Last Update: 2/28/2012 1:25:00 PM
Funding woes take bite out of state's dog laws
The transfer of millions of dollars from a state fund intended for enforcement raises fears among local agencies.
Allegations of cruelty against dogs, particularly in breeding operations and kennels, are less likely to be investigated and prosecuted because $4 million was raided from a state fund that was to be restricted for dog law enforcement. Also, animal welfare agencies might not be able to accept stray dogs because of inadequate funding.
The Legislature authorized the transfer in August 2009, just three weeks before passage of the second of two new dog laws aimed at shutting down puppy mills in Berks County and elsewhere across the state.
It set off a downward spiral that is quickly depleting the fund and raising fears among local animal welfare agencies that dog law enforcement efforts will never recover.
The fund was down to about $2 million at the end of December.
The fund in a typical year takes in about $6 million in licensing fees and fines from dog law enforcement. That is considerably less that the more than $8 million it costs the Agriculture Department to enforce the dog laws.
Less enforcement is expected to accelerate the financial slide because lack of money will prevent dog wardens from canvassing for unlicensed dogs and periodically inspecting breeders and kennels.
That, in turn, reduces the amount of dog and kennel licensing fees and fines that contribute to the fund known as the Dog Law Restricted Account.
Barrie A. Pease, president of the Animal Rescue League of Berks County, said that because of the funding problem, the state in January ended the league's $100,000 annual contract for accepting stray dogs and performing other animal law enforcement services on the state's behalf.
Suddenly a gap of nearly 8 percent appeared in the agency's $1.3 million budget, he said.
"For three weeks we were taking dogs in," Pease said. "A lot of shelters weren't taking them, so last year we accepted them from Dauphin, Lancaster and Lehigh counties. We took in about 3,000 dogs and a little more than 10,000 animals last year."
Without the funding, the agency won't be able to maintain that level of service, he said.
Most municipalities donate to the league for accepting their strays, but the amount falls far short of the $100 average cost for caring for a dog, giving it a rabies shot, spaying or neutering it and implanting an identification chip, Pease said.
"It's a double-edged sword for us," he said. "As long as there are puppy mills out there and there's nobody to enforce the law, the breeders are going to take advantage of that. You're going to have unlicensed kennels. We're going to wind up with more dogs that require more care.
"Everything that happened with puppy mills is going to crop up again. The people of Pennsylvania should be ashamed. We're going to be the puppy mill capital of the East again."
Karel Minor, executive director of the Humane Society of Berks County, said the agency hasn't received state funding for several years.
Still, the lack of dog law enforcement is a concern for all animal welfare agencies, he said.
"The dog laws are simply being ignored," Minor said. "There's no way to pay for what their (the Agriculture Department's) legal obligations are with the amount of money they have on hand. The numbers don't add up.
"Enforcement is going to be a bare minimum."
Gov. Tom Corbett's decision last year to downgrade the Dog Enforcement Bureau to the dog enforcement office, coupled with the raid on the funding, leads Minor to believe that the state has no intention of paying the money back to the fund or restoring dog law enforcement to its previous level.
He said that's a result of breeders and kennel owners complaining that enforcement had become too strict and that enforcement officers were targeting certain people.
The Agriculture Department sides with them because most breeding operations and kennels are on farms and the department is obligated to protect farmers, Minor said.
"The farming interests got their way," he said.
The department provided dog licensing statistics, but attempts to get additional information were unsuccessful.
State Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone is not happy about the situation and the lack of enforcement. The Reading Democrat was the primary sponsor for the two new laws targeting puppy mills.
The first, adopted in October 2008, sets standards for cages and environmental conditions, requires annual examinations by a veterinarian and prohibits anyone but a veterinarian from killing a dog.
Caltagirone introduced the second in 2009, after owners of two separate breeding operations in Maxatawny Township shot and killed 80 dogs to avoid the expense of addressing health problems and poor kennel conditions as ordered by a state enforcement officer.
It requires a licensed veterinarian to perform surgical procedures, including ear cropping, vocal cord cutting and Caesarean sections.
Caltagirone said he was unaware of the transfer, which was authorized in a Senate appropriations bill, but that he was aware money was being shuffled around because the state was short of money.
The state had no budget at the time. The bill kept state government running until the Legislature approved a budget in October that year, 101 days late.
"Why did we go to all the trouble of putting the laws on the books if we can't enforce them?" Caltagirone said. "We'll be starting budget hearings shortly. We're going to need restoration of at least some of the funding."
Contact Mary Young: 610-478-6292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.