WEST CHESTER — Gov. Edward G. Rendell proposed sweeping changes to the state’s dog law and related state regulations that are designed to improve the conditions under which dogs are bred and sold in Pennsylvania.
“We are taking strong steps to protect consumers, reputable breeders and kennels, and the defenseless animals whose health and welfare is at the heart of this important issue,” Rendell said.
To oversee the state’s effort, the governor named Jessie Smith, a 20-year veteran of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, as special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement in the Department of Agriculture. Smith, who owns four dogs, will serve as dog law enforcement liaison with municipalities, courts, law enforcement, dog welfare organizations, veterinarians, kennel licensees, constituent groups and the general public.
Additionally, Smith has served as president of the board of directors for the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area since 2003. She has also worked as an adjunct faculty member at Dickinson Law School and as a Dauphin County arbitrator.
Additionally, the governor named Jeffrey Paladina, who most recently served as the assistant district attorney in Beaver County, as special prosecutor for dog law enforcement, one of six new positions in the Agriculture’s Department’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, who will work to make sure current laws are being enforced.
Rendell also created a special enforcement team comprised of four kennel compliance specialists, who will be dispatched throughout the state to enforce the kennel provisions of the dog law.
Rendell also announced the appointment of a special team to improve enforcement of Pennsylvania’s dog law and also named 16 individuals to the state’s Dog Law Advisory Board. The advisory board members represent various categories of organizations that are mandated in law.
The key components of Governor Rendell’s legislative proposal would: Strengthen criminal penalties related to the dog law and cruelty statutes;
Provide the bureau with the authority to issue civil penalties for violations of the dog law subject to administrative hearing for both licensed and unlicensed kennels; Allow the Bureau’s special prosecutor to represent dog wardens in court with the approval of the local district attorney, just as Humane Societies can currently seek such approval for private representation; Allow dog wardens to seize dogs in distress; Require owners to pay for the care of dogs during pending cruelty cases, or forfeit ownership of the dogs; Require kennel owners to post a surety bond prior to receiving a license. When dogs are seized from unlicensed kennels, those kennels must post a surety bond prior to launching any appeal or other legal action; and Require that the Secretary of Agriculture revoke a kennel license from any kennel owner who is convicted of cruelty and shall not issue a kennel license to any person that has been convicted of cruelty in the past 10 years.
Rendell’s proposed regulatory changes include: Doubling cage sizes in all kennels with the exception of humane societies. This is widely viewed as a significant step to improve conditions in Pennsylvania’s breeding facilities. Humane societies would be exempted because they provide only temporary shelter; Requiring that all dogs housed in kennels be exercised for 20 minutes per day; Creating more specific requirements for indoor and outdoor kennel facilities in order to detail numerous health, safety and welfare issues that must be considered in both instances. Currently, there are no separate regulations for outdoor facilities; Establishing more detailed specifications so that indoor and outdoor facilities provide dogs with proper shelter, temperature control, ventilation, air movement, lighting, bedding, sanitation, slope of ground and run and footing materials; and Creating more detailed record keeping requirements for kennel owners.
“These appointments are intended to give the board a fresh start and new direction,” Rendell said. “When I announced my intention to remake this board, I received applications from many qualified individuals – and I wish to thank each of them for their interest.”
Advisory board meetings will continue to be open to the public for all to attend and participate, as has been the case in the past. The board will meet, at minimum, on a quarterly basis. The terms of the membership will be staggered and limited to two-consecutive terms. Smith will serve as the Secretary of Agriculture’s designee at board meetings.
Rendell also announced that the first board meeting will be scheduled next month for the purpose of reviewing his proposed regulatory changes to the dog law. This meeting will be held prior to the publication of the proposed regulations in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, so that board members and the interested public will have a chance to review the proposed changes before the extended 60-day public comment period beings. All public comments must be responded to in writing, and changes can be made based on comments received.
“This is just the beginning of our efforts to strengthen the dog law,” Rendell said. “I encourage the public to play an active role in this important and ongoing process.”