PA Laws Need to Change to Protect our Family Pets

How sad and senseless was the killing a couple of weeks ago, of two Bernese Mountain dogs in West Vincent Township?  My friend and blogger extraordinaire Carla Zambelli of Chester County Ramblings, has had a major impact on this story. Carla has used her social media skills and connections to seek justice for the dogs and to encourage legislation to protect the rights of our family pets.

As I understand what happened, the two family pets (Argus and Fiona) of Mary and William Bock and their five children, escaped from their fenced yard in Chester Springs. Apparently, the homeowner was unaware of a hole in the fence, caused by a fallen tree limb.  According to Mary Bock, from the time the dogs escaped the yard, until the time the pair were found dead in neighbor Gabe Pilotti’s yard was only about 15 minutes.

Pilotti originally told police that Argus and Fiona were after his sheep in an enclosed pen in his yard.  However, during the investigation, the police determined that the pair of dogs was not chasing the sheep when Pilotti shot them with his shotgun.  Using a single shotgun, means that Pilotti shot the first dog and then would have to remove the shell, and reload with another bullet to shoot the second dog.

Based on an old Pennsylvania state law that permits an individual to kill animals that threaten their livestock, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office originally determined that Pilotti had not committed a crime.  However a couple of days ago, District Attorney Tom Hogan reversed course and filed criminal charges against Pilotti – two counts of cruelty to animals and one count of recklessly endangering another person. Hogan said that the century-old state law did not protect Pilotti because the Bernese Mountain dogs were not attacking his sheep when he shot them.

Pilotti told the police that the dogs had not hurt the sheep and admitted that he did not try to scare the dogs off his property before killing them!  In fact, Pilotti admitted that Argus was not near the sheep and was actually walking towards him when he shot him in the head.  Because the direction Pilotti shot his gun was towards a private residence, the DA’s office added the reckless endangerment to the list of charges.

For regular readers of Community Matters, I have made no secret about my feelings related to guns and need for increased gun control legislation.  This senseless killing of family pets is just another example of what guns can do in the wrong hands and why gun laws need to change in America. Regardless of what happens with his pending criminal case, I am of the opinion that Pilotti needs a complete mental health examination before he is ever allowed to own a gun in the future.  Here’s a question – if Pilotti is convicted of this crime, does it affect his rights to own a gun? Unfortunately, I am confident that if he found ‘not guilty’, his retains his gun rights, just not sure what happens if he convicted.

Life is about making choices. Gabriel Pilotti had a choice when he found Argus and Fiona on his property.  Instead of picking up his cellphone and calling 9-1-1 or chasing the dogs from his yard, he chose to grab his shotgun … leaving a family grieving for their pets.  Pilotti will have to live with the consequences of his horrific choice.

Pilotti has been charged with the crime … now; Pennsylvania laws need to change to protect our pets.  As Carla writes on Chester County Ramblings, Punishment AND fines for animal cruelty need to be tougher all the way around.  It needs to mean more than an inconvenience.”

Thank you Carla for your efforts in seeking justice for Argus and Fiona. So their death was not in vain, along with Carla, I urge you to contact your local elected officials and help be the force behind getting laws changed to protect our family pets. Locally our Pennsylvania contacts are Sen. Andy Dinniman, Andy@psenate.com and State Rep. Warren Kamp, wkampf@pahousegop.com . Send them an email and ask them to support animal rights legislation.  According to Carla’s blog, himself an animal rights advocate, Sen. Dinniman is working a law that “would allow pet owners to civilly sue those who harm or kill their pets.”

24 Comments

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  1. He is charged with two misdemeanors of the second degree. He has no criminal record I am aware of. Would probably get 12-18 months probation during which he could not own firearms and perhaps a short stay in county jail, but not long.

    After that, he could still own firearms.

    For a crime like this, I am all for losing your right to bear arms. I think it should be graded M1 instead of M2, which would do that.

    As for Pilotti and a mental health evaluation, that will probably be ordered by the court pre-sentencing, and you can lose your right to bear arms if it is shown you demonstrate a clear and present danger to yourself or others (suicidal, or threats of violence to others) and it requires an involuntary commitment to a mental hospital due to mental illness or you are mentally ill or deteriorated to the point you can’t take care of yourself and you affairs (dementia, a variety of mental illnesses can do this).

    I don’t see that happening in this case, but you never know.

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  2. Actually, see see an M1 in there on the animal cruelty.

    This may well prevent him form ever owning a firearm again, which would be a good thing.

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  3. Pattye
    as a pet owner myself, I am certainly saddened to here of this tragedy.
    2 concerns I have:
    1) We weren’t there and don’t have all the facts. The courts will determine whether he was justified in what he has done.
    2) Why is it every time someone does something with a gun (which is illegal already) there is this cry for more gun control.
    What if these dogs were not so nice and he was in fear of being attacked. There are countless situations where a firearm saved a life, but no one seems interested in those story’s. Every time there is a fatality from a motor vehicle accident should we scream for more motor vehicle laws.
    When someone use’s a knife to kill another do we scream for legislation to be passed to restrict knife ownership.

    The second amendment is one of the most important rights we have. It is the one right individuals have to make them part of the security of this nation…..its not about hunting or sport, its about being able to protect ourselves and country against any threat. To further restrict the rights of law abiding citizens because of the foolish or criminal acts of a few is absurd. There are unfortunately bad people out there, there always has and always will be. You can’t legislate that away. When we hear of tragedy’s like this story or others that have been in the news lately we feel compelled to do something, I get it.
    With or without guns mankind has found creative ways to hurt each other and that is just something we will always have to endure. The best we can do is bring those that commit these crimes under the full weight of the law.
    I am confident that if this shooting wasn’t justified that Tom Hogan will see to it that this guy gets what he deserves.
    Thanks
    Giovanni D’Amato

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  4. First of all your friend at Chester County Ramblings isn’t a “blogger extraordinaire ” she is a rude bully who attacks anyone on her blog who doesn’t share her extreme ideas. We don’t need more rights taken away. We need people with respectful attitudes. And her’s certainly isn’t. We don’t need to change the law. Farmer’s have the RIGHT to protect OUR livestock on OUR property. Pet owner’s have the RIGHT to have pets, and the RESPONSIBILITY to keep them safe and properly restrained where they belong. If in this particular case the man acted inappropriately then he will be charged and prosecuted according to the law. But I’ll say it again, while pets can escape, the RESPONSIBILTY and BLAME lies on the pet owner, not on the homeowner where the pet winds up. I’m sure that any one finding a dog on their property would make any effort to avoid needing to shoot the dog, but there needs to be the law there is to protect a farmer’s right to protect their ability to make a living. I’m sorry, but your pet worrying, pursuing, or attacking someone’s livestock is not more valuable then the animal they are attacking.

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    politeia Reply:

    While Pilotti is innocent until proven guilty, the problem is he admitted to the police to shooting and killing in cold blood two friendly family dogs that were not near his sheep.

    He slaughtered two nice dogs just because they happened to be on his property. He shot the second while she was fleeing in the direct line of a nearby home where someone could have been harmed.

    With this admission by Pilotti, this specific incident has nothing to do with protecting livestock or domestic animals and everything to do with the cold blooded killing of innocent family pets.

    If a farmer has his sheep or a a horse escape a fenced in area, and they walk onto a neighbors property like these dogs, should the neighbor just shoot and kill the sheep and horse like Pilotti did with these dogs, or perhaps should the neighbor take less drastic measures?

    I agree from the other post this has nothing to do with gun control debate.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    No, you can’t shoot the horse or sheep. They are not worrying, pursuing, or attacking livestock, pets, or people. Obviously, using other methods would have been preferred to shooting the dogs. However, non of us were there, so none of us have all the facts and can make any statements as to details of the situation, and states of mind. I’ll leave the courts decide what happens from here. However, one person stepping out side of the law, does not mean we need a law change, it just means we have to allow the law to work. The law is fine just as it is written. And as for them being “two nice dogs” how do you know that for sure? Have you met the dogs? Everyone says there dog is nice and would never harm anything.

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    politeia Reply:

    My posts made below prior to this post of yours go to much of what you say.

  5. I am appalled by the actions of the dog murderer, Gabriel Pilotti. Berners are large, distinctive 80-100 pound dogs. Unless the man was senile or moved into the neighborhood yesterday, he had seen these young dogs before. They are good-natured and docile -perfect family pets who love to play. They are typically friendly to strangers, and I can imagine the second dog shot in the head while approaching Mr. Pilotti was frightened by the gunfire and mistakenly ran toward “help”.

    I am thankful that DA Hogan re-evaluated the facts and Pilotti’s statement to police and then decided to charge him. The castle doctrine shouldn’t give cover to idiots who endanger their neighbors with shotgun blasts without making any effort to shoo neighborhood pets off his property.

    Yes, people should make every effort to keep their dogs on their own properties when not leashed. But most dogs in my neighborhood have breached their electric fences/ fences and gotten out at one time or another. None died at the hands of a neighbor with a shotgun.

    How many people are out there who would shoot first., think later? Pilotti’s neighbors should be lucky he didn’t use an assault weapon and spray multiple rounds into his neighbors’ yards…..

    Second amendment absolutists never cease to amaze me. They are certain “law abiding citizens” should have the ability to defend themselves and their families from evil – with no limits on stockpiling arsenals of weapons and endless rounds of ammo, carrying firearms everywhere they go.

    Yo, gun lovers. The rest of us have a constitutional right to be protected from becoming victims of gun violence.

    There is a reasonable middle in all of this. No one I know is interested in taking law-abiding citizens’ guns away. But I’m betting they think a man who endangers his neighbors with a shotgun and kills non-threatening neighborhood dogs should lose access to his guns.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thank you Kate. The fact that Pilotti admits that he didn’t even attempt to chase the dogs off his property but instead took aim with his shotgun is unbelievable to me. And it’s legal for this guy to have a gun!

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    Anonymous Reply:

    My question is, since by the owners own admission the dogs have NEVER been out before, and my understanding is they are not next door neighbors, how would he know the dogs and where they belong? Did the Bocks walk them past his house, have you seen this happen? You can’t just make statements like that without some proof. Again, it’s a shame they were shot, but without being there, who are we to judge. Leave it to the judge/jury. I’m just sick to death of people thinking that a property owner has no rights on their own property. What makes your pet more valuable then someone else’s property. I’m not defending this particular guy, but rights in general. It’s all about the pet owner’s rights. Well last I checked if your dog is tresspassing on my property that’s your fault not mine.

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  6. When my daughters were small, we lived in New Jersey and had a neighbor with a large Irish setter. The dog was a big gangly sort, who, due to his relative size, terrorized my 2 year old. I asked the owner to keep the dog tied on the run they had, but he refused, insisting his dog was “friendly”. I pointed out that when you are 24 inches tall, the friendliest dogs still are frightening. My neighbor just didnt care.

    So i had a fence installed. My neighbor was incensed, and he never forgave me for it, since he thought his dog had a right to roam free.

    I dont own a gun, but if the folks who bought our house had a 2 year old girl, and that friendly dog came in the yard, and they happened to blow its brains out, I would feel sorry for the dog, but blame its owner. And I would fight to defend the person who pulled the trigger.

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    politeia Reply:

    MA, in the case where Pilotti’s executed the dogs, they had always been fenced in. A tree fell down and gave them an opening to get out.

    While in your example, MA, it appears to be an irresponsible owner, the family in the Pilotti case kept their dogs fenced in all the time.

    Dogs will get out sometimes from fenced in areas. It happens.

    Also, the family that had their dogs killed have 5 kids under the age of ten. Pilotti knew this. One would thus assume these are not dangerous dogs if they live with five young kids, but rather family friendly.

    Sure, when they accidentally escaped they could have harmed Pilotti’s sheep, but Pilotti admitted to the police these family friendly tagged dogs where not near his sheep while he was protected behind his own fence from the dogs.

    He decided to blow the head off the male as it approached him on the other side of the fence and shoot the fleeing female in the head.

    Pilotti and his sheep were in no danger. These were family friendly dogs from a home with young kids (Pilotti knew this) and they were always fenced in until a freak accident allowed them to escape and the wife immediately went looking for them and was nearby when Pilotti executed them.

    Hardly analogous to what you posted.

    Mind you, Pilotti is innocent until proven guilty. I am going by what the police say Pilotti admitted happened in their report.

    Pilotti’s lawyer did not challenged the police report when questioned by the media and stated Pilotti was remorseful and in prayer for the family – for what that is worth.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    I think you are making up a lot of things. By the accounts i have seen Mr. Bock is the one that found the dogs, and spoke with Mr. Pilotti. And honestly a dog being raised with small kids doesn’t mean it couldn’t harm something. We have a dog that I have absolute faith would not hurt our small children. I do not have that same faith if he was around strangers. He’s very protective of our family. Please don’t say they were not near the sheep. The police report stated that they were, however they were not pursuing the sheep at the time they were shot. Also, no where does it mention when the tree fell on the fence. I have read it was several days before in a storm. Opening a door and turning your dogs into a fenced yard is taking a risk if you haven’t checked and maintained your fence. If I let my child alone in a fenced in yard with the same damage to the fence and he/she got out because I was unaware of it and they drowned in the neighbors pond, would I not be responsible for that because of a lack of supervision?

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    politeia Reply:

    The account I read had the wife nearby looking for the dogs, so it was not as if she did not care they had gotten loose.

    If your account is correct, Pilotti executed the dogs and left them there on his property knowing the owners would be looking for them (indicating he knew who the owners were and I can’t imagine he did not know who owned these dogs when he passed the home every day going to and from work on this small road – and I read an account he knew who the dogs belonged to) and the husband found his dogs slaughtered on the ground when, by Pilotti’s own account, they were not pursuing his sheep and he was protected behind a fence. This tells me Pilotti may well have wanted to send a truly sick message to his neighbors. Your dogs walked on my property, so I have executed them for you to find with their heads in bits and pieces from my shotgun blasts.

    Even if in your wildest imagination you can justify the cold blooded shooting of the male dog that was harming nobody and pursuing no thing while Pilotti was protected behind a fence, why did he shoot the female as she was running away – and in the line of another house for which he got charged with reckless endangerment?

    You can make all the arguments you want about how the dogs could have been a danger and this or that could have happened.

    Fact is, the police report and Pilotti’s own words indicate that at the time of the shooting Pilotti was not in danger, but rather protected by a fence, while the male dog approached – and I’d bet in friendlily manner as family friendly dog to say “hello”.

    If the sheep were nearby, they were obviously not in danger as the male preferred to go and greet Pilotti and not chase/attack any sheep. Pilotti admits they were not being pursued.

    Even if the dogs had attacked Pilotti’s sheep and he justifiably shot them, the neighborly thing to do would have been to cover the dead dos and go tell your neighbor that you were sorry, but you has to protect your sheep (the dogs had tags on if Pilotti somehow did not know they belonged to family with young kids whose house he drove by over 1,000 times in the short lives of those dogs).

    That Pilotti’s sheep were never pursued, and as you say, Pilotti left them there slaughtered with their heads blown off for the owners to find, is sickening behavior that further shows malice.

    Wepie Reply:

    Anybody that hurts a non agressive dog regardless of breed or if it’s trespassing is a fucking sociopath and should be locked up. Yes he needed to protect his child but only if the child is in danger.that neighbor should’ve tried to scare the dog off first and talk to the owner or call the police. Most doogs will wander into neighbors yards because they are curious. It does not mean they are dangerous.

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  7. MA,
    The situation you describe is different from Pilotti’s. And I sympathize with anyone with an inconsiderate neighbor who feels his dogs should be able to roam free. In your case, the police should have been called and the man fined. If it continued, animal control should have picked up the dog and made it inconvenient and expensive for the neighbor to get his dog back.

    Most dogs have gotten out of fenced yards at one time or another. Even conscientious owners may not take immediate notice. Killing an uninvited but non-threatening dog is just wrong and should be a criminal offense – in this dog lover’s opinion.

    But since we have no idea which neighbors feel the way you do, MA,
    I guess the shooting death of a beloved pet should be on every pet owner’s mind. A cranky neighbor with a gun can decide to forego a phone call to the dog’s owner, the police, or animal control – with tragic consequences.

    After all, in Pennsylvania, one’s home is his castle. Maybe we all need to mend our fences—and build a moat.

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    mad anthony Reply:

    Kate
    I agree that my situation was different from Pilotti’s in many respects.
    I dont know what the history was in Pilotti’s case, and I also dont have sheep to be concerned about. But we do have chickens. If a neighbor dog were attacking those chickens, what would you propose? I love dogs too.

    This will be for the community members on the jury to sort out.

    Mad Anthony

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    politeia Reply:

    If a dog were attacking your chickens, you would have the right under the law to shoot the dog.

    That is not the case with Pilotti per my above post.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    Killing a dog that is not worrying, pursuing, or attacking livestock, pets, or people is a criminal offense. You can’t just shoot someones pet for the fun of it. So if he was outside the law he will be punished for it through the courts.

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  8. Do you think and new “law” would have prevented this from happening? Laws laws laws.. Only the law abiding will well, abide by them.

    by the way, are geese a problem in our township? Defecating on private property( cant be healthy especially if you have young kids who want to play in their yard). Can you shoot them? don’t think so. So I, and people like me don’t. There are other ways to keep them off your property. But some perhaps will shoot them anyway, irrespective of the “law”. the law can’t control some peoples state of mind,

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    politeia Reply:

    “the law can’t control some peoples state of mind”.

    That’s where criminals come from. If everybody obeyed the law, there would be no crime.

    Since not everybody obeys the law, citizens through their legislators make laws that make things illegal.

    Sometimes things happen or society changes in a way that calls for a change in the law.

    Look how much more seriously DUI is taken and how much more severe the penalties are for DUI and DUI manslaughter than 30 years ago. That’s a good thing, in my view.

    I happen to think this law that “protects” domesticated animals should be changed, but I understand the opposing view.

    I agree if a dog is attacking, wounding or killing your livestock, you should be able to shoot it (not that I personally would shoot as my first option unless it was a really vicious and dangerous dog).

    The “pursuing” part is what is overly vague to me. I’d change it to “pursuing in a harmful manner”.

    As written, it would be legal for me to shoot a neighbor’s dog that enters my property and just plays with my dog because I could say that is “pursuing”.

    I’d never do that, but some person with a beef against a neighbor might if that happened, and he would have broken no law.

    Mind you, anybody can lie and say their dog was attacked when it was not if there are no witnesses, but laws serve a purpose as it allows the law-abiding to understand the boundaries for, say, protecting their livestock.

    Criminals and those will malicious ill-will simply don’t obey the law. Laws are primarily written for the law-abiding so they know boundaries.

    Dare I say, there would be more adult men trying to have sex with 15 year old girls if the law allowed it. Thankfully it does not, and those who are caught committing such crimes will have ruined their life (as well as that of the 15 year old), so it can act a deterrent for those who think about doing it but would prefer not to take the chance of ruining their life.

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  9. pattye what happened to my last posting? Was to too confusing? Or did I just miss it here on the boards? just looking for my voice too!

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Sorry, I don’t have it — sometimes comments have accidentally gone to the ‘spam folder’ by the spam software attached to this blog. Sometimes it can happen because there’s a link embedded in the comment or language used. You are welcome to re-submit the comment — and all voices do matter.

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