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Anxiety rising over changes to proposed Pa. dog law regulations
By MARTHA RAFFAELE
The Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Nearly a year ago, Gov. Ed Rendell announced a far-reaching initiative to get rid of the “puppy mills” that have given Pennsylvania a black eye among animal lovers.
Since then, the state has received applause from animal-welfare advocates and dog breeders alike. It hired a special prosecutor to represent dog wardens in court and four new kennel compliance specialists, and in May it became the first in the nation to post dog kennel inspection records online.
But officials have yet to complete the more complicated and politically thorny task of taking steps to more strictly regulate the operations of Pennsylvania’s 2,600 licensed kennels. Working against an April 2009 deadline, they are in the midst of revising a first draft of new rules that all groups with a stake in the outcome have criticized.
Jessie Smith, the state’s special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement, said her office hopes to have a second draft ready for public comment by the end of the year. At the same time, it is still trying to respond to more than 16,000 people who weighed in before the March deadline to submit comments on the first version.
“Everybody cares about how dogs are cared for,” Smith said of the unusually strong interest in the regulations.
Dog breeders, kennels and animal shelters are anxious to see the new draft. Many of them contend the projected cost of complying with what has been proposed so far , $5,000 to $20,000 per kennel , could put some operations out of business.
Rendell has recommend broad regulatory changes such as requiring larger cages and 20 minutes of daily exercise for dogs and forcing operators to keep records of exercise, sanitation and feeding.
Instead, the state should retool its bureau of dog law enforcement to better enforce the existing law, said Nina Schaefer, president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs. Schaefer is also one of 14 people whom Rendell dismissed from the state’s dog law advisory board in May 2006, citing dissatisfaction with the board’s direction.
“The entire package should be thrown out and the whole subject should be re-evaluated,” Schaefer said. “If you have a business and you have problems, you don’t sit around writing mission statements or fancy documents. You evaluate the business and figure out what you can do better with it.”
Kenneth Brandt, a lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Professional Dog Breeders’ Association, said the state should simply adopt standards similar to those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That would provide an effective means of enforcement without unduly burdening kennel owners who are operating legally, he said.
“We stand with the governor on closing down the unregulated, unkempt, unlicensed kennels,” Brandt said. “They’re a bad mark on the ones that are doing a proper job.”
A state regulatory panel joined the chorus of critics in April, saying the proposal “significantly understated” the cost to breeders and failed to take into account the diverse types of kennels in the state.
Animal-welfare groups say they agree the proposal needs to be refined. But they are watching to make sure that the second draft doesn’t water down provisions they like, such as the cage size and exercise requirements, and bristle at suggestions that they are trying to drive kennel owners out of business.
“We’re not against breeding; we just want it done responsibly,” said Cori Menkin of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, based in New York City.
They are also trying to counter misperceptions that dog owners who are not subject to the current regulations , such as small hobby breeders , will need a license or have to submit to inspections under the new rules, said Bill Smith, founder and director of Main Line Animal Rescue in Chester Springs.
“We’re not talking about hobbyists who have a litter of pups in their kitchen,” Smith said. “We’re talking about people who have 800, 900, 1,000 animals in one barn.”