Corbett and canines: A new era of enforcement, or back to the future?

We learned late this evening that our updated story on the decision to install a new chief of dog law enforcement would not appear in Thursday's print edition of the Inquirer for space reasons. With a news hole as deep as space here online, we bring you the story as it would have appeared.

Pennsylvania’s top “dog cop” was replaced Wednesday in an agency shake-up that left animal welfare activists voicing concern about the fate of the state’s model law governing commercial dog-breeding kennels.

Jessie Smith was appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2006 as his point person in the fight to end Pennsylvania’s reputation as the “puppy mill” capital of the East. In her role as special deputy secretary for the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, Smith was responsible for implementing the landmark 2008 dog law that toughened standards in large kennels, including mandating larger cage sizes, outdoor exercise, and veterinary care.

Lynn Diehl, a former bank manager from Harrisburg, was appointed to the newly created position of executive director of the 70-member Office of Dog Law Enforcement, which administration officials say is an effort to elevate kennel enforcement within the state Department of Agriculture.

A biography released by the Agriculture Department said Diehl had been a financial and banking manager for 32 years, specializing in loans and regulatory compliance, and had volunteered with community groups dealing with housing and women’s issues in the Harrisburg area. She owns a dachshund.

Dog Law Advisory Board member Marsha Perelman of Wynnewood said she was disturbed that someone with no experience in animal care management or law enforcement would be taking over two weeks before the final set of kennel regulations took effect.

Michael Pechart, executive deputy secretary for the Department of Agriculture, said the Canine Health Board regulations, which establish new requirements for temperature, ventilation, lighting, and flooring in kennels, would be implemented as scheduled on July 1.

Pechart said the agency was committed to vigorously enforcing the law and holding substandard kennel operators accountable.

“Gov. Corbett was the [state] attorney general and he is a law enforcer,” said Pechart. “If they are not taking care of their animals, and are not willing to, they need to get out of the business.”

Since Rendell signed the dog law in October 2008, the number of commercial kennels — those selling more than 60 dogs a year — has plummeted from more than 300 to 74. There are 2,191 noncommercial kennels still operating statewide.

Smith, a 20-year veteran of the Attorney General’s Office, will stay on in the governor’s Office of General Counsel