Gov. Rendell sent a stern message to his own Department of Agriculture today: No wire flooring means no wire flooring.
Eight days after the department released its controversial policy to allow adult female dogs in commercial breeding kennels to spend months on wire floors - in contradiction to the hard-fought 2008 dog law - Rendell has asked the agency's top official to pull the regulations and start over.
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding sent today, Rendell wrote:
The regulations that were submitted do not address the issue of flooring provided to nursing mothers while they are nursing puppies. Moreover, I believe we should do more to ensure safe and sanitary flooring to puppies as they mature to twelve weeks. Act 119 of 2008 was intended to improve the life of all dogs in commercial breeding kennels. Mothers, who may have two litters in a calendar year are too important to be omitted from protection in these regulations.
News of the new policy on wire flooring touched off a firestorm of protest from animal welfare advocates who fought for two years for the passage of tougher laws to end Pennsylvania's reputation as "the puppy mill Capital of the East."
The policy was part of a package of proposed regulations developed to guide the state in implementing the 2008 dog law, which specifically banned wire flooring for adult dogs as well as increased cage sizes, imposed exercise requirements and mandated twice-yearly veterinary care. The regulations, after an extensive comment period, were revised by the Department of Agriculture and last month were submitted to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission for final approval.
In its interpretation of the law, the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement specified that nursing mothers could live in a wire cage for almost one third of the year (during breeding cycles) with no access to "unfettered" exercise.
The bureau argued that it was trying to provide better sanitation for puppies, a point disputed by animal welfare advocates and some breeders who said the best arrangement for mother dogs was having access to an outside area. It has been well documented that dogs who spend years on wire flooring suffer from painful paw cysts and splayed feet and when removed from their rabbit hutch-type cages have trouble walking on solid floors.
A commercial kennel is defined as those that sell or transfer 60 or more dogs a year or sell a single dog to a pet store. There are 111 such kennels in the state today, many of them located in Lancaster County and breeding hundreds of dogs a year.
In the letter, Rendell asked Redding to resubmit the regulations to the IRRC in time for its next meeting on Aug. 19.