For state lawmakers, constituent services generally means helping residents navigate government agencies to get drivers' licenses, information about college grants and enroll in prescription drug programs.
State Sen. Michael O'Pake of Berks County recently added pet adoption to his list of constituent services.
Recently he ventured across district lines to find out why Main Line Animal Rescue in Chester County rejected an application from a Berks County couple who wanted to adopt a dog.
In an April 23 letter addressed to Main Line's executive director, Bill Smith, O'Pake wrote that he had been contacted by a constituent who had been denied a dog. "Would you please look into this matter and advise my office of your findings as to why this policy was implemented and any possible solutions?"
"It was a little intimidating," said Smith, who places almost 1,000 dogs, cats and rabbits a year in homes primarily in Philadelphia's Main Line suburbs. "I wondered why he didn't suggest to his constituents that they adopt from a local shelter. Main Line is a no kill shelter where dogs are in no danger of being put down. Animals in other shelters may not be so lucky."
Smith explained that the Chester Springs-based rescue generally limits adoptions to the Chester County/Montgomery County area because they conduct extensive pre-adoption yard fence checks and post-adoption follow ups.
Asked if O'Pake intercedes when constituents are turned down for home or car loans, spokesman Jim Hertzler said only that they take requests on a case-by-case basis. "We get calls from constituents on a range of issues," he said.
Eric Epstein, founder of the government reform group Rock the Capital, called the letter "over the top."
"That's taking zealous advocacy to the extreme," he said.
Hertzler said the Senator was only inquiring what the shelter's adoption policy on behalf of a constituent.
"We were not advocating on behalf of a constituent," he said.
Main Line Animal Rescue has strict adoption policies requiring veterinary references, proper fencing and, in the case of dogs removed from puppy mills, the requirements are even more rigorous, Smith said.
The Berks couple was interested in several former puppy mill breeding dogs who almost always have extensive behavioral and physical issues because they lack socialization, received little or no health care and lived on wire flooring in filthy cages, he said.
"Since we have no adoption fee, we require that they attend weekly classes geared toward the unique issues of mill dogs," Smith said. "Plus, if a dog escapes, and mill dogs can be flight risks, we want to be able to go look for them as we do for other missing dogs. We can't send volunteers 35 or 40 miles away."