01/04/2012 09:11 pm ET Updated Mar 06, 2012

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Reconsiders Shooting Stray Dogs

By Mark Shade

HARRISBURG, Pa., Jan 4 (Reuters) - So broke that it was considering having police officers shoot stray dogs, Pennsylvania's capital city Harrisburg is reconsidering the policy in the wake of public anger.

Harrisburg lacks the money to pay an animal shelter to take in strays, so its police department issued a memo last month giving officers the option of shooting dangerous dogs and dropping their carcasses at a state Department of Agriculture loading dock.

Police have yet to take that extreme measure and controversy generated by dog-lovers has led to a reconsideration of the policy, a city official said on Wednesday.

New guidelines could be in place by Thursday, but city officials declined to reveal exactly what they would say.

Facing a growing debt an unable to pay back bondholders who financed the repair and retrofit of a city incinerator, Harrisburg attempted to declare bankruptcy only to have the bid struck down by a federal court last month.

The Dec. 5 police memo directed officers to either offer the dogs for adoption to the person who called to report a stray, adopt the animals themselves, take them to an area where it would be safe to release them, or kill them.

The city's Bureau of Law is now redrafting the memo at the request of the city solicitor, said Robert Philbin, a spokesman for Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson.

"The general directions and guidelines (of the Dec. 5 memo) remain in play," Philbin said. "However, the language is being modified to comply (with) the solicitor's recommendations. This is in process right now."

The original memo said officers could kill a stray dog if it was "vicious and a danger to the public and/or officers or if the animal is obviously sick, injured or suffering."

A member of the governor's Dog Law Advisory Board warned such a policy would be illegal, saying state law required stray dogs to be kept for 48 hours before any decision to euthanize them.

Some citizens were outraged.

"Honestly this is so unethical and inhumane that I am sick," one reader wrote to the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

"These abused, abandoned animals need and deserve our protection, not abandonment or death by shooting because of money," wrote another. (Editing by Daniel Trotta)