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Capitol Notebook

From the archives 2020

The agency that exposes Pennsylvania's puppy mills is about to run out of money

by Cynthia Fernandez |

Cappy, a onetime stray, was rescued outside the Capitol in Harrisburg and is now the Capitol Police's community service dog.
Alyssa Biederman / Philadelphia Inquirer

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HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania bureau tasked with discovering puppy mills and handling dangerous dogs expects to run out of money by this summer, in part because license fees for the state’s canines are stuck at pre-2000 levels.

In a report released Thursday, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement’s financial situation means it may no longer be able to “make sure dogs and puppies offered for sale or held in boarding facilities are kept in safe, humane conditions.”

“We have made tremendous strides since 2007 when we were the puppy mill capital of the nation,” DePasquale said at a news conference Thursday in the Capitol. “We are not in the same state today, but we can and will do better.”

The bureau, which operates under the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, inspects the state’s 2,600 dog kennels at least twice a year, an onerous task that is now divided among 41 wardens. It’s funded in large part by revenue from dog license and kennel license fees.

Although state law requires dogs more than 12 weeks old to be licensed, only slightly more than half of the dogs in Pennsylvania — 1.3 million — are, DePasquale said.

What’s more, the license fees for dogs and kennels have not been raised in more than 20 years. Currently, it costs $6.50 to register a canine that is spayed or neutered, and $8.50 for one that is not.

To cut costs, the bureau has reduced the number of wardens on staff, its director, Kristen Donmoyer, said Thursday. Still, the office finds itself in a dire financial situation ,exacerbated by the diversion of funds to the judicial branch.

“We have an uphill battle when it comes to adequate funding,” said Donmoyer, noting that $200,000 of the bureau’s revenue from fees is redirected to upgrade the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts’ computer systems.

She added that it’s possible there will be more cuts to personnel if the General Assembly doesn’t act soon.

In 2008, the legislature revamped the state’s dog law, focusing on commercial kennels that were largely unregulated. DePasquale audited the bureau in 2013 and found it was not adhering to inspection regulations.

In the audit released Thursday, DePasquale said that while the bureau has addressed many of the issues previously raised, funding problems have severely paralyzed the office.

And while lawmakers have introduced bills in recent years to address the funding issues, none have passed. There are currently four pending in the General Assembly that would help the bureau fill vacancies and continue inspections.

A pair of bills in the House and Senate would increase the dog licensing fee to $10 for a one-year license and $49 for a lifetime license. Another bill in the Senate would double the dangerous dog fee to $1,000 annually. And a House proposal would end the diversion of $200,000 to the courts.

“That would be a significant amount,” DePasquale said.

“We are hopeful that the General Assembly will increase fees and supply the funding we need to continue protecting Pennsylvania’s puppies and dogs, protecting consumers victimized by illegal kennel operators, and protecting our communities from dangerous and stray animals,” Donmoyer said.

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