Lack of enforcement seen in Pennsylvania anti-puppy mill laws

It looked like Pennsylvania, once considered the puppy mill capital of the east, made progress when then-Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law some of the most progressive anti-puppy mill legislation in the country.

Then-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (left) and Bill Smith of Mainline Rescue.

Animal welfare groups across the nation praised the Pennsylvania laws, which went into effect in October 2009. In 2011, The Humane Society of the United States even listed Pennsylvania as having some of the strongest anti-puppy mill legislation in the country; the state was second only to Virginia.

But according to a state advisory board, the laws put in place to protect Pennsylvania dogs and punish unscrupulous breeders have not been enforced.

The Department of Agriculture has taken some heat for their ineffectiveness. The kennel inspection report of the Dog Law Enforcement Office reveals that, since the more stringent new laws went into effect, there has been a serious delay in kennel inspections. Since July 1, 2011, only 16 commercial facilities were inspected. The report also shows that, in 2011, not a single breeding license was suspended or revoked.

The department is also criticized for its controversial decision to grant a commercial breeding license to Nancy E. Zimmerman, the wife of a puppy mill owner convicted of animal cruelty in 2010. Widener University Animal Law professor Verne Smith said of the Zimmerman case that the department “committed a serious abuse of discretion and the public’s trust,” and that the decision sends a message to puppy mill owners that they can remain in operation under such loopholes.

“I see no leadership,” stated advisory board member Tom Hickey, Sr. “I see nothing that shows me there is any concern about the welfare of animals.”

According to reports, the Dog Law Enforcement Office is facing a grave financial situation. The Dog Law Restricted Account, from which the department pulls, has seen a decline of 91 percent since 2007.

The account, which is the Dog Law Enforcement Office’s sole source of income, is largely funded by the sale of dog licenses. Revenue gathered from dog license purchases has sharply decreased, experts say, perhaps due to the sale of lifetime licenses, which require a single purchase instead of a yearly renewal cost.

And though state law requires that money from the fund go directly towards enforcing dog laws, six Department of Agriculture employees still receive their paychecks from the Dog Law Restricted Account though their roles at the department are unrelated to protecting dogs.

The account is expected to go bankrupt by next year, putting the future of the Dog Law Enforcement Office in jeopardy.

“Pennsylvanians care about dogs, and when they hear what is going on there will be an uprising about this,” Hickey said.