Animal action ramps up under Capitol domes

Animals were front and center on the agenda in Harrisburg - in Missouri and even the federal budget debate - this week. The results were mixed.

First a correction to a story I wrote Sunday on the Pennsylvania Game Commission's plan to institute an open hunting season on porcupines in the state. Contrary to information provided to me by the PGC, it is illegal to shoot porcupines in New Jersey. A response from NJ DEP states that porcupines are "fairly uncommon" and classified as a non-game species. As such, killing them is illegal. The PGC says they slipped up in "translating" the different wildlife classifications in the two states.

Still, without any population or reproductive data, the PGC went ahead Tuesday and set a "limited" hunting season, sparing mothers and babies during the nesting season in the spring and summer (April - August). But hunters are allowed to kill as many as six porcupines the rest of the year - or roughly 1,200 a season. To which we ask, "How many people can claim to have seen a single porcupine in a day in Pennsylvania?" My story here.

Over in the Capitol lawmakers were busy moving bills to help animals in Pennsylvania.

Anti-pigeon shoot bill advances, NRA launches counter attack. A bill banning live pigeon shoots moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support and heads to the full Senate for a vote. In the wake of the historic (11-3) vote, the National Rifle Association sent out an urgent message to supporters urging them to contact their lawmakers to take a stand against "animal rights extremists" who want to "ban all hunting."

Judiciary Committee member Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) brought levity to the committee hearing Tuesday, noting that he has been eating tofu as long as Sen. Rich Alloway (R., Franklin) has been toting a gun (both support the pigeon shoot ban). Leach takes on the hunting lobby and senders of ugly emails who say he wants to "take away their right to cage and shoot pigeons at close range" in a smile-inducing blog post.

Still fighting to get dogs off chains. Sen. Alloway is also the prime sponsor of a bill that would ban 24/7 dog tethering. This legislation has failed to get traction in the past two session but now animal advocates hope with bills in two chambers (Rep. Mario Scavello (R., Monroe) has introduced a similar bill (HB 626) in the House) and others states and municipalities taking action to free dogs from a life on a chain that they will prevail this time around.

Puppy lemon law may get new teeth. The Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee voted to send a bill (SB27) strengthening the state's 14-year-old puppy lemon law to the Senate floor. The bill, which failed to get a vote last session, comes in response to ongoing complaints about consumers buying sick dogs from breeders and pet stores. Sen. Stewart Greenleaf’s bill would strengthen the law in a number of ways in order to better help consumers recover losses from a seller of a sick dog.

Here's what it does: Extends a consumer’s right to seek reimbursement under the Puppy Lemon Law for incurable as well as curable illnesses. Medical conditions such as hip dysplasia would now be covered.

Extend from 30 to 90 days the time period in which a congenital condition may be certified by a vet in order to recover any losses from a seller. Also, the time period for a veterinarian to certify an illness is extended from 10 to 14 days.

The definition of “unfit for purchase” currently means any disease, deformity, injury, physical condition, illness or any defect which is congenital or hereditary and which “severely affects” the health of the animal. The bill replaces “severely affects” with “a significant adverse effect on” the health of the animal. Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) says by ensuring the health of dogs that are sold in Pennsylvania the bill will help crack down on puppy mills.

Animal Protection Caucus convenes. Republicans and Democrats might not agree on much but bipartisan cooperation has produced the Pennsylvania General Assembly's first Animal Protection Caucus.  Sen. Daylin Leach and House Rep. John Maher have sent out a letter to members seeking their support for the group whose goal is to highlight issues affecting animals and to educate members and their staffs on the need for sensible animal protection legislation. The group also will sponsor forums, briefings and track relevant legislation. Priorities include anti-tethering legislation protection of service animas, racing greyhound and ending live pigeon shoots.

In other news, the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee unanimously recommended Senate confirmation of George Greig as Secretary of Agriculture. In that role he will oversee the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement which regulates licensed kennels. Prior to his nomination, Greig was state board director of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau - one of the leading opponents of legislation toughening the state dog law signed by Gov. Rendell in 2008.

Pup-friendly PA parks. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced its new "dog friendly" policy in state parks. Your four-legged pal can now bunk with you in cabins at seven state parks for a small additional fee. More here.

A huge blow for dogs and democracy in Missouri - the nation's puppy mill capital - where lawmakers Wednesday voted to overturn Prop B, a referendum approved by a majority of voters in November to improve conditions in commercial dog breeding facilities. The legislation now before Gov. Jay Nixon guts the law, striking out the 50-dog limit on breeding operations and limitations on how often dogs can be bred. It also eliminates provisions for larger cage sizes, outdoor exercise and veterinary care. More from the Kansas City Star here.

Howling over the federal deficit. In Washington the nation's endangered wolves may well become casualty of the budget battle - and not because they are increasing the federal debt. The gray wolves of the Northern Rockies were caught up in the budget debate and efforts to avert a government shutdown. Western lawmakers want the wolves removed from the endangered list because they contend the wolves' population has rebounded to the point that they are harming livestock - an argument yet to be proved by scientific evidence, wolf supporters say. Translation: time to open a hunting season on gray wolves of which there are a reported 1,600 in the wild. It would be the first time Congress has legislated a species be removed from the nation's endangered species list. In other words, Congress would be making a critical environment decision on the basis of politics not science, say animal welfare advocates.