Ag Dept. excuses for not calling dog law meeting ring hollow

For months the Department of Agriculture has repeatedly said the reason it has not scheduled a meeting of the Dog Law Advisory Board is because Gov. Corbett has not yet filled two open slots on the 24-member panel.

First, that excuse simply does not fly when you consider the number of boards and commissions that regularly hold meetings without a full complement of members.

But even more disturbing is the fact the governor has named at least one person to the board and failed to make public that news.

Dana Spain, founder and president of the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, said she received a letter from the Corbett administration in December notifying her of her appointment to fill the slot reserved for a representative of a humane society.

"It's been radio silence ever since," she said in an interview today.

Corbett issues press announcements about individuals named to state boards and commissions almost daily and there has been no notice of Spain's appointment. Why?

Would it suck the air out of the already weak excuse for not holding a meeting - at a time when the dog law fund is fast being depleted?

Members of the board have been agitating for a meeting for at least six months. The dog law fund, which pays to enforce the law regarding licensed kennels, as well as dangerous dogs and dogs without licenses and rabies shots, will go bankrupt in 2013.

In 2009, the fund - supported solely by dog license fees and court fees imposed on violators - stood at a healthy $14 million. In 2010 it was raided by Gov. Rendell and the legislature to the tune of $4 million cover a general fund shortfall. That was never replaced. 

In addition, Auditor General Jack Wagner has identified another $1.2 million that went missing from dog law. He says it was misspent by the agency to fund non-dog law positions - a charge ag officials deny. 

Agriculture Secretary George Greig testified to his agency's dire budget situation in hearings before the state legislature last month. He offered no solutions to the crisis.

Spain and others however, do have money raising ideas, lots of them. Spain was instrumental in winning developing Philadelphia's new dog licensing ordinance. (See Inquirer story on that effort here.)

Also on tap for Philadelphia, she says, is a series of public service announcements reminding dog owners to get licensed. There are roughly 1 million licenses sold each year in Pennsylvania, but experts believe there are many more unlicensed dogs in the Commonwealth.

"We need to improve licensing and we need more enforcement," Spain said. "The mantra is 'there's no money." The money comes from licensing, then we need to look at licensing practices."

Spain said she'd be happy to share ideas now in place and those soon-to-be-underway in Philadelphia in a statewide meeting setting.

Whenever that is.