Senate, House Pass New  Pennsylvania

Dog Law, Governor  Expected To Sign

Dog Owners Gain  More Positive Changes Through Amendments

 

by JOHN  YATES                                                 October 9, 2008
American Sporting Dog Alliance

www.americansportingdogalliance.org

 asda@csonline.net

 

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 baby sitting 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 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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