In 102 degree heat, how are the kennel dogs?

The thermometer topped 100 degrees this afternoon as I was sitting in my air conditioned house with cats sprawled across the cool wood floor and some unexpected guests: three very lucky puppies.

The puppies landed at my house in this near record-breaking heat after their private plane made an unscheduled overnight stop in Carlisle because of storms in its path moving through upstate New York. They are part of a 10-dog (eight puppies, plus mom, plus an extra puppy) transport from rescues that pull dogs from high-kill shelters in Tennessee to a rescue in near Albany.

The pilots are part of a nationwide charity called Pilots n Paws, a remarkable network of extremely generous private plane owners who volunteer their time, their wings and their gas to rescuing animals in need.

My thoughts turn to all the less fortunate dogs out there, trapped on chains with no shade, or the thousands of puppy mill dogs stored in stifling barns, in shacks in the middle of a cornfield or in a garages across Pennsylvania.

Under the 2008 dog law, and its companion Canine Health Regulations. temperatures in commercial kennels shall not exceed 85 degrees. In order to ensure compliance, the kennels were required to install a cooling and ventilation system that is to be certified by a licensed engineer. 

Monitors were to be installed in the kennels to gauge the temperature and humidity levels for both the kennel owners and dog wardens conducting inspections.

The commercial kennels, of which there were more than 100 a year ago, were supposed to have made upgrades and received their certifcations by July 1, 2011.

But none were. The office of Dog Law Enforcement and Agriculture Secretary George Greig blamed it on the lack of warden training and delays in ordering equipment in testimony to the legislature.

In fact, it was only made public in April that only 14 of the 52 remaining commercial kennels (those selling or transferring 60 or more dogs a year) were in compliance.

And no kennel owner was cited for non-compliance until just recently when violation notices were sent to 15 commercial kennels. This gives kennels owners even more time to comply and after that unspecified point they will be issued civil fines by the agency. (Of course, don't forget, these kennels have known the stronger standards were coming for four years.)

Civil fines, though rarely if ever used, actually make more sense for dog law because it is a quicker process than the filing in the courts and the struggling dog law enforcement account would receive the full amount.

Samantha Krepps, spokeswoman for the Dept. of Agriculture, said earlier this week that now 37 commercial kennels are in compliance.

So are dogs in the state's largest kennels any more comfortable this year?

Perhaps some indeed are.

Krepps said dog wardens were inspecting the 15 non-compliers as the heat wave rolled in this week. (Of course, with no overtime being paid, we won't see wardens doing any inspections on the weekend.)

But let's not forget, while the other 2,050 licensed kennels are also supposed to adhere to the 85-degree rule, they do not have any specific requirement to install any cooling devices, nor do they have to have any monitoring equipment.

Wardens have in the past ordered kennel owners to relocate dogs from overheated areas. But that was because the warden happened to be there on a particularly hot day.

We know that many former commercial kennels have downsized to skirt the kennel regulations. It's amazing how many smaller kennels are recorded as selling 55 dogs a year or 59 dogs a year. We hope wardens are keeping a close eye on the books of these operations.

Then there are the underground kennels.

There is little question in the minds of animal welfare advocates that many kennels operate with no state oversight, either because they never have more than the magic number of 25 dogs on site (license are required for 26 dogs or more) or because no one has found them yet despite the fact they advertise in plain view on and

We know of no strategy by the state to root out these underground kennels - more than a few of which we have seen violate federal law as well by selling puppies to pet shops. But perhaps there ought to be. Puppies are still far too lucrative a business for the former kennel owners to walk away from.

What we do know tonight is that nine puppies and a mother dog will be winging their way to their new homes on Sunday morning in the arms of flying angels.