Humane officers in Pennsylvania will soon start carrying guns as part of an SPCA policy change made to ensure officers' safety.The Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals approved the decision recently and officers will be armed starting in January, chief executive Howard Nelson told the Pocono Record for a story Sunday.

"The animal abusers are already armed," Nelson told the newspaper.

He said two Stroudsburg-based humane officers will be the first to carry guns.

The officers will receive training before being armed and Nelson said the guns are to be used only for self-protection - not to euthanize animals.

A PSPCA board member who resigned in August had predicted the move in his resignation letter and said he thought it was a very risky decision.

"It is true that such arming is permitted by law, conditioned upon proof of completion of legislatively prescribed training," longtime member Richard Elliott wrote.

But Elliott said officers have other options, including batons and sprays, if they are threatened while conducting investigations or enforcement.

"I strongly feel that accomplishment of such arming is a recipe for tragedy and potential serious liability, at the very least," he wrote. "If our agents feel concern for their safety when out in the field, there are ample no lethal means to allay such worries."

There is also legislation in the state Legislature that would give humane officers immunity from litigation. House Bill 2547 would grant humane police officers civil immunity when investigating animal cruelty cases.

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