, owner of the Shore Animal Center in Seaville, told New Jersey 101.5 in 2018 that the center was among several animal protection agencies that pushed the legislation and singled out one of the bill's sponsors, state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, R-Cape May (a Democrat at the time).

"I know Sen. Van Drew has been a big supporter of animal protection legislation and has tried to have these laws passed for many years, so this is a big success," Gentile said.

Gentille said the case of Jo Boxer, a dog found found outside a Middle Township home in 2004, inspired an ordinance in several Cape May County towns banning dogs from being “chained or tethered” outside between sundown and sunrise. That eventually led to extreme weather conditions being added to the ordinance.

Dogs may also not be restrained using a choke collar, prong collar, head harness or any other type of collar, harness or similar device.

Owners will also have to make an effort to take their pets when an evacuation order is issued.

Monmouth County SPCA Executive Director Ross Licitra told New Jersey 101.5 in 2018 the  law provides "a bonus in the protection of our animals.

"Most pet owners are responsible and generally do the right thing when it comes to their pets, but we do have people who don't care about the weather and feel that no one should tell them how to properly take care of their dogs. This new law will give law enforcement an upper hand in combating this problem, especially in the extreme cold," Licitra said.

This article was originally published in 2018 and has been updated in reference to December 2020's first big snowstorm.

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