HARRISBURG, PA — Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding was recently joined by veterinarians from the Pennsylvania SPCA and Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association (PVMA) where they discussed the risk for sick dogs in breeding operations to go without veterinary intervention if the dog license fee increase isn’t adopted by the legislature soon.
“Dollars raised by dog license fees are more than a ‘dog tax,’ as many refer to them,” said Redding. “Dog license dollars are a literal lifeline to the dogs and puppies who live in the nearly 3,000 dog breeding operations in the commonwealth.
“Their veterinary care, or lack thereof, is directly linked to a dog warden having the ability to step foot inside and check on how they’re doing,” said Redding.
Redding states that for Pennsylvanians interested in purchasing a puppy, the health of the puppy over the course of its lifetime is directly tied to its breeding lines, living conditions, and veterinary care, and its mother’s, during the time it lived in a licensed kennel.
By law, Pennsylvania dog wardens perform a minimum of two unannounced inspections per year on licensed kennels. These inspections provide an opportunity for wardens to share information with veterinarians or vice versa on dogs being improperly cared for or improperly bred, which leads to congenital defects or infectious diseases for the animals. With no other entity legally authorized to enter kennels without a search warrant, these bi-annual inspections are critical to ensuring the dogs can live a healthy life and families don’t experience the heartache of losing a dog before it’s time.
Private veterinarians, like those who are members of the PVMA, also partner with dog wardens to crack down on illegal kennels based on sick dogs brought into their offices with symptoms or conditions related to improper kennel care and referring owner information to dog wardens.
“Everyone benefits from the commonwealth’s dog laws. They serve as the essential framework to keep our dogs healthy, our citizens safe, and our communities protected. The veterinarians of the PVMA have supported the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Dog Enforcement for decades,” said PVMA Dr. Mary Jane McNamee. “But the dog laws will only continue to be effective if they are easily enforceable and well-funded. The bureau is in dire need of more dog wardens, more funds for public education, and more monies to assist local shelters. That’s why PVMA supports licensing fee increases in Senate Bill 232 and House Bill 526.”
In previous years, kennels were visited even more frequently than twice a year by wardens, above and beyond the law, to keep kennel owners in check, ensure they were not violating their license type or class, and to keep a better eye on operations that were bordering violation or problematic.
Redding insists that, as a result of the legislature’s failure to act on a dog license fee increase, the bureau has been unable to fill mission-critical warden vacancies and they’re barely able keep up with the minimum requirements for inspection, leaving longer periods of time where dogs in kennels go unmonitored and at-risk for inadequate veterinary care.
In 2008, amendments to the Pennsylvania dog law gave Pennsylvania the strictest kennel standards in the nation for large commercial breeding kennels. Redding claims the inability to more frequently visit these operations is creating conditions similar to prior to 2008 when Pennsylvania was known as “Puppy Mill Capital of the east.”
“Once the bureau has provided our officers with their concerns for animal cruelty at a kennel, we at the Pennsylvania SPCA, through our veterinary forensics team, repair the physical damage done to these dogs and provide the evidence necessary to ensure that those responsible are held accountable and brought to justice,” said SPCA’s Dr. Lisa Germanis.
For several years the Department of Agriculture has been pushing for a minimal dog license fee increase to keep the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement funded to continue their work to crack down on illegal kennels, register and track dangerous dogs, and ensure the health and well-being of dogs across the commonwealth, but the legislature has not heeded that warning.
The work of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is now being partially funded by taxpayer dollars for the first time since its inception in 1893. With the bureau currently experiencing a funding shortage, taxpayer dollars are being redirected to the bureau to keep the minimum mandated services up and running.
Included in the Governor’s proposed budget is a supplemental transfer of $1.2 million for 2020-21 in addition to a transfer for 2021-22 of $1.5 million.
State Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and State Representative Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne) have introduced two corresponding pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 232 and House Bill 526, to raise the dog license fee by a minimal amount that would adequately fund the bureau to continue protecting both dogs and the public in Pennsylvania.
The proposed fee increase is in line with standard inflation and will fund the work of wardens to ensure humane treatment of dogs and investigation and tracking of dangerous dogs.
A minimal fee increase – for example for a spayed/neutered dog would increase from $6.50 to $10 annually – will benefit Pennsylvanians at large. The bills will also require puppies to be licensed at 8 weeks or the same age they are legally allowed to be sold. This efficiency is expected to increase license sales of puppies and further stabilize the bureau.
Without immediate action to pass a fee increase, Redding is contending the well-being of canines across the state is at stake. Since 2008, Pennsylvania has established some of the most stringent requirements for protecting dogs in commercial kennels. Without this legislation, the bureau will not have the resources needed to continue this work and Pennsylvania’s dogs and puppies are a great risk for mistreatment due to lack of oversight.
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