The board charged with advising Gov. Corbett on dog law issues is set to meet Wednesday for the first time since Corbett took office 15 months ago and questions are already being raised about the administration's commitment to protecting dogs in commercial kennels.
As The Inquirer reported in today's editions, there is little evidence that the Department of Agriculture is enforcing key provisions of the 2008 dog law, namely those governing commercial kennels, otherwise known as puppy mills.
These include setting minimum standards for lighting, ventilation, ammonia levels and humidity in kennels that sell or transfer more than 60 dogs a year, though a number of kennels still house more than 100 dogs at one time.
The recently issued dog law annual report shows the number of total citations filed dropped from 4,548 in 2010 to 3,142 in 2011, and the number of license revocations from 12 in 2010 to one last year.
A review of inspection reports indicates no citations were issued to commercial kennels after June 2011, when Agriculture Sec. George Greig installed Lynn M. Diehl, a former bank manager with no animal-sheltering or law-enforcement experience, in the $80,000-a-year job running the Office of Dog Law Enforcement.
How did an ex-banker with no experience in any field related to animal sheltering, law enforcement or even government regulation come to be hired as director of dog law enforcement?
Even more puzzling, there is no indication that Diehl even wanted what is the second highest-profile job in the agency behind the secretary.
Diehl's last paid job was as a real estate servicing manager at Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union in 2004.
She was active as a Harrisburg-area Republican Party volunteer when Corbett won election in November 2010.
Diehl sent a generic cover letter to the Corbett transition team seeking a general management position related to "banking, finance or compliance," according to documents obtained by the Inquirer.
State Rep. Ron Marsico (R,. Dauphin), who has known Diehl through the Dauphin County Republican Party, said she expressed interest to him in working in the state revenue or finance departments and that he wrote her a non-specific letter of support for a job. Diehl never told him she had any interest in dog law, he said.
Diehl's resume ended up at agriculture where she interviews, not for dog law, but for director of the Bureau of Weights and Measures. That office's main responsibility is inspecting gas pumps.
How Diehl ended up being installed at dog law is unclear. At the top of the job description's list of essential functions is: knowledge of the care, handling and breeding of dogs, followed by knowledge of various types of dog kennels, business and groups in Pennsylvania.
She met none of those qualifications, according to her resume.
When Diehl took office on June 15, agency officials told me that "she has a dog" when I questioned her lack of experience.
Agency officials have never made Diehl available for an interview.
Diehl replaced two high-ranking employees with considerably more relevant experience when they were named to their jobs:
Jessie Smith, appointed in 2006 by then Gov. Rendell to a new position as special deputy secretary for the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, had served as a lawyer representing the Commonwealth under then-attorney general Tom Corbett. Sue West was a former board member of the Humane League of Lancaster County and had been actively involved drafting the dog law before she was appointed bureau director.
Their abrupt dismissal by incoming Secretary Greig also raises questions about whether the new agency's administration had any interest in continuity in a department with many open legal cases and ongoing enforcement issues.
Smith returned to the attorney general office and West was moved to an administrative position elsewhere in the agency.
Their termination letters, obtained by the Inquirer, indicate little interest by the agency in an orderly transition or any attempt to provide critical information to a new director completely in the dark on dog law.
A number of Diehl's emails, obtained through a right-to-know request by Main Line Animal Rescue and posted on the website www.pakennelwaivers.com show she had little knowledge of the main tenets of dog law six months into her appointment.
In one email Diehl asks kennel compliance supervisor Kristen Donmoyer the difference between "60" dogs (the number of sales/transfers annually that defines a commercial kennel) and 25 dogs (the threshold above which one must have a kennel license).
Since Diehl took office, not even basic, annual functions of the office have been maintained on schedule.
Individual dog licenses - the cash cow for the department - went out months late last year, causing disruption in some county treasurers' offices that rely on timely arrival of licenses for distribution.
Kennel applications too went out behind schedule leaving many kennels officially unlicensed at the start of 2012.
There were delays also in the issuance of so-called "dangerous dogs" permits. At last count judges had declared roughly 100 dogs as dangerous, requiring owners to obtain a $500 permit every year. That's at least $50,000 left on the table.
At least 20 vacancies in the department gone unfilled, including some ten dog wardens. Diehl recently fired a top administrative assistant, Denise Dougherty, who filled a key role as the liaison with treasurers and processed shelter grant applications.
Questions also are being raised about the future of another key employee, the state veterinarian assigned to accompany wardens to problem kennels. Danielle Ward, who was appointed in 2009, has conducted scores of health inspections at kennels of all sizes.
Reports indicate Ward has been instrumental in identifying chronic and potentially fatal conditions and ordered appropriate veterinary treatment. It is through her expertise that serious disease and illnesses and injuries in many kennel dogs have been identified and treatment ordered.
Ward also has served as an expert witness in animal cruelty cases and conducts training for wardens in recognizing canine health issues.
Agency officials blame staffing cuts on the rapidly-shrinking dog law account, which is on track to become insolvent by next year. But there has been no indication yet that the Corbett administration is trying to address the shortfall.
The budget crisis and status of commercial kennel enforcement - as well as stray dogs and the shelter funding situation - are among the topics likely to be discussed at tomorrow's meeting.
The governor's Dog Law Advisory Board meets at 1 p.m. in Room 309 of the Department of Agriculture building at 2301 N. Cameron St. Harrisburg.