Berks lawmaker wants to strip dog law of staff, funding

A Berks County lawmaker thinks the state is spending too much time and money on dogs and not enough time on mice.

At a House committee hearing on food safety today, Rep. Jim Cox, who in 2008 voted for legislation toughening the state dog law, suggested he is now considering a bill to move funding and staff from the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to the Bureau of Food Safety. Both bureaus are part of the Department of Agriculture.

The committee hearing was prompted by the closure for almost three weeks of the state Capitol cafeteria after inspectors found scores of violations including mouse infestation.

Cox, a Republican, asked Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding what he thought about legislation to "shift inspection personnel away from kennel to food safety" because of the "high level of inspections."

"We made vast changes to dog law and [wardens] are inspecting at an astronomical rate. Some of my kennel owners say they had inspections three times a week," said Cox. "Dogs are just not as important as people."

Among the problems with Cox's proposal, Redding told the committee, is that the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is funded by what is known as a "restricted account" from the proceeds of dog license fees paid by individuals and kennels. 

Of course that didn't stop the state legislature and Gov. Rendell from raiding the account to fill last year's budget hole. Under the deal, $4 million was transferred from the dog law fund to the state's general fund. At the time there was $14 million in the fund.

Agriculture officials said earlier last year that the fund could be depleted by 2011 if it lost the $4 million. It's unclear where the bureau's budget stands now. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, a review of kennel inspection reports for Berks County shows the vast majority of the 82 regular kennels were inspected no more than twice in all of 2009. Inspectors conducted additional inspections at several kennels with repeated violations of the dog law, including three of the four commercial kennels in the county. Commercial kennels are defined as kennels that sell or transfer 60 dogs a year or those who sell any number of dogs to pet stores.

Among those inspected more than twice in 2009: Burkholder Farm Kennel in Kutztown (license revoked), Celtic Farms and Kennels Inc. in Mohrsville (cited for multiple sanitation, drainage and unsafe housing violations and for keeping dogs in barrels) and Rhoads Kennel in Bernville (repeated warnings for overcrowded cages, sanitation and drainage violations.)