HARRISBURG, PA — The Department of Agriculture this week hosted a Facebook Live event to directly address questions about the work of wardens and their connection to the enforcement of animal cruelty in Pennsylvania.
For the past few years, the department has been pushing for a minimal dog license fee increase, from $6.50 to $10. Over the past few months, that push has strengthened as the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement finally ran out of funds in their restricted fund – typically funded by the sale of dog licenses – and their work is now being funded by taxpayer dollars.
“As we’ve worked to raise awareness about our dire need for a dog license fee increase in Pennsylvania, we’ve also raised awareness about the vital work of Pennsylvania’s dog wardens,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “We’ve had a lot of really good questions asked – both in our media conferences and on our social media pages – as people learn about what’s at risk without the fee increase.”
To directly answer some of the questions and misconceptions from Pennsylvanians, the department hosted a Facebook Live event with the department’s Director of Dog Law Enforcement Kristen Donmoyer, Dog Warden Supervisor Rickee Miller, and Pennsylvania SPCA Humane Law Enforcement Director Nicole Wilson.
Below are some of the questions addressed during the event:
What are the responsibilities of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement?
“In addition to overseeing the annual licensure and vaccination of all dogs, the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is responsible for ensuring the welfare of dogs and puppies in kennels through inspection and illegal kennel investigations. The bureau regulates dangerous dogs including maintenance of a state-wide registry. Dog wardens also pick up stray dogs and work to find them shelter or, if licensed, return them to their families. A little-known service offered by the bureau is reimbursement to farmers for livestock damages caused by dogs and coyotes.”
There is often a misconception about the bureau’s role in the enforcement of animal cruelty in Pennsylvania. What is the relationship between wardens and the Pennsylvania SPCA?
“Dog wardens do not oversee or have jurisdiction over animal cruelty. However, they are the only entity legally allowed to enter kennels, where dogs live and are bred, without a search warrant. For this reason, all wardens receive Humane Society Police Officer training so that they can properly identify animal cruelty situations. When a warden sees things like severe matting of fur, which is painful to the dog, untreated chronic painful eye ulcers, untreated open wounds, severe injuries for which veterinary attention was not sought, dental disease, excess temperature/shelter exposure, and animals living in unsanitary conditions, they make a cruelty referral to a humane society police officer for official investigation.
“With a cruelty referral from a dog warden, humane society police officers have the ability to investigate animal cruelty cases. When you see stories in the news of dogs being rescued from inhumane operations from bad actor breeders, that is a direct result of the work of a dog warden.”
How many cruelty referrals are made in a year for investigation?
“The number varies from year to year but ranges from 100-200 referrals annually from both kennels and the handling of other dog-related complaints. In addition to the cruelty referrals made in instances where the wardens physically see cruelty, hundreds of public calls and complaints are forwarded by wardens to humane officers or police for handling annually.”
What is the value of wardens? Can’t regular police officers handle dog-related issues and enforce dog laws?
“While police can handle picking up strays and dog bites, only dog wardens are authorized to inspect kennels, shut down illegal kennels, and follow up on dangerous dogs with inspections and registration requirements. The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is the sole agency responsible for maintaining a statewide registry of dangerous dogs and reimbursing farmers for livestock lost to dog or coyote attacks.
“And while state and local police can handle dog-related issues, in some areas this is not feasible due to coverage and limited resources. Placing this burden on traditional law enforcement is unfair and costs local government more money.”
Why is the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement out of money?
“The dog license fee is the primary source of revenue for the bureau, it was the reason the bureau was created. The current dog license fees are among the lowest in the nation, and fees have not been increased since 1996. While the revenue has remained the same, expenses have gone up significantly. In addition to the increase in expenses, Pennsylvania has seen exponential growth in the total number of residents, dogs, and kennels.”
How does this financial distress affect the work of wardens and their ability to make referrals on cruelty?
“The bureau is down 14 dog wardens from being fully-staffed and are barely able to keep up with the minimum required inspections twice a year. Previously, wardens would visit kennels and breeders more frequently than mandated to keep them on their toes. It was an opportunity to check on dogs and ensure conditions don’t slip between inspections. These in-between inspection visits are critical. For a kennel who is borderline on compliance, a lot can change between the two mandatory inspections. As warden staff is stretched thinner, the inspections decrease, and the dogs suffer.”
Why not just increase enforcement for dog licenses and ensure more dogs are licensed?
“Currently in Pennsylvania, you can buy a dog at 8 weeks of age. The legal age to license a dog is 12 weeks. There’s a one-month gap that causes an incredible loss in rates of licensure. The legislation to increase the dog license fees also work to close that gap and makes the legal age for licensure eight weeks. This will capture more licensed dogs and further increasing our revenue.
“Otherwise, the bureau is not able to maintain measures typically used for license enforcement, such as canvassing, because of being short staffed and focusing efforts on legally mandated work. Resources do not allow for education and enforcement of licensure.”
If you’re out of money now, how are you maintaining?
“The bureau has been operating on a transfer of money from the state’s general fund. For the first time in the history of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, taxpayer dollars are supporting the work of wardens.
“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.”
For more information of Pennsylvania’s dog laws, visit agriculture.pa.gov or licenseyourdogpa.pa.gov. For more about the critical need to increase the dog license fee and read the 2020 Annual Report for the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, visit agriculture.pa.gov/raisethefee4papups.
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