HARRISBURG, PA — Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding is warning that Pennsylvania farmers will be without recourse when livestock are attacked by a dog or a coyote. It is for the purpose of reimbursing farmers for damage following an attack that the Dog Law was first created in 1893.
“We’ve been sounding the alarm for years that the Bureau of Dog Law enforcement needed help, as they’ve been operating on the same budget for 25 years while their responsibilities increased exponentially along with the commonwealth’s dog population,” said Redding. “Farmers are directly impacted by not raising the dog license fee.
“Pennsylvania farmers rely on the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to investigate dog and coyote attacks on their farm and provide them with reimbursement for their losses. It’s the reason Dog Law was created,” added Redding.
Pennsylvania farmers are eligible to receive reimbursement for damage to a domestic animal caused by a dog or coyote attack on their farm. Within 48 hours of receipt of their application, a dog warden will investigate and examine the site of the attack. Within 10 business days from the start of the investigation, the farmer will either receive a dismissal or a damage award for their losses.
“Losing livestock and a pet to dogs belonging to an irresponsible neighbor is not something we’d wish on anyone,” said Pasa Sustainable Agriculture Executive Director and Juniata County farmer Hannah Smith-Brubaker. “It was the astute observations of our local dog warden that led to identifying the dogs and seeing the poor living conditions they were being raised in, as well as our being able to receive financial restitution and, eventually, the emotional closure we needed. We’ll never take that dog license for granted.”
Over the past ten years, the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement has paid an average of $24,000 on 155 claims a year, with a total of more than $237,000 dispersed to cover losses for farmers.
In 2020, farmer Deborah Capuzzi lost nine sheep and had another four injured as a result of a dog attack on her Northumberland County farm. Through investigation, the dog warden found the owner of the offending dogs and is now pursuing dangerous dog charges and restitution for Capuzzi from the owner.
“When my sheep suffered an attack by predatory dogs, Warden Hine was immediately responsive. He helped me complete the claim forms, came to my property and viewed the damage, and investigated the incident,” said Capuzzi. “He located witnesses nearby who could identify the dogs in question and explained the entire process to me. Warden Hine was professional and courteous, and he demonstrated a genuine concern for my situation. He also replied to my emails and phone calls very quickly, which I greatly appreciated. Dog wardens provide a needed service for those of us who own livestock that are vulnerable to attacks.”
Since its enactment in 1893, the enforcement of the dog law has been funded through the sale of dog licenses. Now, 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. 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.
For several years, the department has been pushing for a minimal dog license fee increase to keep the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement funded to continue their work to investigate attacks on livestock, crackdown on illegal kennels, register and track dangerous dogs, and ensure the health and well-being of dogs across the commonwealth.
The bureau has been unable to fill mission critical warden vacancies and they’re barely able keep up with their responsibilities that protect farmers, the public, and dogs.
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, farmers will be left to their own devices to investigate attacks on their animals and with no reimbursement for their losses.
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