Harsh Reality of Pennsylvania Puppy Mills
Thanks to Chiris Krewson for letting us know about this strong article from The Morning Call about puppy mills in Pennsylvania! Big barks and howls for the investigative journalists at The Morning Call!
More happy barks for The Morning Call's new database on Pensylvania puppy mills! As Chris mentions, you can help others learn more about the evils of puppy mills by actually including a link on your blog or site to the extensive database.
Chris Krewson wrote:
Hello. On Sunday my newspaper (The Morning Call, Allentown) is running a major investigative story on Pennsylvania's reputation as the puppy mill capitol of the East Coast. To do that, we used the state's Right to Know Law and obtained 20,000 inspection reports, and assembled them into a database.
Today we launched that database on our Web site for users to search, days before the story's running. We're also encouraging Web site owners and bloggers to embed our search widget on your pages in the same way YouTube lets people embed videos on their pages or blogs.
Please drop us a line if you wind up using our code. Thanks!
Who's watching out for me?
Puppies put in peril by dog wardens with limited power, a flawed state reporting system and lax enforcement.
By Tim Darragh and Christopher Schnaars Of The Morning Call
Puppy breeding and boarding kennels throughout Pennsylvania have been virtually assured of passing grades from state regulators even with feces-filled living areas, cramped cages, dirty water bowls and diseased or dead dogs, according to an investigation by The Morning Call based on a first-ever analysis of 20,000 state inspection records.
Dog wardens are charged with protecting puppies. But the analysis of kennel inspection records from 2003-2006 shows the wardens have been the kennel owners' best friend.
Kennels received perfect ratings -- no violations in the 26 categories inspected by wardens on each visit -- more than nine times out of 10 during that time, the newspaper's analysis of the state's computerized records showed.
This record of perfection flabbergasts animal welfare organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which have long criticized Pennsylvania for allowing substandard kennels and puppy mills to operate.
The newspaper's finding "sort of verifies in a very strong way what we've been complaining about for years," said Bob Baker, a national ASPCA investigator. "I don't think even the harshest critics would have thought" nine out of 10 inspections would be perfect. "It shows [the lack of enforcement] is even worse than what we thought."
To fix the problem, the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement would have to know it existed. Until The Morning Call demanded kennel inspection records, the bureau had no idea how to analyze its own data. It took the newspaper three months to get the state database of inspections using the state public records law.
Even then, bureau officials mistakenly believed their computer system could only provide inspection records one at a time. The state's ignorance of its own system's capabilities prevented officials from analyzing records in a way that would have revealed troubling patterns among kennels.
The Morning Call assembled the records in its own database and completed an analysis that presented the accurate picture of the state's kennel inspection system. [To view the inspection records for your kennel, visit www.mcall.com/dogs.]
A technical flaw also became apparent during the analysis: The state's computer software inadvertently cut off wording in the narratives of hundreds of inspections, leaving some of the most critical information off the electronic record.
In addition to the nonexistent analysis of records, the bureau's practices set its mission up for failure. Its unofficial policy tilted toward instructing kennel owners on how to comply with the law rather than issuing citations or closing kennels. That left hundreds of kennels with violations marked on their inspections still scoring an overall "satisfactory" grade for the inspection.
The bureau also tacitly permitted incomplete inspections by allowing wardens to file reports even when they were unable to go inside a kennel. That practice, along with the unofficial policy to educate rather than cite kennel owners, has been curtailed, officials said.
Finally, existing laws hampered more-effective enforcement, since state law allows only police and humane officers to file cruelty charges. So the one group allowed to enter a kennel without a warrant -- dog wardens -- has no authority to file cruelty charges even if wardens witness mistreatment.
Also in the mix are wardens' other duties, including chasing strays, checking on licensing and enforcing dangerous-dog laws.
A need to get tough
All of the above can translate into misery for the animals and heartache for their prospective owners. Consider the case of Long Lane Kennel. Dog warden Richard Hess cited the Narvon, Lancaster County, kennel twice after a March 15, 2006, visit, but gave it a satisfactory grade. It was Long Lane's 10th consecutive satisfactory inspection by Hess.
Before the year's end, however, other inspectors and a Humane League of Lancaster County cruelty investigator found conditions so horrible at Long Lane they seized 23 dogs, with one so sick it had to be euthanized. The kennel had a broken heater, exposed wires, chewed wood and feces throughout the structure, according to an affidavit of probable cause. Charges against the kennel are pending.
In another case, a dog warden found two dead puppies and other violations at Rocklane Kennel in Martinsburg, Bedford County, about 18 months ago. Rather than pull the kennel's license the warden issued six summary fines. The state took three months to do a follow-up inspection, after which it licensed Rocklane for another year.