Nearly two months after the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement warned that it was “unable to fulfill its mission,” because of a funding shortfall, state officials have acknowledged the void its dwindling presence would have on local agencies, dog kennels and the dogs it was created to protect.
In addition to the $1.2 million supplemental transfer of taxpayer funds to the bureau in the 2020-21 fiscal year, the department noted in a statement Thursday that taxpayers would continue to financially support the bureau’s efforts in more ways than one.
“Taxpayer dollars are now paying for dog-related services at the local government level too, as wardens become more strained and calls for strays and dogs at-large default to local services such as police, or dog shelters which face their own funding challenges,” the statement reads.
Another supplemental transfer is proposed for the 2021-22 fiscal year to the tune of $1.5 million.
While laying out the lasting effects of the continued underfunding of the bureau, state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding renewed his years-long call for legislative action to increase funding to the agency’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement.
Pennsylvania’s dog licensing fees, which the bureau relies on to fund its operations, have fallen short of meeting the minimum funding requirements the agency needs to perform its most basic tasks, Russell said.
The fees for dog licenses in Pennsylvania haven’t been increased in more than two decades. Right now, an annual license for a spayed or neutered dog costs $6.50 and a lifetime license for a spayed or neutered dog costs $31.50.
Two bills currently being considered by the General Assembly could help increase the revenue stream for the bureau, SB 232, sponsored by Judy Schwank, D-Berks, and HB 526, which is sponsored by Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Luzerne, but neither have yet to receive a vote.
The two measures would increase annual dog license fees from $6.50 to $10 and from $31.50 to $49 for a lifetime license.
Todd Hevner, executive director of the SPCA of Luzerne County said he worries the lack of adequate funding could cause a loosened oversight of the state’s kennels.
“In 2008, amendments to the Pennsylvania dog law gave Pennsylvania the strictest kennel standards in the nation for large commercial breeding kennels,” Hevner said. “But the inability to more frequently visit these operations is creating conditions similar to prior to 2008 when Pennsylvania was known as “Puppy Mill Capital of the east.”
Pennsylvania’s dog wardens must perform a minimum of two unannounced inspections of license dog kennels statewide. That’s a task that state officials say, has become increasingly difficult.
“… The frequency of these kennel inspections is slipping because the bureau is operating on a shoe-string budget – a transfer of taxpayer dollars from the Department of Agriculture’s general operating budget – and can barely keep up with minimum services,” Redding said.
Pennsylvania law prohibits anyone – including law enforcement officers – from being allowed inside dog kennels without a search warrant, leaving the bureau, the kennels and the dogs they are tasked with protecting in a precarious situation.
There are currently 46 dog wardens covering Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
“I worry that as our wardens visit kennels less frequently, we’re leaving dogs unprotected and without a voice,” Kristen Donmoyer, director of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement said in a statement.