Ag Secretary, Legislators, Humane Officials Warn: Without Funding Fix, Dogs Will Suffer, Taxpayers Take Double Hit

Dog LicenseRoxy, a 5-year-old adoptable dog at the SPCA of Luzerne County. (Credit: Commonwealth Media Services)

HARRISBURG, PA — Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding is warning that the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement’s dog wardens’ relationship with the Pennsylvania SPCA network to address animal cruelty for dogs in kennels is at risk. State Representative Eddie Day Pashinski has championed a legislative solution – House Bill 526, which is awaiting further legislative support – to address the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement’s funding crisis.

“Without a search warrant, no one other than Pennsylvania’s dog wardens are allowed inside kennels – where dogs are bred – to check on their wellbeing,” Redding said. “But the frequency of these kennel inspections is slipping because the bureau is operating on a shoe-string budget – a transfer of taxpayer dollars from the Department of Agriculture’s general operating budget – and can barely keep up with minimum services.

“Representative Pashinski has stood up for the dogs living in kennels. He wants dogs to live a happy, cruelty-free life, as we all should. I’m hopeful we’ll soon start picking up more legislative support for the bills that will save Pennsylvania’s dog law and ensure bad actors in the dog industry can continue to be shut down,” added 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.

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“Our wardens work closely with Pennsylvania’s SPCA’s by referring potential cruelty cases to humane society police officers for investigation,” said Kristen Donmoyer, director of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. “I worry that as our wardens visit kennels less frequently, we’re leaving dogs unprotected and without a voice.”

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, the bureau has been unable to fill mission-critical warden vacancies and they’re barely able keep up with the minimum requirements for inspection since the bureau has run out of in its restricted fund that is funded by dog license fees. This leaves longer periods of time where dogs in kennels go unmonitored and at-risk for serious neglect.

Donmoyer and Representative Pashinski recently visited the SPCA of Luzerne County. There, Pashinski spoke about his plan to restore workable funding to the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement.

“The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is essential to keeping both humans and our canine companions safe across Pennsylvania and for the first time since 1893 has required taxpayer dollars to maintain minimum operations.” Pashinski said. “The bureau was self-sustaining for over 125 years and can be once again by simply adding a penny a day to the cost of a dog license. My HB 526 would do just that. This will save taxpayers millions of dollars, restore the resources necessary for our dog wardens to protect dogs in commercial breeding kennels, protect the public from dangerous dogs, help reunite stray dogs with their families, and much more.”

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As a result of the dog license fee remaining the same for 25 years and the bureau becoming insolvent, taxpayer dollars have been redirected to the bureau to keep the minimum mandated services up and running. For the 2020-21 budget year the bureau accepted a supplemental transfer of taxpayer dollars in the amount of $1.2 million. Another $1.5 million is proposed for 2021-22. Taxpayer dollars are now paying for dog-related services at the local government level too, as wardens become more strained and calls for strays and dogs at large default to local services such as police, or dog shelters which face their own funding challenges.

State Senator Judy Schwank is sponsoring companion legislation, Senate Bill 232.

Under both plans, a spayed or neutered dog’s license would increase from the current $6.50 to $10 annually and the age of license is lowered from three months to eight weeks, the age when puppies are old enough to be adopted. This will encourage more dog owners to get a license.

“This license fee increase is long overdue,” said Todd Hevner, executive director of the SPCA of Luzerne County. “The lack of adequate funding streams to support the vital work the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement performs will jeopardize the strides we have made in improving the state of animal welfare in Pennsylvania.”

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.”

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“As a dog parent and shelter professional I struggle to understand why any responsible dog owner would not vocally support the nominal raise in licensure fee,” Hevner said. “A license not only provides a level of insurance and protections for your animal, should they ever become lost, it also provides funding and oversight to the non-profit kennels that protect the lost, abandoned and abused animals in our community.”

Without immediate action to pass a fee increase, the well-being of canines across the state is at stake. Currently, 46 dog wardens cover Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

With support from the legislature for HB 526 and SB 232, the transfer of taxpayer dollars to support dog-related services could be discontinued and Pennsylvania’s dogs will have watchful oversight to ensure they’re not subject to abuse.

For more information of Pennsylvania’s dog laws, visit agriculture.pa.gov or licenseyourdogpa.pa.gov.

For more about the need for the dog license fee increase, read the 2020 Dog Law Enforcement Annual Report at agriculture.pa.gov/raisethefee4papups.

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