Pa. puppy mills up to old tricks

Posted: May 02, 2012

What’s Gov. Corbett got against puppies?

After years of complaints from dog lovers and people who unknowingly purchased sick and dying pets that had been raised inside puppy-mill cages no bigger than a rabbit hutch, Pennsylvania passed a 2008 law ensuring humane treatment for tens of thousands of kennel dwellers.

That law, aimed at ridding Pennsylvania of its reputation as the worst puppy-mill state in the East, has served as a model for 20 other states. But Corbett isn’t interested in its enforcement.

The Department of Agriculture admits that it has inspected fewer than half of the state’s large puppy mills and isn’t even trying to enforce parts of the law, which regulates temperature, humidity, and ventilation, as well as ammonia levels, at kennels.

The latest report showed only 17 of 52 commercial kennels in compliance with the rules, which include bans on wire-mesh cage floors and cage stacking, and requirements to provide dogs with adequate food, water, and exercise.

There is no evidence that the state has cited kennels that flouted the law. Instead, the head of the Office of Dog Law Enforcement said the agency is trying to “work” with kennel owners.

Advocates rightly fear a return to the days when the department didn’t enforce even the most minimal standards under the guise of prizing education over enforcement.

Commercial kennel owners are pretty well educated. They sued to have these regulations overturned, but lost. Now, with Corbett’s help, it looks like they’re back on the winning side.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell hired top talent to run the enforcement office. Corbett had a right to appoint his own people, and did. But when asked about the qualifications of current director Lynn Diehl, whose background is in banking, a department spokesman could only answer, “She has a dog.”

Someone with a banking background should at least understand money. But under Diehl’s leadership, staff and funds at the department are being depleted.

The administration can try to explain away the office’s failure by citing budget woes. But it is the dog office’s own incompetence that is at fault. Collections for dog licenses, kennel applications, and so-called “dangerous dog” permits are all behind schedule.

The dog funds also have been raided, including by Rendell, to fill budget gaps. If the legislature would reverse a 1990s decision to use the bulk of the fines collected to modernize computers in the state court system, it could restore millions to dog-law enforcement and perhaps help fund the local humane societies that pick up stray dogs, which are expected to see their state funding slashed to zero by Corbett next year.

The governor has some explaining to do, to dog lovers as well as to his own Airedale terriers, Penny and Harry.

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