Senate, House Pass New Pennsylvania
Dog Law, Governor Expected To Sign
 
Dog Owners Gain More Positive Changes Through Amendments
 
by JOHN YATES
American Sporting Dog Alliance
 
HARRISBURG, PA – The Pennsylvania state Senate and House voted yesterday (October 8, 2008) to approve the final version of a new law affecting all Pennsylvania kennels and dog owners. Gov. Ed Rendell is expected to sign the measure into law in the near future.
 
Part of the revised law will regulate commercial kennels, but most of House Bill 2525 sets enforcement procedures and penalties that affect all kennel and dog owners.
 
Since summer, the American Sporting Dog Alliance has stood virtually alone in continuing to seek additional amendments that would protect dog and kennel owners from heavy-handed law enforcement and constitutional infringements. We have consistently opposed legislation that signs away the fundamental rights of dog owners or treats them like second-class citizens.
 
Other dog owners’ organizations took positions of varying degrees of “non-opposition” to the legislation and found themselves in a strange alliance with the radical animal rights group, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which did the same.
 
The American Sporting Dog Alliance refuses to support legislation that compromises the freedom of Americans, and we have continued to urge dog owners to vigorously oppose parts of House Bill 2525 through personal contacts with legislators and senators.
 
While we still are concerned with many parts of the new law, our efforts have played an important role in convincing many senators to support several amendments to protect dog owners from overly zealous enforcement and from infringements on civil liberties. Two of the amendments we supported were approved yesterday, and several others were approved last week. Other amendments we supported were approved last month in the House.
 
The most important thing, however, is that hundreds of dog owners contacted their senators and legislators to express their concerns, and that our representatives were willing to listen to their constituents. We especially commend the Senate for being willing to listen to dog owners, and also several members of the House who held firm in their commitment to defend and protect the Constitution and the people from abuses of the law.
 
Now, we are asking dog owners to make a point of thanking their senators and supportive legislators for listening to our concerns.
 
Here are some of the most significant positive changes the Senate made to HB 2525 that were advocated by the American Sporting Dog Alliance after other dog owners’ organizations stopped fighting:
 
    •    The definition of probable cause for search and seizure warrants was strengthened to conform to the Bill of Rights. We fought against the legislation that was approved initially by the House because it trashed search and seizure protections. An amendment approved by the Senate and House yesterday removed language saying that a dog warden’s opinion is adequate grounds to obtain a warrant to search or seize private property. Now, a dog warden will be required to prove that he or she has “reasonable grounds” to believe a violation of the law has occurred.
 
    •    We fought against an unfair provision saying that a kennel owner would have faced the loss of his or her license for not being able to be available for an inspection within 36 hours notice, at a dog warden’s convenience. This was unfair to kennel owners who work or travel. An amendment excluded owners of private kennels from this requirement altogether, by saying that not being available does not constitute denying or refusing an inspection. For owners of boarding, commercial and nonprofit kennels, an improved option was provided to allow the owner and the dog warden 36 hours to set up a mutually agreeable time for an inspection.
 
    •    The legislation denied dog and kennel owners the right to appeal so-called civil penalties that could be as high as $1,000 a day for each dog. Civil penalties are not fines imposed by a court. They are a penalty imposed administratively by the Department of Agriculture. We opposed this provision because the right to appeal to a court of law is fundamental to the American concept of justice. The Senate amended the legislation to give kennel owners the right to appeal a civil penalty within 20 days, including the right to review by a court of law instead of merely an administrative appeal to the Department of Agriculture.
 
    •    The original legislation would have taken effect immediately, which is unfair because many commercial kennels would be required to make major structural changes and could not have complied. This language would have closed down almost every commercial kennel in Pennsylvania immediately by denying them the opportunity to comply with the law. An amendment added last week delays implementation of parts of the law to allow kennel owners a chance to come into compliance, and also allows for up to a three-year extension for commercial kennels that have not been found guilty of violating the dog law and are making a sincere effort to upgrade to come into compliance.
 
    •    Another amendment added last week creates a Canine Health Board of veterinarians that is empowered to work with commercial kennels on a case-by-case basis to assure compliance with housing and exercise requirements. The Board was given the authority to modify requirements, as long as the modifications meet or exceed the standards set in the law.
 
    •    The original House bill took away the right of commercial kennel owners to give rabies vaccinations to their dogs, and would have required veterinarians to do it. We saw this provision as needlessly punitive to kennel owners and also unworkable because there aren’t enough veterinarians to handle the job in rural areas. A senate amendment requires only that rabies vaccinations be done under the supervision of a veterinarian.
 
    •    We also supported other positive amendments that were made in the House last month, such as restoring license fees to the legislation and guaranteeing complete legislative oversight of new regulations for all dog and kennel owners that are expected to be proposed next year. For example, the original language about license fees would have permitted a de facto spay and neuter mandate by increasing the license fees for unsterilized dogs to prohibitive levels, as has been done in other states.
 
    •    And the final legislation modifies the definition of a dangerous dog to exclude minor squabbles between dogs and isolated instances where no animal is hurt (such as if a dog chases a cat but doesn’t hurt it). In the original legislation, those minor occurrences would have imposed a very harsh “dangerous dog” classification.
 
In making those changes, we believe that the Senate and House have taken steps to protect dog and kennel owners from the most onerous parts of the original legislation.
 
While the new law now appears to be a “done deal,” some problems remain that we hope can be solved by amendments or regulations next year. Some of the problems are substantial, and some are mere snafus.
 
One snafu is that the legislation apparently excludes dog trainers and show or competition handlers’ kennels from any form of state licensure or inspection. We believe that this was an accidental flaw in the wording that was unintentional.
 
Current law defines a boarding facility as a kennel where dogs are “housed or trained for compensation.” The new law removes the words “or trained.” Training and handling kennels do not charge their customers for housing or caring for dogs. They are compensated only for training or handling services, and the cost of caring for the dogs is considered as simply a business expense. Thus, the new law appears to exclude professional trainers and handlers from licensure and inspection, regardless of how many dogs they have in their kennel.
 
We believe four problems of major significance remain in the new law.
 
First, the legislation still gives too much power to the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to revoke or deny licenses, or impose costly civil penalties, for minor infractions or things that have nothing to do with the care given to the dogs.
 
For example, licenses can be revoked or denied for any violation of regulations, including deficient paperwork. Depending on how regulations are enforced, things like day-old cobwebs or overturned water bowls could be interpreted as violations. Licenses also can be revoked or denied if a kennel owner has been convicted of any kind of felony, even if it has nothing to do with dogs (such as tax evasion, possession or marijuana 30 years ago when it was a felony, gambling or liquor law violations).
 
Second, dog daycare services are severely penalized and we believe many will be unfairly driven out of business by the wording of the final legislation. These businesses essentially provide “babysitting” services for dogs, much like childcare centers for human children. This service is important to many working people who do not want to leave their dogs at home alone.
 
The final legislation continues to count every dog in daycare as a separate dog for every day it receives services. Thus, if a person sends one dog to a daycare service for the days he or she is at work, it will count on paper as if it was 200 or more different dogs. A small daycare service with 10 dogs thus could be licensed and regulated as if it was a huge kennel with 2,000 or more dogs.
 
This problem could be easily remedied by defining a daycare service under boarding kennel rules. Boarding kennels are licensed and regulated according to their capacity of dogs at any given time, and not by their cumulative total for an entire year.
 
Third, for kennels that are shutdown, the legislation gives complete control to the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement on how dogs are taken from the kennel. Kennel owners are denied the right to close down their kennel by selling their dogs. Even though we agree that poor kennels should be shut down, we oppose this provision that takes away private property rights to dogs.
 
Fourth, the legislation is a de facto ban on outdoor housing in commercial kennels. It requires all dogs to be housed in kennels that maintain temperatures between 50 and 85 degrees, which is impossible in an outdoor facility. The veterinary board can modify requirements for hot weather, but not for cold conditions.
 
We believe that outdoor housing is a safe environment for most dogs, and is the preferred physical environment for hunting dogs, herding dogs and sled dogs that must be able to do their jobs during bad weather. Acclimatization is vital for these dogs’ health and safety.
 
The American Sporting Dog Alliance hopes that these problems can be corrected next year.
 
The American Sporting Dog Alliance represents owners, breeders and professionals who work with breeds of dogs that are used for hunting. We welcome people who work with other breeds, too, as legislative issues affect all of us. We are a grassroots movement working to protect the rights of dog owners, and to assure that the traditional relationships between dogs and humans maintains its rightful place in American society and life.
 
The American Sporting Dog Alliance also needs your help so that we can continue to work to protect the rights of dog owners. Your membership, participation and support are truly essential to the success of our mission. We are funded solely by the donations of our members, and maintain strict independence.
 
Please visit us on the web at http://www.americansportingdogalliance.org. Our email is ASDA@csonline.net. Complete directions to join by mail or online are found at the bottom left of each page.
 
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