Patti Bednarik: Champion of animal welfare


Pennsylvania has lost a quiet crusader for animals.

Patti Bednarik, who spearheaded efforts to teach animal law to future lawyers and fought to pass the state's landmark anti-puppy mill law, died on Friday.

Bednarik succumbed to her battle with cancer at a Pittsburgh hospice. She was 56.

Bednarik founded and served as the first chair of the Animal Law Committee of the Pennsylvania Bar Association in 2004 and in that capacity helped organize annual Animal Law conferences attended by hundreds of practicing attorneys, students and others.

In 2005, then-Gov. Ed Rendell appointed her to serve on the Dog Law Advisory Board, where she helped draft stronger regulations governing commercial puppy mills.

Even after the legislation passed she took on powerful forces set on weakening regulations to mandate commercial breeders comply with a higher standard of care than smaller kennels.

As Sen. Mike Brubaker of Lancaster and the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association sought to undo the work of the Canine Health Board charged with setting standards on temperature, ventilation and lighting. (Ironically, the PVMA and Brubaker helped create the all-veterinarian board), Bednarik wrote a forceful letter to the Independent Regulatory Review Board explaining why mass-breeding kennels should be held to higher standards.

The costs of compliance will be borne by those whose operations produce the most puppies and, presumably, profit the greatest. In many instances, these operations were responsible for the inhumane practices whose existence in the Commonwealth could no longer be tolerated in their present form. But for these inhumane practices, there would have been no Public Law 1450 and no Canine Health Board. The mere fact that some may regard the standards as unwise or burdensome does not mean that the Canine Health Board exceeded its mandate.

Her husband, Joe Bednarik, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that his wife inspired many law students to continue her work in protecting the rights of animals.

"She was always modest about her accomplishments and to a certain extent I tried to give her some idea of what she accomplished and what she meant to so many people," he told the newspaper. "I always told her that any accomplishments her students achieve in the future in terms of animal welfare is her's as well."

On weekends Bednarik would put away her legal pad and fire up her car engine to help transport dogs from high-kill shelters to rescues, foster homes and adoptive families.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she and her husband traveled to New Orleans to work with the Humane Society of the United States  save dogs abandoned in the flooded city. One, a Chow Chow, Trina, would come home with them. The couple have another rescue dog, Wendy.

Every year on Aug. 23 Bednarik would do something different, become a vegetarian, bike down a mountain in Jamaica, learned how to tap dance. In a piece in August, as Bednarik faced the uncertainty she would see another year, Patriot-News columnist Anne Reeves recounted her adventures and urged readers to do the same. Choose a day. Do something different. To, as Bednarik put it, "live the best life."

The family suggests memorial contributions to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, 170 East Cotati Ave., Cotati, CA 94931 or Partners in Health, P.O. Box 996, Frederick, MD 21705-9942.