Shake up at PA dog law: controversial director transferred to corrections

The controversial director of the agency charged with overseeing Pennsylvania's more than 2,000 licensed kennels, has been transferred to another state agency where she will make almost half her current salary.

Lynn Diehl, a Republican Party volunteer who had no prior experience in animal welfare or law enforcement when she was named to director of the Dog Law Enforcement Office in June 2011, will become an administrative officer in the Department of Corrections effective Aug. 5, according to the Office of Administration.

In her new job she will be making $44,675 as an administrative officer 1, the lowest ranking in that category, said Office of Administration spokesman Dan Egan. Diehl's salary as director of the Dog Law Enforcement Office was $80,000.

In an email to members of the Dog Law Advisory Board notifying them of Diehl's transfer, her supervisor, Michael Pechart, a top aide to Agriculture Secretary George Greig, said he would be stepping into the role of dog law director.

When asked about the transfer and the plans for finding a replacement, a Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said only that it was "a personnel matter."

Diehl's appointment sparked controversy when it became quickly apparent by decisions that were being made, that the former bank manager was lacking the experience needed in the high profile job, animal welfare advocates said.

Shortly before her appointment, the Corbett administration transferred then-bureau director Sue West to another position in the Department of Agriculture and fired special deputy secretary Jessie Smith, both of whom were appointed by Gov. Rendell as part of his efforts to improve conditions in commercial dog kennels.

Both West and Smith, who returned to the Attorney General's office where she had worked as an attorney, had served on boards of humane societies prior to their appointments in dog law.

Under Diehl's supervision no commercial kennels were inspected between July 1, 2011 when the canine health regulations were to go into effect, and early 2012, leaving thousands of dogs in the largest kennels in the state with no oversight for well over seven months, through the coldest months of the year.

In April, at the first meeting of the Dog Law Advisory Board since Gov. Corbett took office in January 2011, Diehl admitted that only a fraction (17) of 52 commercial kennels were in compliance with the regulations for commercial kennels that required ventilation systems, improved lighting and monitoring for temperature, humidity and ammonia levels.

During the past 13 months, kennels were given repeated warnings for dog law violations, but there was no evidence in state inspection reports that any citations were issued to commercial kennels until recently.

Also during Diehl's term the office granted a kennel license to the wife of Lancaster County breeder John Zimmerman of Silver Hill kennel, after his license was revoked because of an animal cruelty conviction.

That move touched off protests by animal welfare advocates who contended such action violated the provisions of the 2008 dog law forbidding animal abusers from transferring a kennel license to family members.

Dog Law Advisory Board member Tom Hickey said he was pleased with the move and hopes the agency will consult with members of the board during the search process.

"They made a terrible mistake when they made that choice," said Hickey. "She didn't understand the issues, she didn't understand enforcement. The head of dog law needs to know the subject matter because it impacts living things."