Corbett replaces dog law chief, overhauls bureau

Gov. Corbett has replaced the head of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and is restructuring the office just two weeks before the final regulations governing commercial kennels go into effect.

The news alarmed some members of the Dog Law Advisory Board who fear it could signal a reversal of the progress made toward humane treatment of dogs in a state once known as the "the puppy mill capital of the East."

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture said Corbett will continue to fight to protect dogs as he did as attorney general.

"Gov. Corbett is committed to Pennsylvania dogs," said Nicole Bucher in an email.

Lynn Diehl, a Harrisburg resident, has been named executive director of the new Office of Dog Law Enforcement. She replaces Jessie Smith, who was named special deputy secretary of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement by Gov. Rendell in 2006.

Smith was Rendell's point person on the passage and implementation of the 2008 dog law aimed at improving conditions in commercial kennels. While some animal welfare advocates criticized Smith for not being aggressive enough on dog law enforcement, statistics during her term show vastly increased numbers of citations issued.

Since Rendell signed the dog law close to 80 percent of commercial kennels - those defined as selling or transferring more than 60 dogs a year - have either closed or downsized rather than come into compliance with the new law. Some 2,400 non-commercial kennels are exempt.

The law - which was passed after two years of fierce debate - requires annual veterinary exams, larger cage sizes, outdoor runs and eliminated stacking and wire flooring (except in the case of nursing females).

The final piece of the dog law to go into effect on July 1 are the regulations developed by veterinarians on the Canine Health Board, that mandate temperature, ammonia and ventilation levels in kennels.

As of this month 74 Pennsylvania kennels fell under the commercial kennel definition, though 14 were issued waivers granting them additional time to come into compliance. 

Diehl, who has worked as a bank manager and is currently a volunteer on several civic organizations, will report to the agency's Executive Deputy Director, Michael L. Pechart. Smith as a deputy secretary, reported directly to the Secretary of Agriculture.

Animal welfare activists are concerned that the change of the bureau to an "office" will de-emphasize its importance and role in protecting dogs in the Commonwealth.

Bucher said the new office will "elevate" the importance of dog law, "ensuring its functions are handled at the highest level."