Dog warden decline prompts concern among animal advocates

The rising number of unfilled vacancies among the ranks of state dog wardens in Pennsylvania, that during the Rendell administration reached an all-time high of 65, is spurring criticism among animal advocates. 

In January 2011 there were five vacancies in the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, leaving 60 wardens to cover the state's 67 counties. Since that time four additional wardens left the state employment rolls.

The number was confirmed by the Office of Administration after a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, Samantha Krepps, refused to provide any information about the warden count, saying it was a "personnel" issue.

The reduction means some dog wardens are now having to cover multiple counties across wide areas in rural parts of the state.

And some densely-populated areas with many licensed kennels will get less attention from wardens who have to divide their time between counties.

Dog wardens are responsible not only for kennel inspections. but also for picking up stray dogs, responding to reports of dangerous dogs and dog-related livestock damage and ensuring dog licenses and rabies vaccinations are up-to-date.

York County, which once had two dedicated wardens, now shares one of its warden with neighboring Cumberland County.

In the northern tier dog warden Scott Schurer now covers three remote counties (Tioga, Lycoming and Potter) with drive times from one end to the other of roughly three hours over mountainous roads. The job is made all the more arduous in these remote areas by the lack of shelters that accept strays.

Tom Hickey, a member of the Dog Law Advisory Board, said he fears the progress with the 2008 passage of a strengthened dog law, is being eroded.

"There are reports out there that kennels are only on paper shutting down," he said. "There is a lot of investigative work that could be going on."

In addition, Hickey said with the sheltering crisis across the state, dog wardens are needed now more than ever.

Krepps did not say whether the vacancies would be filled or how the remaining wardens would handle the work load with fewer employees.

Under Gov. Rendell five "kennel compliance specialists" were hired to focus on commercial kennels - those breeding kennels selling 60 or more dogs a year and those that sell any puppies to pet stores.

With the imposition of increased regulations, the number of commercial kennels has dropped by two-thirds from more than 300 to just over 100.  But a number of those large kennels simply downsized, leaving the net total of licensed kennels, which also includes boarding facilities and shelters, at 2,246.

You can see the map of dog wardens and their counties on the bureau's website.