Dog law panel dormancy raises questions


Earlier this week we learned from the Department of Agriculture that there were no plans to convene a meeting of the governor's Dog Law Advisory Board this fall.

There have been few attention-grabbing headlines involving animals in recent months and attendance at the spring meeting may have been the lowest in almost a decade.

But since Gov. Rendell fired the board  in 2006 - a time when one of the state's most notorious puppy mill operators held a seat on it - and proclaimed the panel "ineffective" there have been at least two meetings a year, sometimes more.

In 2012 a board committee released a damning report that concluded the agency charged with inspecting licensed commercial kennels had in fact not been inspecting them - in some cases for more than a year.

That led to a full audit by the state Auditor General, the dismissal of the head of the dog law enforcement office and a new pledge by the Department of Agriculture to step up its inspections of the state's 2,177 licensed kennels.

Judging by the agency's public database, kennels are being inspected at least twice a year as required and citations are being issued and the veterinarian dedicated to examining breeding dogs - who had been reduced from full-time staff to contract work because of budget problems - is again back out in the field inspecting kennels full time.

A dog warden has been tasked with rooting out unlicensed kennels, the numbers of which have surged since tougher dog law led to mass closures.

Had Pennsylvania solved all of its dog issues?

Then last night the following three headlines crossed my email transom

:"Humane Society trying to toughen animal cruelty laws"

"State revokes Fayette County Animal Shelter License"

"Youngwood shelter removes 44 dogs, 9 cats from shuttered Fayette SPCA"

"Pleas for more dog wardens follow attack"

And that's not all, animal welfare advocates and shelters won a big victory in the legislature last year, with the passage of a bill requiring those charged with cruelty to surrender their animals or pay for the cost of their care while they are in shelters.

But since then, other bills to help animals have stalled among them:

Senate Bill 522 would end 24/7 dog chaining,

SB 718 would eliminate the arbitrary and outdated cap on fees that dog law can collect in its court cases.

SB 963 would protect pets in domestic violence situations, making it illegal for a kennel owner who has lost their license to transfer it to a family member.

SB 1126 moving the oversight of animal welfare from the Department of Agriculture, where there are perceived conflicts with agriculture promotion, to the Health Department.

The Delaware governor Jack Markell last month signed a package of bills including one that did just that.

So does Pennsylvania still need a dog law advisory board or is there no work left to be done?