HARRISBURG, PA — Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding was recently joined by partners in animal welfare to bring to light the horrific conditions that Pennsylvania dog wardens prevent and report on a regular basis. Now, due to the legislature’s lack of effort to increase the dog license fee that funds the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, wardens are being stretched thin and their services to protect the dogs of Pennsylvania are slipping, states Redding.
“Pennsylvania’s dog wardens are the eyes and ears inside Pennsylvania’s kennels, where dogs are bred. Without a search warrant, no other agency is legally allowed inside,” said Redding. “Kennel inspections allow wardens to be the first line of defense for the dogs who live there.
“if they’re not being properly cared for, dog wardens will make a cruelty referral to humane society police officers or police and that is often what leads to what you read about in the media, Puppy Mill dogs being seized, owners being charged with animal cruelty, and the Department of Agriculture shutting the operation down,” said Redding.
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 ensure proper living conditions and check on the overall well-being of the dogs that live there. All wardens receive humane society police officer training in order to arm them with the knowledge they need to make quality cruelty referrals when necessary. The bureau also has a full-time dedicated veterinarian. With no other entity legally authorized to enter kennels without a search warrant, these annual inspections are critical to ensuring the well-being of dogs in the commonwealth.
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 who were bordering violation or problematic.
Now, 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. This leaves longer periods of time where dogs in kennels go unmonitored and at-risk for serious neglect.
In 2008, amendments to the Pennsylvania dog law gave Pennsylvania the strictest kennel standards in the nation for large commercial breeding kennels. But 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.”
“The Pennsylvania SPCA works closely with the Bureau of Dog Law to help ensure that the dogs of Pennsylvania are protected from inhumane treatment in the kennels of Pennsylvania,” said Nicole Wilson, Pennsylvania SPCA Director of Humane Law Enforcement & Shelter Services. “Without the eyes of the bureau’s wardens on these dogs I fear that many of these dogs would be left unprotected.”
In addition to their responsibilities for inspecting kennels, Pennsylvania dog wardens respond to complaints from the public related to dogs including strays or dangerous dogs. As a result of the inability to hire necessary wardens to fill vacancies, addressing complaints from the public has become a back-burner issue for when wardens have time after fulfilling their mandated inspection responsibilities. When dog wardens cannot respond, dog-related complaints are often referred to local or state police who don’t have the dog-specific training for picking up strays and also operate on limited resources and time.
“The Pennsylvania State Police and the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement are important partners in the care and betterment of our canine companions. Troopers and state Dog Wardens often work together with investigations ranging from loose dogs and dog bites to animal cruelty concerns at kennels that are observed by the State Dog Wardens,” said Corporal Mike Spada, Animal Cruelty Officer with the Pennsylvania State Police. “Many areas of the commonwealth do not have Humane Society Police Officers or municipal police departments. The relationship between the Pennsylvania State Police and the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is instrumental in making sure dogs that are victimized have a voice.”
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, 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.
“Partners like the Pennsylvania SPCA and State Police are instrumental in ensuring dogs in Pennsylvania aren’t mistreated and bad actors are reprimanded accordingly,” said Redding. “But without wardens regularly engaging with kennel owners and the public, both dogs and Pennsylvanians are at risk for mistreatment and injury. We can’t let this happen.”
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