The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement was so short of cash during the snowstorms in mid-January that it could not make its payroll, Brosius said. He said yesterday that he was taking steps to lay off 42 employees - about two-thirds of the bureau - unless more money could be found.
State dog wardens represent a duplication of effort, Brosius said, because many municipalities already have animal-control officers. ``The philosophy of this administration is to decentralize government,'' Brosius said outside the hearing.
Brosius' comments drew almost no support at the hearing. Rep. William R. Lloyd Jr. (D., Somerset) predicted that county officials would view the plan as a money-loser.
Douglas E. Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, agreed. ``We wonder whether we can do it any better than the state can,'' Hill said. ``This would be a mandate that's not quite fully funded.''
Still others fear the plan would mark a greater decline in efforts to police conditions at dog kennels. Many activists credit Brosius and Richard F. Hess, director of the dog-law bureau, with improving enforcement in the last six months. But giving enforcement to the counties would create a hodgepodge of interpretations of kennel regulations and lead to even less cleanup, said Dotsie Keith, legislation director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs.
Robert G. Yarnall Jr., a breeders representative, also opposed the plan, saying it would lead to inconsistent enforcement. Gordon Hiller, head of the Pennsylvania State Grange, suggested that the state should instead raise dog-licensing fees.
The Dog Law Enforcement Bureau has lost an average of about $300,000 a year since 1987. A surplus built in the 1980s has covered the shortfalls. But only an estimated $279,000 remained in the fund as of December, and the losses have been widening in the last five years.
Legislators have balked at raising dog-license fees, which range from $1.75 for senior citizens to $5, because of criticism over the bureau's past accounting practices.
Little more than a third of the dogs in the state are licensed. About 810,000 dogs were licensed last year. The American Veterinary Medical Association said there were 2,296,000 dogs in Pennsylvania in 1991, the latest estimate.
Rumors have been circulating for months that the Ridge administration wanted to get out of the business of enforcing dog-kennel regulations. The bureau is often a political battleground between activists who want the state to clean up so-called puppy mills and kennel owners who see state enforcement efforts as intrusive.