Four years ago the American Kennel Club fought down to the wire- unsuccessfully -to block the anti-puppy mill bill now celebrated as landmark legislation.
Today the nation's oldest and largest dog breed registry has mounted an 11th hour fight to derail a bill designed to help shelters cover the costs of caring for dogs seized in cruelty cases.
The so-called "cost of care" bill (HB 2409) won unanimous passage in the House agriculture committee and had no opposition in its first vote in the House. Here's how the law - similar to those in two dozen other states - would work: if an individual is charged with animal cruelty they must pay for the care of the animal or animals, or relinquish them to shelters.
An amendment to the bill would cap the per day boarding fee at $15 and require shelters to document medical expenses.
Under current law, cash-strapped shelters have to foot the bill through what can be years of court battles and hope for restitution at the end. Not only does that place enormous burdens on non-profit shelters - many of which lost state shelter funding this year with budget cuts -it also means the animals spend months or years locked in a cage or kennel.
And, unless money is deducted from government checks, shelter operators say they virtually never see repayment of bills that can total thousands, if not tens of thousands.
A case in point: the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, west of Harrisburg, has spent $48,000 to house four huskies owned by a couple twice convicted of animal abuse for two and half years. The couple has refused to turn over the dogs despite losses at every level in the court process. The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently upheld the lower court's cruelty conviction yet the dogs remain in the shelter at least until Oct. 17, the deadline for an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
For some shelters, like the Pennsylvania SPCA, which have responded to cases of mass animal cruelty such as those found in large puppy mills or the horrific Tiger Ranch cat "rescue," the medical and food bills can soar into the hundreds of thousands. Not to mention, these seized animals take up valuable space in shelters.
Now, with a final House vote scheduled today, the AKC has jumped in, saying it opposed the bill because it "violates the due process rights of dog owners."
Animal law expert Bruce Wagman said the bill has "clear and extensive due process protections built in" and requires the court to find there was sufficient basis to seize the animals.
In a letter Wagman wrote, "The law only requires owners of animals to meet their statutory obligation to care for their animals...and is a matter of undisputed Pennsylvania law. That is, if a defendant cannot pay for the care of the animal they would be engaging in neglect and therefore animal cruelty, so that costs required do not demand anything more than that defendants comply with their legal obligations.
In addition, he said, the language was reviewed and approved by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, and many other legal experts.