What happens to unwanted puppy mill dogs?
Among the Amish and Mennonite breeders the most common method of destruction was,and probably still is, bullet to the head.
(Commercial kennel owners under the dog law may no longer shoot their animals, but any other breeder or dog owner may do so.)
This past weekend one breeder decided to try a different tack: They just turned their tiny dogs loose in the predator-filled woods of northwestern Pennsylvania.
At least 16 purebred dogs - 13 Pomeranians, two Shih Tzus and a Miniature Doberman Pinscher - were dumped in the woods not far from Punxatawney, home to Pennsylvania's famous ground hog, according to WJAC-TV.
They had rotten teeth, matted, fecal-encrusted fur and splayed paws, the hallmarks of a life in a wire cage. Fortunately some Good Samaritans rounded them up and a generous veterinarian is caring for them.
The discovery comes just three weeks after the fireworks-filled first meeting of the Dog Law Advisory Board where state officials admitted the majority of commercial kennels were not in compliance of the law, were not being cited and in fact, the agency had decided it would simply not enforce certain provisions of the law.
That admission drew a series of angry exchanges between members and the public raised questions about lack of enforcement.
A slew of news articles and editorials followed in short order, including my own and a critical editorial written by my colleagues at the Inquirer.
It also sparked some apparent soul searching by state officials. Less than two weeks later Michael Pechart, executive deputy secretary of agriculture in charge of dog law, sent an email obtained by the Inquirer to the 54 remaining state dog wardens that their job is to, yes, enforce the dog law.
There has been public speculation that the department is not enforcing Pennsylvania’s dog laws – that is not true.
The department has a statutory responsibility under law to perform duties within the law, and choosing not to do so would be in violation of the law. Members of the Dog Law Advisory Board are forming workgroups to provide recommendations on how to restore solvency to the fund, create proactive measures to increase sales of dog licenses and assure continued enforcement of the law. Recently, you may have seen increased attention focused on Dog Law enforcement. Both Governor Corbett and Secretary Greig have made it very clear that enforcement of the law is a priority.
They expect no less. If you are aware of any kennel that is violating the Dog Law or its regulations, notify your supervisor Kristen Donmoyer, director, Lynn Diehl or me immediately so we can take appropriate action.
Isn't all of this Dog Law Enforcement 101? Why did take almost a year since the hiring of Lynn Diehl as office director to issue this memo and promise to meet with wardens?
Also disturbing was this section:
It has also come to my attention that you were directed not to talk to or work with the ASPCA and the Federated Humane Societies (and your local humane officers). This is not true. In fact, I recently met with the ASPCA/Federated Humane Societies of PA and publically (sic) corrected the record. I am encouraging all of you to work with your local humane society police officers as well as other enforcement offices to continue to foster a positive relationship. We depend upon this relationship and it is a priority for the department.
We're not sure which organization Pechart is referring to here. The ASPCA is a national organization and has no representatives here. There are local SPCAs which shelter animals and conduct law enforcement.
The Jefferson County dog dumping is deeply troubling to animal welfare advocates who fear the number of unlicensed kennels is growing as breeders give up licenses because they say they can't or won't comply with the law. More than 300 large breeders alone pulled the plug on their businesses or downsized rather than install wire-free flooring, better lighting and ventilation systems required under the law.
Just last year there was a suspicious dog dumping in southern Lancaster County, an area rife with dog kennels, legal and illegal. A group of purebred and so-called "designer mix" dogs, too-old-for-pet-store puppies, were were found wandering along a road. No one was ever prosecuted in that case.
Three years ago as the dog law took effect, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Center, the PA Federation of Humane Societies joined with breeders to offer the short-lived "safe harbor" program to give breeders an outlet for their dogs if they decided to go out of business.
Animal welfare advocates were furious that the veterinary group and humane societies would give bad breeders a pass by taking their dogs, many of them likely suffering from serious health problems, no questions asked, when the breeders might otherwise have been cited for cruelty.
It is still easy to give up one's kennel license and keep breeding dogs. Once a breeder has surrendered his or her license, dog wardens have no ability to enter their property without a warrant and with so many puppy mills located on large family farms of hundreds of acres, it's easy to hide dogs.
There was no mention in the local news reports in Jefferson County of any law enforcement authority working on the dumped dog case. Nor was there mention of a dog warden, nor would there be. Wardens do not normally work on nights or weekends and have been told not to respond to calls because they will not be paid overtime.
Neither is there a humane officer registered in that county which would mean any investigation and/or enforcement would fall on the local police. The state police and municipal police departments have spotty records at best for prosecuting animal cruelty cases in Pennsylvania.
Dog law advisory board member Tom Hickey said the dogs cruelly dumped over the weekend highlights the need for a special enforcement unit - CSI Dog Law? - to investigate underground kennels.
After all, people who illegally breed and deal dogs are breaking many more laws than just the Pennsylvania dog law. How about tax evasion? Illegal use of prescription veterinary medicines? Consumer fraud for selling sick dogs and interstate trafficking of dogs without health certificates?