Through an unanimous vote, Reading’s City Council enacted Animal Chapter amendments during their meeting on Monday, Oct 12, 2020 to provide more protection for dogs in the city during the summer months. This amendment was petitioned by the Animal Rescue League of Berks County through the Animal Control Board; specifically, the ARL asked Council to amend section §141-207 Code Blue and Code Red to allow the ARL to issue a Code Red using National Weather Service forecasted heat indexes of 95°F or greater instead of actual temperatures of 95°F or greater. Additionally, the ARL asked Council to amend the ordinance to allow the ARL to issue a Code Red when the NWS’s forecasted heat index reaches 95°F on any singular day during the summer, as opposed to the previous ordinance, in which there had to be three consecutive days of 95°F temperatures. As the city’s animal control provider, the ARL has the authority to issue and enforce Code Red and Code Blue declarations.
“This is big win for dogs and animal protection legislation in the City of Reading,” said Alexis Pagoulatos, executive director of the ARL. “Like many domesticated animals that are used to living indoors, dogs are at great risk of critical injury or, worse, death, if they are left unattended outside in extreme heat or cold. With the previous ordinance, we knew it didn’t take three days for there to be great and irreparable harm to dogs left unattended outside; it can happen in a matter of hours on an extremely hot day.”
Pagoulatos also hailed the decision to use heat index as opposed to temperature, noting that many days during the summer can feel oppressive to dogs and humans alike when the thermometer doesn’t always reflect the “real feel” when the humidity’s high.
Hayden Carroll, the ARL’s manager of the Department of Animal Protection and a Pennsylvania Humane Officer, applauded Council’s decision. “Reading continues to remain diligent and proactive in their pursuit of proper and humane animal ownership and care,” noting that animal cruelty laws in Pennsylvania take many factors of proper and humane animal ownership and care into consideration, but do not always offer guidance or legislation statewide to deal with animals left outside unattended and untethered in extreme cold or heat. Carroll also noted that only three cities in Pennsylvania have Code Blue and Code Red legislation: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Reading. “The City does an excellent job of being proactive by providing legislation to protect dogs, as well as other animals with their animal control commitment. Specifically, this amendment provides us the ability to intervene more quickly, and significantly increases the likelihood of saving the lives of countless animals in peril,” he said.
The ARL must issue a Code Blue or Code Red declaration at least eight hours in advance of the Code taking effect, and posts the information on its website at www.berksarl.org/news, its social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn) and releases the information to local news agencies, including the Reading Eagle and WFMZ. A Code Red will now be issued when the National Weather Forecast predicts a heat index of 95°F or higher; a Code Blue will continue to be issued when the NWS predicts a wind chill temperature of 20°F or colder, or ice/snow events with temperatures at 32°F or below. When the Code is in effect, dogs may not be left unattended outdoors except for brief walks and periods of exercise. Dogs who are left unattended will be impounded at the shelter in Cumru Township and owners will be subject to fines, impoundment fees and court costs.
While the codes are only enforceable within the City of Reading and only apply to dog owners, Pagoulatos notes that she always encourages pet owners throughout Berks to adhere to the recommendations and keep their pets safely inside during extreme heat and cold. “If it’s too cold or too hot for you to be comfortable outside, it is for your pet, too.”
The Animal Rescue League of Berks County is a charitable 501c3 organization caring for nearly 5,000 animals each year to help them find second chances in a new home, or to help reunite them with their grateful owners. For more than 65 years, the organization has worked tirelessly to care for the sick, treat the injured, comfort the unwanted and protect the abused. Whether helping people in need keep their pets through surrender prevention programs, offering low-cost veterinary services and clinics, as well as outreach and education events throughout the county, the ARL’s work goes far beyond the walls of the shelter.