State lawmaker looks for ‘supplement’ to dwindling dog warden presence

By: - May 1, 2021 7:10 am

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding speaks during a press conference, detailing the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement’s impending funding crisis, the implications for public safety and animal welfare, and how the crisis can be averted, on the capitol steps on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. ( Commonwealth Media Services photo)

Growing concern and frustration among Centre County residents over animals in need and the diminishing presence of the state’s dog law wardens has led one state lawmaker to offer up a supplemental approach to protecting animals. 

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, would update Pennsylvania’s county code to allow county executives and commissioners to hire humane officers, if needed. Conklin sponsored the same legislation in last year’s legislative session. It died in the House’s Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee. 

Conklin said he believes the bill is of growing importance as the state’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement faces down a yet-to-be-fixed funding deficit. 

State officials say Pa.’s dog law enforcement is on ‘life support’

“Not too long ago, we had an incident in my district where a house fire occurred and required the rescue of several dogs left without shelter, and when residents tried to contact local and state officials to help these dogs, they repeatedly reported difficulty in reaching someone who had the authority to intervene in such an emergency situation,” Conklin said in a statement. “My bill would ensure the safety and well-being of these animals regardless of the situation, whether it’s a dog with limited or no shelter left outside in harsh weather, or an animal in need of immediate emergency help.”

Conklin’s spokesman, Tor Michaels, told the Capital-Star that the concerns over the lack of enforcement on issues of animal cruelty and abuse at the county level has “been there for quite some time,” adding that social media “has really put a spotlight on what has been happening for a long time.” 

Michaels noted that the proposed bill isn’t a “reflection” on the state’s 46 dog wardens who work to protect animals across Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

“They’re overwhelmed,” he said. 

As for the state’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and its funding deficit, Michaels said Conklin is  “all ears as to how we can help with funding to increase fees for licensing.” 

Pa. Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement ‘unable to fulfill its mission’ state officials say, citing lack of funding increases

While final language is important to Conklin, Michaels said he would be supportive of current efforts to boost funding for the bureau. 

Michaels clarified that Conklin’s bill is not intended to replace the bureau or its efforts to enforce statewide dog law, calling the proposal “supplemental,” Michaels said it would be an added measure in addition to addressing the needs and role of the state’s dog wardens.

“There’s absolutely a need for it [the bureau],” Michaels told the Capital-Star. “I do not see it [the bill] affecting that issue at all.”

Just last week, state officials warned that a dwindling presence of dog wardens would put more work in the hands of local law enforcement, as well as animal shelters and rescues and leave more animals at risk. 

State officials warn local law enforcement, shelters, will be affected by dog law funding deficit

The bill, Michaels said, simply “unties the hands of the commissioners,” allowing them to hire outside resources, if there’s a need for it. 

“It’s time for our public policies to jive with that” need, Michaels said. 

When Conklin’s proposal gets a bill number, it will be sent to the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee for consideration.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.