Baltimore County Council OKs 'Oscar's Law,' outlining unsafe outdoor conditions for animals

The Baltimore County Council on Monday unanimously approved an animal welfare law named in honor of a deceased Arbutus dog named Oscar.

Oscar’s Law defines “adverse environmental conditions” that are unsafe for animals to be left outside without shelter, including temperatures below 32 degrees or above 90 degrees, wind, rain, snow, ice, sleet, hail and exposure to direct sunlight or hot pavement. Under those conditions, pets would have to be brought inside within 30 minutes of the onset of those conditions.

The bill was inspired by Oscar, a chow chow who died this winter in Arbutus. Neighbors had said they reported that the dog was left outside in the cold to Baltimore County Animal Services several times. Some animal welfare activists have expressed frustration that Animal Services took no action against Oscar’s owner.

“This bill really came from the people, from the citizens of Baltimore County,” said Councilman Tom Quirk, a Democrat who represents Arbutus and was one of the lead sponsors of the bill.

Quirk and Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, praised animal welfare activists for their advocacy after Oscar’s death.

"In a humane society, those of us in positions of power have the responsibility to look out for the helpless, and I think that is what we are doing tonight,” Marks said.

Julianne Zimmer of Parkville, a member of the county’s animal advisory commission, praised council members for passing the bill.

“Oscar was only one lonely dog, but he represents scores of dogs that died alone that we will never know about,” she said.

A necropsy showed that Oscar died of hypothermia, and also had severe arthritis and was underweight, according to prosecutors.

The dog’s owner has been criminally charged with three counts of animal cruelty and two counts of making a false statement to police. A trial is set for June.

Oscar’s Law also clarifies that either an animal control officer or a police officer can investigate animal cruelty cases.

The day after Oscar’s Law was officially proposed last month, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced he would create a unit within the police department to handle animal abuse cases. The unit is staffed by one police sergeant, one police officer and three civilian investigators. Reports of animal abuse can be directed to the unit by calling 410-887-5901.

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