Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Compliance and fiscal crises at dog law: Musings on fiery meeting

Not a day goes by without one press release or more hitting my email box from the Corbett administration announcing a new effort to crack down on scofflaws big and small.

Compliance and fiscal crises at dog law: Musings on fiery meeting

Not a day goes by without one press release or more hitting my email box from the Corbett administration announcing a new effort to crack down on scofflaws big and small.

On Thursday it was the regular list of insurance fraudsters plus another email about the Corbett administration joining a national effort to stop cyber criminals. A few weeks ago the Office of Inspector General, in its periodic round up of public welfare crooks, announced that a Pennsylvania man who took $500 in food stamps would be spending the next 18 months in prison.

So, it came as a surprise to me and many others that the Corbett administration would give dog breeders operating kennels that do not meet the law's mandatory requirements a pass.

The revelations came to light Tuesday at the first meeting of the Dog Law Advisory Board since Corbett took office in January 2011. Read the meeting coverage from the Inquirer here.

Observations that did not make it in my story on Wednesday:

Oddest attendees: No fewer than four security guards - three uniformed Capitol police and one plain clothes officer- were spotted in and around the meeting location at the Department of Agriculture building. Two were posted at the front desk and others in the room. What did the department think was going to happen? Crazy animal rightists hurling dog poo at state officials? Something tells me ag officials don't summon Capitol police from the other side of town to monitor meetings of the Milk Marketing Board.

Worst excuse for not issuing citations: From office director Lynn Diehl who said because the amount the department can recoup from fines and court costs is capped at about $77,000 there is a "disincentive" for dog wardens to issue citations. (The debilitating cap that robs the dog law account of tens of thousands every year is the result of a decades-old provision in the law that all monies above that amount go to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts for computer upgrades. It sounds like a painful burden on dog law, but the fact is, the courts also get a piece of enforcement dollars in other departments too.)

Lamest attempt at avoiding a question: "I can't comment on human resources issues," said Michael Pechart, deputy secretary to Agriculture Secretary George Greig, in response to repeated questions about the fate of Danielle Ward the small animal veterinarian assigned to dog law since 2009.

As an animal health expert Ward has been instrumental in identifying painful, if not potentially fatal diseases, including advanced tooth decay, mammary tumors, skin disease and eye and ear infections - the most common conditions seen in neglected puppy mills dogs. Ward's expertise also has been invaluable to the state in helping humane agencies win cruelty cases against inhumane dog breeders and hoarders.

Pechart went on to say there is "no shortage of vets" on staff with 60  veterinarians employed by the Department of Agriculture. But as board member Tom Hickey pointed out, efforts to get these other vets to kennels where animals were suffering before Ward was hired were unsuccessful.

"We needed a dog vet, not a horse vet and worked hard to get a vet on staff and we are committed to providing vet support," Hickey said.

Worst excuse for not closing a bad kennel: From Diehl, who said it was better "keep them licensed" then risk them going underground.

Best comeback line: From an incredulous Hickey: "It's better to keep a kennel open if it's not up to standard, then risk it going underground?"

Best advice for current enforcement focus: Board member Marlene Lippert, who represents commercial kennels, pointed out that there are many illegal kennels operating around the state that "stash 20 dogs here and 20 dogs there." It's hardly a leap to assume that given the lucrative nature of dog breeding, that many large breeders who "closed" are operating underground. There are charges too of others who said they would downsize are in fact operating commercial kennels.

Best reason to raise the (pitifully low) dog license fees: Karl Scheaffer, a board member who represents sporting dog owners, said the cost of a lifetime license for a neutered dog - $31.45 - is the same as a bag of quality dog food.

"That's crazy," Scheaffer said. The cost of an annual license for a neutered dog is $6.45. (You can spend that much on one venti frappucino with an extra shot at Starbucks)

Best idea of the day:From Jackie Keeney, who is with the advocacy group United Against Puppy Mills. She suggested Gov. Corbett pose in a public service announcement with his two dogs, Penny and Harry, to encourage dog owners to buy licenses. Ruff.

 

Amy Worden Inquirer Staff Writer
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Amy Worden Inquirer Staff Writer
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