Here is the story I wrote in today's Inquirer about the new report on the status of Pennsylvania kennel enforcement. It sparked heated debate at yesterday's meeting of the Dog Law Advisory Board particularly over the elimination of the full-time kennel veterinarian position. The new director of the Dog Law Enforcement Office Michael Pechart announced a number of changes, including the hiring of three new wardens to fill vacancies, the assignment of one warden - Megan Horst - to conduct online investigations of illegal puppy sales, and the closure of a problem kennel (Golden Acres, formerly known as Silver Hill) owned by a man (John Zimmerman) convicted of animal cruelty who skirted the law by renaming the kennel and registering under his wife's name.
HARRISBURG - The Department of Agriculture allowed a virtual suspension of kennel enforcement during the last 15 months by failing to properly inspect most commercial outfits, allowing oversize or poor-performing operations to skirt regulations and citing no violations, according to a new report by members of the state's Dog Law Advisory Board.
The nearly 100-page report, produced by a subcommittee charged with advising the governor on dog issues, came to "the disturbing conclusion" that the state has failed to enforce critical components of the dog law and companion canine health regulations, leaving close to 500,000 dogs in 2,000 kennels at risk.
"The data show that by design, everything was done to ignore enforcing the law," said Thomas Hickey of West Chester, a board member and one of the report's authors.
He said the inspection reports showed that:
Breeders went unpunished despite failing to vaccinate dogs for rabies as required.
Breeders convicted of cruelty and other repeated violations continued to see their licenses approved.
There was uneven follow-up when kennels had been ordered to make improvements.
"Everywhere we turned, nothing was happening," said Hickey, who helped draft the 2008 law establishing higher standards for breeding kennels.
There was no follow-up to ensure that 184 commercial kennels that reported closing since the 2009 law went into effect had actually stopped operating, according to the report.
Nor was there follow-up to ensure that breeders who said they downsized to come under the threshold requiring kennels to make structural improvements actually did so, the report found.
Michael Pechart, director of the Dog Law Enforcement Office, defended the agency's recent efforts to correct some of the issues raised and said his staff was working to correct other issues.
"We have made significant progress, and we're not done yet," said Pechart at the board meeting Thursday where the report was presented.
For instance, he cited the revocation this week of a kennel license granted to the wife of a Lancaster County breeder convicted of animal abuse, the appointment of three new dog wardens, and the assignment of a warden to monitor Internet puppy sales by illegal kennels.
The report was released amid growing concern about backsliding by the office charged with ensuring the humane care of dogs in licensed kennels.
The enforcement committee was formed after the April board meeting, when it was revealed that only a fraction of commercial kennels were in compliance with canine health regulations governing ammonia levels, lighting, and flooring nine months after they were to take effect.
Pechart said that 49 of the 51 remaining commercial kennels are now in compliance and that the wardens are inspecting kennels more often.
Board members at the meeting criticized a decision by Pechart to reduce the full-time veterinarian to twice-a-week per diem status.
"The department remains responsible for 475,000 breeding dogs in Pennsylvania kennels," said board member Marsha Perelman of Wynnewood, one of the authors of the report. "To think a two-day-a-week vet can properly assure the health and welfare of that many dogs makes no sense."