Animal control policy is approved
North Catasauqua police now have clear guidelines on how to handle domestic animals that have strayed from their owners’ homes.
The borough council voted unanimously Tuesday to institute policy for officers in the borough police department that outlines the approach an officer should take when confronted with a pet on the loose that is injured or acting aggressively.
“It shall be the policy of the North Catasauqua Police Department that no officer shall discharge a firearm at a domesticated animal without the animal showing extreme aggressive behavior, putting the general public or the officer in danger of bodily harm or death,” the policy states.
Borough council had determined a detailed policy was in order following the shooting death of a pet cat in December 2015. Sugar, a 6-year-old cat owned by North Catasauqua resident Tom Newhart, had slipped out unnoticed from the Newhart residence. A call to police about an injured cat brought part-time borough officer Leighton Pursell to the backyard of a borough home where, Pursell, perceiving the animal to be bleeding and limping, shot and killed the feline.
The incident led to a firestorm of protest on social media, calling for the officer’s employment to be terminated and for criminal charges to be filed. Borough hall staff locked the municipal building doors, admitting individuals with borough business only after they rang the bell for entrance in order to protect office personnel from individuals who were vehemently protesting the incident.
Later, after the Northampton County District Attorney’s office investigated, DA John Morganelli said he found no evidence of malicious behavior on Pursell’s part and announced only summary charges were warranted.
“We have to make a policy and we have to use an animal control officer,” said Councilman John Yanek, who read the policy aloud at the council meeting.
Pursell was recently hired as a full-time officer by the borough police department.
The new policy requires officers to use nonlethal measures in a humane manner, “leaving lethal force as a last resort after all nonlethal options have been exhausted and the threat of the animal eminent.” It states lethal force on a domesticated animal may only be used when all nonlethal steps have failed and the animal continues to be a threat of bodily harm or death to the public or the officer.
The officer should attempt to identify the pet’s owner or contract an animal control officer to intervene and remove the animal. The borough can also briefly detain a dog at the borough’s temporary canine shelter until owners are contacted and the pet is claimed.
The council voted 5-0 in favor of the new policy, with Billy Duch and Cherie Gebhart absent, and approved Susan Henn, of Northampton, as its contracted animal control officer. Henn seeks out owners, obtains treatment and finds homes for unclaimed pets and does not euthanize them unless a veterinarian says it must be done.