HARRISBURG — Most pet owners would be aghast at the idea of a dog or cat on the dinner plate and not sitting happily under the table waiting for scraps.
But there have been more than a few cases in Pennsylvania in which someone was found breeding or selling dogs for their meat — or even cooking a dog themselves.
And there was nothing authorities could do about it. It’s legal.
A bill moving through the legislature would change that.
While the focus in the General Assembly just before the Thanksgiving break was on transportation funding, a bill quietly and unanimously passed the House to ban killing dogs or cats for their meat.
The bill, which must be approved by the Senate, would also make it illegal to breed, process, or sell dogs and cats for human consumption.
“This bill should help deter the consumption of dogs and cats for food by making private consumption illegal. But we also hope it raises awareness in the community to get involved so there’s more visibility for enforcement,” said George Bengal, director of law enforcement for the Pennsylvania SPCA, which has investigated a half-dozen cases in the last 10 years.
Bengal said the largest case he was involved in occurred a decade ago in Philadelphia, when 150 Jindo dogs — widely bred in South Korea for meat and pelts — were seized from an individual who told humane officers the animals were bred as guard dogs and for meat.
Authorities shut down the kennel, which was operating with a state license, because of unsanitary conditions and lack of medical care, not because the person was raising dogs for meat, said Bengal.
In a 2007 case, several students at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine reported a neighbor who was found to be cooking a dog.
Bengal said the PSPCA discovered that the dog had been slaughtered humanely and was being used for private consumption, so no charges were filed.
Rep. John Maher (R., Allegheny) said he introduced the bill in October to combat what he called dog “slaughterhouses.”
The discovery of illegal slaughterhouses in basements, garages, and the like is “infrequent but disturbing,” Maher wrote in his memo to fellow House lawmakers seeking cosponsors. “Perhaps more disturbing is the knowledge slaughtering or selling dogs and cats for human consumption is not illegal in Pennsylvania.”
Only about a half-dozen states, among them New Jersey and New York, have laws specifically barring the butchering of dogs and cats.
“Most of the general public assumes this is already illegal,” said Adam Parascandola, director of animal cruelty response for the Humane Society of the United States. “Generally, this is a country where the consumption of dogs and cats for meat is not accepted.”
But finding dog or cat on the menu in many Asian countries is not unusual even today. President Obama in a memoir admitted having eaten dog as a child when he lived in Indonesia, for which he took considerable flak from critics during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Until recently, negative attention over dog and cat consumption in Asia came mostly from western countries. The high-profile rescue this year of 400 dogs crammed into a truck bound for slaughter in China suggests there may be a growing movement that sees cats and dogs as companion animals rather than cuisine.
Parascandola said he had only heard of sporadic cases in the United States of dogs or cats being used for meat, and under standard laws the killing is legal if not done in a cruel manner.
He said the Pennsylvania law “serves to close that loophole.”
Under the proposed legislation, first-time offenders could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
A Senate spokesman said the bill had not yet been assigned a committee, so it will not likely be considered before the end of the year.