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As temperatures drop and snow flies, advocates for Utah's pets plan to push legislation that would require dog owners to provide adequate shelter from the elements for their pets or face animal-cruelty charges.

The existing law requires shelter, but sets no standards on what that shelter should be.

"Right now, there is no definition of what a shelter is, so a lot of animal-control officers get called about a dog that's chained in the backyard, and there's a tarp hung in a tree, [but] their hands are tied because they are providing shelter, just not adequate shelter," said Deann Shepherd of the Humane Society of Utah.

The same could apply to an owner who puts a cardboard box in the yard or merely lets their animal crawl under the stairs or a deck to escape the cold.

So the Humane Society is again pushing for legislation that would require the owner to provide a doghouse that has four walls, a floor that is off the ground, a waterproof roof, a covered entryway and clean bedding.

An owner who doesn't provide that shelter or ties up a dog in a way that it can't reach the shelter or food and water when temperatures are below freezing or above 85 degrees could face a class C misdemeanor if it is done negligently or a class B misdemeanor — with a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine — if it is done intentionally.

Callista Pearson, spokeswoman for Salt Lake County Animal Services, said the office gets about 14 or 15 calls a week this time of year from people concerned that a pet isn't being provided adequate shelter.

She said sometimes there is little that officers can do if there is shelter provided, even if it doesn't meet basic standards. Setting the guidelines, she said, "would be helpful for officers."

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored an identical bill last year. It passed out of a Senate committee but did not get a vote before the full body.

"It's not anti-tethering," Davis said, "but it's to make sure that when you tether your animal, they can get out of the weather and to warmth and dryness."

Last year, the bill was opposed by the Utah Farm Bureau, whose Sterling Brown said farmers and ranchers love their animals, but the tethering that would be banned in the bill is "common practice on the farm and ranch, not an abuse of the dog."

The new bill may exempt tethering done in normal farming and ranching practices. "I don't know if there's a way to ameliorate their concerns," Davis said.

The Humane Society will also once again be pushing legislation to do away with the use of gas chambers to euthanize pets. Four of the state's 57 shelters in the state use a gas chamber instead of a lethal injection.

Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, sponsored the bill last year, but it was voted down in the House, 31-40, because representatives objected to the Legislature telling local governments how to euthanize animals. A new sponsor must be found in the coming session because Anderson is retiring.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke