Corbett presses Ag Dept. for answers on wire flooring

The battle over wire flooring in the state's 111 remaining commercial dog breeding kennels continues in Harrisburg.

Attorney General Tom Corbett - who is required to sign off on all proposed state regulations - is pressing the state Department of Agriculture to justify its rationale for allowing nursing mothers in commercial kennels to stand on wire flooring - a legal interpretation that some animal welfare activists contend is in direct violation of the new dog law.

In the second of two memos to the agency dated Oct. 19, Corbett's staff asked for more details about the agency's decision on flooring. In a memo last month, Corbett wrote that the decision to allow nursing mothers to stand on wire flooring for weeks or even months at a time "exceeds the department's authority and is not supported by statutory requirements." He went on to say that it "violated the clear proscription against the use of metal stand flooring for dogs over 12 weeks of age."

The Department of Agriculture responded that in essence said they had no choice because there was a "legislative determination not to extend the wire floor prohibition to puppies" and that it would exceed its authority to ban wire flooring for puppies.

"The legislature's choice cannot be undone by departmental regulation," the agency wrote.

The latest series of questions from Corbett now in the hands of the Agriculture Department are:

Are the examples of metal strand mesh flooring meant to be exhaustive or only illustrative of the options available to commercial kennel owners?

In regard to the period of time that a mother dog is in the puppy enclose and potentially exposed to metal flooring, is there alternative regulatory approach which would provide some form of temporary housing nursing mothers and puppies under six weeks of age?

Why is there a different standard for metal strand flooring for "licensed kennels" as opposed to the primary encloses for dogs over 12 weeks and commercial kennels?

Wire flooring was at the heart of the fight to strengthen Pennsylvania's dog law three years ago.

The vast majority of commercial kennels - and hundreds of smaller kennels - use metal flooring, usually attached to boxes or large rabbit hutches, because it is easier to clean. (This reporter has witnessed piles of excrement more than a foot high under such wire enclosures and adult dogs struggling to keep their paws from slipping through holes in the wire.)

Uncoated, broken and sagging wire - along with gaps so large feet can fall through causing injury - is the single biggest problem area noted in hundreds of state kennel inspection reports.

Standing on wire for years at a time leads to splayed paws, abscesses, injuries and the inability to walk on solid surfaces - not to mention the psychological damage from not being allowed to stand on terra firma, some dog behavior experts say.

Breeders, and even the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, fought against proposals to require solid flooring, arguing it would be unsanitary and force dogs to stand in their own waste (to which animal welfare advocates and shelter operators - which almost exclusively use solid floors - responded that commercial kennel owners should clean their kennels every day as they do).

In the end, the bill's language specified solid or slatted flooring for dogs over 12 weeks old. The presumption was that it would be more sanitary to allow puppies between weaning (4-6 weeks and 12 weeks) to be housed briefly on wire.

The department argued that the language did not address the nursing mothers and puppies together from birth to roughly 8 weeks and that they had no option but to craft a compromise of 50 percent wire flooring with access to solid flooring.  Animal welfare advocates responded angrily that it was a blatant violation of the law and staged protests over the issue.

A Corbett spokesman said the office has 30 days to review proposed regulations and 10 days to review an agency’s response. In this case, the attorney general's office is reviewing a massive set of regulations drafted by the Canine Health Board governing temperature, ventilation and ammonia levels, of which wire flooring is a part. The regulations, once approved would not take effect until July 2011.

Since there has been no response from the Department of Agriculture to the second set of questions that clock has not yet started ticking.

"At the end of our review, we can approve all, part, or none of a proposed regulation," said Corbett spokesman Nils Fredericksen.

Additional Reading: Response to OAG Tolling Memo (.pdf)

(Photo/Prisoners of Greed)