HARRISBURG, PA – Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding is warning that counties, municipalities and law enforcement agencies will have to fund and provide more services for stray and dangerous dogs without a dog license fee increase to fund the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement.
“With dog wardens stretched so thin, we lean more and more on municipal support,” Redding said. “Loose dogs cause local problems felt in your neighborhoods. But public complaints sit on the back burner as wardens work to keep up with mandated kennel inspections, increasing the burden on local government resources.”
Normally, dog wardens serve neighborhoods across Pennsylvania by capturing dogs running at large, helping dog owners track down a runaway best friend, and investigating dog attacks to provide justice for victims. These services to Pennsylvanians are in addition to their mandated work to inspect nearly 3,000 kennels and breeding operations in the state. These operations are required to be inspected twice annually, or more if they’re out of compliance.
As a result of the dog license fee being the same for 25 years while the bureau’s expenses continued to rise as a result of an increasing workload and dog population, the bureau has been unable to fill mission critical warden vacancies. Now, 46 dog wardens are stretched to cover Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
Critical vacancies within the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement lead to local officials having to fund and handle the overflow of these services on their own.
“The financial burden placed on counties, municipalities and law enforcement is not something that will suddenly happen. It is a gradual process and the truth is, it is happening now, one case at a time,” Redding said. “Without full support from the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, there is an unfair financial burden on counties and municipalities.”
Dog licenses are sold by county treasurers.
“When I embarked on my career as a county treasurer, I was surprised to learn my office issued dog licenses and initially I didn’t approach the task with much enthusiasm. In time, I came to appreciate the tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars that could be saved at the municipal level if dogs were licensed,” said Janis Creason, Dauphin County Treasurer and Dog Law Advisory Board Member. “Handling lost dogs is expensive for the municipalities and robs law enforcement of valuable time and energy. My office reunites lost dogs with their owners at least three or four times a week. Besides being a very nice thing to do, our ability to quickly identify a dog’s owner saves valuable resources at the shelters and police departments. Without the Bureau of Dog Law, local government will be faced with the impossible.”
Les Houck, supervisor for Salisbury Township, Lancaster County, also has seen the impact. “Municipalities like mine in Salisbury Township rely on dog law for guidance, to ensure kennels within our jurisdiction are inspected and operating in compliance, and to keep our communities safe from dangerous dogs. We all want and need more wardens. Kennel owners want more wardens to increase oversight and eliminate sub-standard operations that give all kennels a bad reputation. Folks like me want more wardens because the number of people who own dogs continues to increase, but the number of wardens has been decreasing. This places an unfair financial burden on local government and law enforcement, during a time when both are being asked to do more with less.”
Since its enactment in 1893, the enforcement of the dog law has been funded through the sale of dog licenses. Now, with the bureau experiencing a funding shortage, taxpayer dollars are being 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 locally.
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 burden of responding to dog-related incidents for local government will continue to increase. Taxpayers will pay for it locally and at the state-level, until the legislature acts.
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