HARRISBURG - The Department of Agriculture imposed a virtual moratorium on kennel enforcement during the past 15 months by failing to properly inspect most commercial kennels, allowing oversized or poor-performing operations to skirt stringent regulations and issuing no citations for breaking the law, according to a blistering new report by members of the state's Dog Law Advisory Board.
The nearly 100-page report, produced by a subcommittee of the board charged with advising the governor on dog issues, came to what it called "the disturbing conclusion" that the Dog Law Enforcement office has failed to enforce critical components of the dog law and the 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 indicate:
- breeders failed to vaccinate dogs for rabies as required and no action was taken;
-rather than revoke licenses of breeders convicted of cruelty it settled their cases and gave them kennel licenses:
-and inspections were conducted shortly before kennel improvement waivers expired, giving breeders even more time to upgrade.
"Everywhere we turned nothing was happening," said Hickey, who helped draft the 2008 dog law establishing higher standards in breeding kennels.
Data compiled on the status of more than 300 commercial kennels - those selling more than 60 dogs a year or selling any dogs to pet stores - that existed before the law went into effect in 2009 indicates there was no follow up on the 184 kennels that said they closed since then. Nor was there follow up to ensure breeders who said they downsized to come under the threshold requiring kennels to make structural improvements actually only sold fewer than 60 dogs a year, the report found.
"Dogs are suffering because of lack of enforcement of this law - no way that can be denied," said board member Marsha Perelman, Wynnewood, one of the authors of the report.
The report, which will be presented at the meeting of the Dog Law Advisory Board at 1 p.m. today, comes amid growing concerns about the effectiveness of the Dog Law Enforcement Office, which is responsible for ensuring the humane care of dogs in licensed kennels.
The agency's history of weak enforcement and oversight was the focus of a landmark two-year legislative battle in the Capitol that ended with the passage of the new dog law in 2008.
The law was aimed at addressing conditions in puppy mills and mandated large breeders increase cage sizes and provide outdoor exercise and regular veterinary care.
Evidence of slipping enforcement efforts - including the near absence of citations filed against kennels for any violations of the dog law - under the Corbett administration resulted in the formation of a subcommittee following the April meeting of the Dog Law Advisory Board.
During that meeting state officials admitted that only a fraction of commercial kennels were complying with canine health regulations that were to go into effect in July 2011 establishing standards for humidity, ventilation, lighting and ammonia levels in large operations.
In June Lynn Diehl, who was appointed a year earlier as the director Dog Law Enforcement Office after her two Rendell-era predecessors were forced out, was removed from her post.
Michael Pechart, a top aide to Agriculture Secretary George Greig, took over the duties as director.
The report makes a series of recommendations. Chief among them, Hickey said, is to immediately inspect the 184 commercial kennels that said they had closed and to inspect the additional 69 kennels that said they no longer sell enough dogs to qualify as commercial kennels to ensure they are operating legally.
The report also urges the state to employ attorneys with prosecutorial experience to oversee dog law case and to reinstate a full-time veterinarian to handle kennel issues, including ordering dogs with severe health problems be seen by a veterinarian and referring possible cruelty cases to humane law enforcement agencies. The full-time veterinarian appointed in 2009 was reduced to twice-a-week per diem status this month.