PetSmart gets state goodies, as dog law goes hungry

Gov. Corbett celebrated pet products and new jobs on Friday by helping PetSmart break ground for a new 870,000 square-foot warehouse in Berks County on Friday.

The $50 million facility in Bethel will employ 500 people when it is fully operational in 2011, PetSmart says, and supply stores in 11 states and Canada.

But what wasn't trumpeted was how much the state - taxpayers - ponied up to seal the deal.

The total in grants, job training assistance and tax credits? $2.3 million.

Don't get us wrong, Philly Dawg loves PetSmart. We shop there every week. We also give two paws up to its adoption programs and other aid to animals it provides through PetSmart Charities. We are thrilled the company that now employs 2,000 people in its 51 Pennsylvania stores is bringing work for hundreds more.

But we couldn't help but think how far that state money would have gone toward bolstering the crippled dog law fund, set up decades ago to protect hundreds of thousands of dogs across the state.

Corbett officials would no doubt say that economic development and dog law are "apples and oranges" and it's unfair to link the two. But no one made that distinction two years ago when Gov. Rendell and the legislature snatched $4 million from the then-healthy, and supposedly "restricted" fund that pays dog warden salaries, to patch holes in the state budget.

Acting dog law enforcement office director Michael Pechart, who last year projected the fund would go dry by next year, reported last month that because of cost cutting - including eliminating the full-time state veterinarian for dog law - has now been stabilized. In fact, the office has hired several wardens to fill vacancies and appointed its first fiscal officer. 

But he says pensions, health care and new equipment costs are straining the fund which is supported only by the sale of dog and kennel licenses and court fees paid by dog law violators. 

Back to PetSmart, we learned the warehouse will one day help area animals in need. The company says overstocks of pet food will be donated to local shelters.