By Carol Whaley, Director of Humane Programming
Across the state of Pennsylvania, there are currently fifteen vacancies for Dog Wardens due to a lack of funding. This includes Lancaster County which is home to 356 kennels – that’s double the number of any other county in the state.
Pennsylvania’s Dog Wardens enforce all dog law-related regulations including:
- Licensing individual dogs
- Licensing and inspecting kennels
- Humanely capturing dogs found running at large and placing them into shelters
- Investigating dangerous dog incidents
- Enforcing safety measures for dogs deemed dangerous
- Investigating and prosecuting illegal kennel operations
- Processing claims for livestock damage caused by dogs and coyotes
As the only law enforcement legally authorized to enter kennels without a search warrant, Dog Wardens are the first line of defense when it comes to protecting dogs in commercial breeding kennels. While wardens do not enforce the state’s animal cruelty laws, they do receive the humane officer training which provides them with the knowledge to recognize where cruelty might be present and refer the case to a Humane Society Police Officer.
Accounting for 87% of revenue, dog licensing fees are the primary funding source for dog law enforcement. With fees remaining stagnant for the past 25 years, the bureau is experiencing a shortfall of funding.
The current fees, which have been in place since 1996, are as follows:
- Altered dogs: $6.50 for annual license and $31.50 for lifetime
- Unaltered dogs: $8.50 for annual license and $51.50 for lifetime
Recently, companion bills (HB 526 and SB 232) have been introduced which would allow for an increase in dog license fees allowing for the staffing and resources needed to protect dogs in our state. The bills call for an increase in licensing fees to $10 for annual license and $49 for lifetime, with discounts for seniors. The bills also lower the age at which a dog must be licensed from three months to eight weeks.
Until legislators can pass these bills, taxpayer dollars have been redirected to the bureau to keep the minimum mandated services up and running.
By law, Dog Wardens perform a minimum of two unannounced inspections per year on licensed kennels. These inspections provide an opportunity for wardens to ensure proper living conditions and check on the overall well-being of the dogs that live there. Without the needed revenue, there will not be enough staff to conduct inspections, leaving kennels unchecked and dogs at risk.
While amendments to the Pennsylvania dog law in 2008 gave Pennsylvania the strictest kennel standards in the nation for large commercial breeding kennels, the inability to visit these operations more frequently is creating conditions seen prior to the amendments.
With 136 USDA licensed commercial breeding kennels (not including unlicensed breeding facilities) Pennsylvania is among the top 10 states with the highest number of commercial breeders. And, without funding to continue inspections, our state may once again become the puppy mill capital of the east.
Contact your local legislators and ask them to support companion bills HB 526 and SB 232 to protect dogs in Pennsylvania.