PA House Passes Rendell’s Dog Law,
Senate Ag Committee Meets Tuesday
 
Urgent! Please Ask Senators To Make Changes
 
by JOHN YATES
American Sporting Dog Alliance
 
HARRISBURG, PA – The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted 181-17 Wednesday to approve a complete revision to the state’s dog and kennel law. The legislation now faces the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, which has scheduled a hurry-up meeting for Tuesday, Sept. 23.
 
While many constructive changes have been made to this legislation, parts of it remain very unfair to many dog owners and deny basic civil rights that are guaranteed by the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions.
 
Thus, the American Sporting Dog Alliance cannot support House Bill 2525 in its present form.
 
We are urging all Pennsylvania dog owners to immediately contact members of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee and ask them to make constructive changes in this legislation. Contact information is provided below. The committee meeting is set for Tuesday at Noon in Room 8E-A in the East Wing. The American Sporting Dog Alliance has submitted formal testimony for the Senate hearing. This report reflects our testimony.
 
A companion bill, HB 2532, also passed the House by a unanimous vote and has been sent to the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. HB 2532 makes prohibitions about tail docking, dewclaw removal and ear cropping, and defines many common practices as animal cruelty. The American Sporting Dog Alliance also opposes this legislation, which will be described later in this report.
 
For dog and kennel owners, the stakes are high on HB 2525.
 
The irony is that the worst flaws in HB 2525 could be easily repaired without having any negative impact on regulating commercial kennels or enforcing the law. Failing to make these changes can only be seen as punitive attempts to expose dog and kennel owners to high unnecessary costs and pointless heavy-handed bureaucracy.
 
Gov. Ed Rendell has been the major proponent of HB 2525, citing concerns over “puppy mills” in Pennsylvania. However, all of Rendell’s attempts to get new legislation passed over the past two years have focused as much or more on individual dog owners and personal kennel owners.
 
Dog owners have become mistrustful of Rendell’s real intentions for this legislation because of the harshness of his previous proposals, and their total disregard for the rights and realities of the people who own dogs or kennels.
 
During this period, Rendell has grudgingly conceded some of the more contentious and harmful parts of his legislative proposals, and the current version has been significantly improved.
 
However several easily repairable problems remain in HB 2525, which we are asking the Senate to correct. If these problems are not corrected, HB 2525 should be killed.
 
Here are the most significant changes that are needed to make this legislation fair:
 
    •    According dog and kennel owners the same basic constitutional protections that are granted to any murderer, drug dealer, rapist or armed robber. The current legislation strips away the requirement for probable cause of a violation of the law to justify searches and search warrants. This issue is amplified because the legislation empowers dog wardens to inspect “all dogs within the Commonwealth,” including family pets.
 
    •    Removing a requirement for the owners of non-commercial kennels to be available for inspection within 36 hours or face loss of their kennel licenses. This requirement ignores the fact that the vast majority of Pennsylvania kennels are purely personal avocations, and the people who own them have real life commitments to jobs, travel schedules, appointments and vacations, and sometimes cannot be available quickly at the convenience of government officials.
 
    •    Changing the definition of dog daycare services. The current legislation will put every dog daycare facility out of business for no logical reason.
 
    •    Removing pointless requirements for medical examinations and inoculations in commercial kennels, which will impose thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs, drive many good kennels out of business and accomplish nothing worthwhile.
 
    •    Changing a troublesome definition of “dangerous dogs” that has a strong potential to impact hunting and field trials. A hunting dog briefly chasing a feral cat or a brief altercation between two dogs at a field trial could trigger this classification.
 
    •    Removing the procedure for civil penalties and seizures of dogs that makes the Department of Agriculture the policeman, judge, jury and hangman of every kennel owner, while denying the right of access to the courts in many situations. When the multiple layers of the cost of fines, penalties and caring for seized dogs are added up, it is clear that the intention of this legislation is not to protect dogs. It is to intimidate kennel owners with the threat of the financial destruction of their lives in order to strong-arm them into closing down their kennels.
 
    •    And listening to the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association about the proper care of animals in commercial kennels. It is sheer arrogance for Gov. Rendell to presume that he knows more about animal care than the association of state veterinarians.
 
The American Sporting Dog Alliance urges all Pennsylvanians to read this legislation for themselves, and then take action immediately. Here is a link to the actual text of HB 2525 that passed the House: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&sessYr=2007&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=2525&pn=4322.
 
Positive changes in the legislation include restoration of license fees for individual dogs and kennels, removing gray areas about legislative review of future regulations, strong civil penalties for kennel owners who knowingly avoid licensure, more teeth to prosecute the owners of poorly run kennels and, most importantly, several provision that will significantly improve the lives of dogs in commercial kennels. We applaud these changes.
 
What concerns us is Rendell’s refusal to make some simple changes to protect responsible dog and kennel owners who take good care of their animals. Now, the Governor is trying to rush this legislation through during the brief September session. Rendell says speed is essential to protect the dogs in “puppy mills,” but this is a smokescreen to hide the obvious fact that good legislation could have been passed a year ago but wasn’t, because Rendell refused to make it fair and just.
 
HB 2525
 
We are very alarmed because this legislation is an assault on constitutional protections for all Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures, in the absence of probable cause that a violation of the law has occurred.
 
The legislation allows for search warrants for all kennels (as well as the homes and property of their owners, and even family members) if a dog warden has “reason to believe” a law has been broken. There is no definition for “reason to believe,” and no requirement for any sort of proof. Thus, a search warrant could be issued merely on an unsubstantiated anonymous report from an animal rights activist, if a dog warden chooses to believe it.
 
This is substantially weaker than the constitutional requirement for “probable cause,” which means a magistrate or judge must be convinced that solid evidence points to a violation of the law.
 
It thus reduces dog and kennel owners to the status of second-class citizens.
 
This issue extends far beyond licensed kennels, and applies equally to everyone who owns a dog. It allows a search warrant for “any kennel, property, building, premise, place, dog, book, record or other physical evidence or for the purpose of removing any dog….” In another part of the legislation, a phrase applying the law to any dog was specifically inserted under the powers of this act.
 
If you own only one dog, this legislation applies to you.
 
This is further underscored by a requirement for counties to turn in the names and contact information of every person who licenses a dog.
 
Commercial kennel owners also face an additional assault on their constitutional rights. HB 2525 allows for a search warrant for commercial kennels for “inspection, examination or seizure…to determine compliance with this act.” No proof of any violation is required to obtain a warrant under this provision. A commercial kennel is defined as any kennel that sells more than 60 dogs in a year, or which sells even one dog or puppy on a wholesale basis to a dealer, pet store or third party.
 
This section could be made acceptable simply by requiring dog wardens to follow the techniques of good police work, by obtaining solid evidence as a requirement for getting a search warrant. It simply means that a dog warden would be required to show some solid evidence that a law has been violated in order to get a search warrant.
 
In its present form, HB 2525 reduces dog and kennel owners to a lesser legal status than someone who has been accused of murder, rape, arson and other serious felonies.
 
We find this wholly unacceptable!
 
Why won’t Rendell change this?
 
Another especially onerous aspect of HB 2525 requires a kennel owner to be available for an inspection at a dog warden’s convenience within 36 hours of an attempted inspection when no one is at home. A kennel owner who fails to do this faces loss of his or her license, fines and penalties, and seizure of the dogs.
 
This provision essentially requires kennel owners to stay home and wait for the dog warden for a day and a half. It does not even allow the option of scheduling a mutually agreeable time.
 
While this may be feasible for a full-time commercial operation, it is completely unfair to the vast majority of kennel license holders, whose kennels are part-time or hobby ventures.
 
For many if not most kennel owners, compliance with this provision is impossible. Most kennel owners hold outside jobs and many travel for their employment. Sometimes they have job-related commitments and appointments that cannot be broken on short notice. Some people would even be fired from their jobs for taking off work.
 
Other people simply may be on vacation, and not even in Pennsylvania at the time the notice is posted. Even professional dog trainers and handlers often travel for long periods as a necessary part of their profession and may spend much of the year on the road in other states.
 
People who have kennels most often have someone to look after their dogs when they are not at home. But that doesn’t mean the helper can adequately participate in an inspection. An inspection involves far more than simply visiting a kennel and looking over the dogs and facilities. It means that someone must be available to answer specific questions about individual dogs, medical records, vaccination schedules, management issues and required paperwork. Most helpers and even most family members could not do this.
 
It would be easy to repair this part of the legislation. The 36-hour notice could be changed to require kennel owners to contact a dog warden during this period and provide days and times the owner could be available for an unannounced inspection.
 
For example, someone might tell the dog warden that he or she gets home from work at 4:30 p.m. every day, which would give the warden ample opportunity for an unannounced inspection.
 
It also might require the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to stagger the workings hours of dog wardens or pay overtime to wardens, so that inspections could be conducted during evening hours when people are home from work. The Bureau certainly has the money to pay for this, as it has carried a budget surplus in excess of $14 million for more than a year.
 
In any case, it is just plain wrong to demand that citizens arrange their lives for the convenience of government. The vast majority of kennel owners are law-abiding citizens who deserve much more respect than Gov. Rendell is giving to them.
 
Why won’t Rendell change this?
 
HB 2525 also knowingly and unfairly targets dog day care businesses, and we cannot think of a single reason why this should be the case. It would put most of these operations out of business by taxing and regulating them as if they are huge commercial kennels.
 
Dog day care services are an important part of modern life, and the lives of thousands of pets in Pennsylvania are greatly improved because of these services. People pay these services to “baby sit” their pets when they are at work or have other commitments. It works just like child care services for human children.
 
HB 2525 counts every dog as a separate animal for every day that it is in day care. Thus, a single dog that is in day care for 200 days a year while its owner is at work, becomes 200 different dogs on paper. If a day care provider has a capacity for 10 dogs a day, he or she would be licensed (that is, taxed) and regulated as if it is a kennel with 2,000 dogs. In reality, it is a kennel with 10 dogs.
 
Thus, the owner of the 10-dog day care service would be forced to go out of business.
 
The answer would be simple: Either license dog day care centers for their maximum capacity of dogs on a single day, or for the total number of different dogs they serve in a year.
 
Why won’t Rendell change this?
 
HB 2525 also imposes punitive veterinary requirements on commercial kennels, by requiring an annual veterinary examination for all dogs, mandating rabies vaccinations to be done only by veterinarians, and requiring that euthanasia must be done only by a veterinarian. All of these costs would be at the kennel owner’s expense.
 
Our first question is whether there are enough veterinarians in Pennsylvania to perform these tasks. Our hunch is that veterinarians simply wouldn’t be able to handle the magnitude of this job.
 
For example, it is fair to assume that there are at least 10,000 adult dogs in Pennsylvania commercial kennels (the actual number is not available, as kennel license records also count the puppies that are produced). If there are 10,000 adult dogs, that means 10,000 exams a year, perhaps 4,500 rabies vaccinations and 1,500 euthanasias a year.
 
That’s a big job!
 
We doubt that existing veterinarians in rural areas can handle it. If they cannot handle the job, it is a set-up for kennel owners because they won’t be able to comply with the law no matter how hard they try. Rendell is setting them up to get busted.
 
The euthanasia requirement also will result in much unintentional cruelty to hundreds of dogs every year. When a dog is in severe pain due to a hopeless injury or a medical condition, the only humane thing is to allow the dog’s owner to put it down as quickly and painlessly as possible.
 
A best-case scenario would take an hour to get a dog to a veterinarian. A worst-case scenario would occur in Amish-owned kennels, which may not have access to a motor vehicle or telephone. These dogs could suffer intensely for many hours before veterinary euthanasia could be obtained.
 
That’s wrong.
 
The rabies vaccination issue is simply meant to be punitive. The current system is working perfectly, by allowing licensed kennel owners to give their own vaccinations after they pass an examination from a dog warden.
 
There hasn’t been a single case of rabies in a licensed kennel in more than 12 years.
 
This issue boils down to a monetary penalty. The same rabies vaccines that are used by veterinarians can be purchased for about $2 a dose. For a veterinarian to administer the shots even at clinic rates would cost at least $12.
 
Nothing would be accomplished by adding this additional expense to kennel owners who already are struggling to be profitable. Moreover, if veterinary services simply aren’t available to handle this big job, many dogs won’t be vaccinated in a timely manner. This creates a public health problem.
 
The idea of veterinary examinations of all dogs used for breeding in commercial kennels has some merit. However, since most commercial kennels already are federally licensed, this is redundant. Annual federal inspections are done by a team of professionals that includes at least one veterinarian.
 
We would support the concept of veterinary examinations as long as the cost is borne by the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. After all, it is government checking up on kennel owners when there is no evidence of a problem. Perhaps the solution is for the Bureau to hire veterinarians to accompany dog wardens on commercial kennel inspections.
 
Existing laws already provide the teeth needed to assure that kennel owners take care of health problems. A dog warden can order a veterinary examination if she or he observes an untreated health problem, and the dog warden also can refer the matter to an animal cruelty police officer for criminal prosecution.
 
But requiring the kennel owner to pay several thousands of dollars a year for medical exams of healthy dogs simply is punitive.
 
Why won’t Rendell change this?
 
We strongly support most of the provisions of the section on dangerous dogs. Dogs that are truly dangerous with a proven history of attacking people or other domestic animals need to be controlled.
 
However, we are troubled by the definition of “attack,” which might lead to hunting and field trial dogs being unfairly classified as dangerous dogs for relatively minor incidents that do not indicate viciousness.
 
Under the definition, an attack includes the simple act of pursuit and also a single bite of another domestic animal. This definition does not exclude a dog whose owner or handler stops the situation immediately in order to teach the dog not to do it.
 
For example, many hunting dogs would not harm a cat at home, but might chase a cat that it encountered deep in the woods. This does not indicate that the dog is dangerous or vicious, and the problem is easily corrected by its owner before any harm is done.
 
In addition, it is the natural instinct of all dogs to establish a relationship of dominance/submission and territory with any other dog they encounter. This can lead to a minor altercation. This situation also is easily corrected by a dog’s owner and does not mean that a dog is dangerous. It simply means a dog is a dog is a dog.
 
The definition of a dangerous dog should be amended to exclude minor situations that are corrected by its owner.
 
In HB 2525, the multiple layers of fines, penalties and other costs would inflict financial ruin on kennel owners for even minor offenses.
 
We can understand the need for substantial penalties in the case of flagrant violation of the law or a callous disregard for the welfare of dogs.
 
We cannot understand or accept these kinds of fines and penalties that could total many thousands of dollars for deficiencies in paperwork, kennel technical standards or other violations of a minor-to-moderate nature, as long as the kennel owner corrects the problem within a reasonable period of time.
 
We also cannot accept that the legislation denies accused kennel owners the right to contest high penalties in court. HB 2525 allows only an administrative appeal within the Bureau, and “civil penalties” should not be used to circumvent an accused person’s right to a fair trial.
 
HB 2532
 
A companion bill, HB 2532, amends existing animal cruelty law pertaining to ear cropping, and adds prohibitions against tail docking, dewclaw removal, Caesarian sections and debarking operations. It passed the House unanimously and also has been sent to the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
 
We support the prohibitions against Caesarian sections and debarking, as these are invasive surgical procedures. Only a veterinarian should be allowed to perform these procedures. However, we also see this as a very minor issue, as we have never seen proof that any dog owner has performed these procedures. If this problem actually exists, it is extremely rare.
 
Because of this, we see the prohibitions against owners performing those major medical procedures as a smokescreen, in order to create an emotional response to sneak in the provisions about tail docking and dewclaw removal, and to tighten the law about ear cropping.
 
Many animal rights activists believe that doing anything surgically to alter a dog’s appearance constitutes cruelty and disfiguration, including such commonly accepted practices as docking a dog’s tail, clipping off dewclaws or cropping ears. They see this legislation as getting a foot in the door to eventually ban these practices altogether.
 
Tail docking is standard procedure for many of America’s most popular breed, such as Brittanys, springer spaniels, Rottweilers, fox terriers, Airedales and the schnauzers. Dewclaws often are removed in performance and hunting dogs, because of the potential for injury later in life.
 
Tail docking and dewclaw removal are frequently done by the owners of very young puppies, and is considered safe and essentially painless.
 
HB 2532 allows owners to remove dewclaws and dock the tails of puppies that are up to five days old, and we support this provision.
 
The issue is that the language is very vague and poorly written, especially when it comes to proof of compliance. It does not say how the puppies’ owners can prove this procedure was done legally, if an animal cruelty police officer questions them about it or files charges.
 
The bill says that an unhealed wound is prima facie (which means adequate proof in itself) evidence of a violation, but it does not say that this is the only evidence of a violation. This ambiguity would leave a dog owner struggling to prove his or her innocence if charges are filed.
 
Laws should not be ambiguous, which leaves their interpretation and application up to the perception of every police officer and judge.
 
For example, a week-old puppy could still have a visible wound that is not completely healed from a procedure that was done legally at three days of age, and an adult dog could break and sever a tail by getting it slammed in a car door and have a visible wound. Both of these situations would be prima facie evidence of a violation, even though no violation occurred.
 
That potential is magnified for dewclaw removal, as many adult dogs rip off a dewclaw when hunting or playing. This accidental occurrence thus would be prima facie evidence of animal cruelty. There would be no way for a dog owner to prove his or her innocence, unless there were witnesses.
 
The legislation requires owners to record and keep information about tail docking and dewclaw removal, but it does not say that these records are proof in a court of law and does not say what information the records must contain.
 
Similar provisions have been in place in existing law for ear cropping, but it specifically requires owners to prove either that the work was done by a veterinarian, or before the law took effect. Without those proofs, the owner of a dog with cropped ears would be guilty of a summary offense.
 
The wording specifically includes any dog that is shown or exhibited, defining it as an illegal act without having one of the above proofs.
 
Very few dog owners could meet this standard of proof. Thus, anyone who shows or exhibits a dog with cropped ears in Pennsylvania, or even a traveler passing through the state, would be subject to being charged with cruelty to animals.
 
Because any conviction for cruelty to animals is a very serious offense and can result in revocation of kennel licenses and breeding permits in other states, we strongly advise nonresidents to boycott Pennsylvania shows and competitive events, and even traveling through the state, until this provision is repealed.
 
In addition, this law makes it illegal for rescue groups and humane societies to accept, rescue, or adopt out a dog with cropped ears, in the absence of proof of compliance. Proof would not be available for stray dogs that are impounded, or for most dogs that are relinquished by their owners. If this terrible law is enforced in the future, it will result in the deaths of many dogs in Pennsylvania.
 
Defenders of this law say that it has never been enforced. However, that does not mean it will not be enforced someday and it certainly is no defense for keeping a bad law on the books.
 
Thus, the American Sporting Dog Alliance urges people who own dogs with cropped ears to avoid coming to Pennsylvania at all costs. The risks simply are too great.
 
 
What You Can Do
 
It is imperative for dog owners to contact members of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee immediately to clearly voice your concerns about HB 2525 and HB 2532. We emphasize that this must be done immediately, as the Committee will consider this legislation this coming Tuesday, three days from this writing.
 
Because of the intense political pressure from Gov. Rendell and animal rights groups, the only way to stop or repair this bad legislation is through a massive outpouring of opposition from dog owners.
 
The best way to do this is to fax a letter to each senator on the committee so that it arrives on Monday. Tuesday probably is too late.
 
A phone call to the senators on Monday is the second choice, and emails are a distant third. In general, emails are the least effective means of communication with elected officials. However, emails are far preferable to doing nothing.
 
Here is a link to find the contact information for each member of the committee: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/cteeInfo/cteeInfo.cfm?cde=3&body=S. Simply click on the name of each officer and senator on the committee, and a page will display showing full contact information.
 
In addition, please fax, phone or email your own state senator and ask her or him to either vote against this legislation or support amendments to make it fair to dog and kennel owners.
 
This link will give the contact information for every state senator by click on his or her name: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senators_alpha.cfm.
 
 
Thank you for helping Pennsylvania dog owners.
 
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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