Rendell Seeks Compromise on Pennsylvania Kennel Legislation
An Open Letter To The Governor And Senate
by JOHN YATES October 3, 2008
American Sporting Dog Alliance
HARRISBURG, PA – A series of amendments approved by the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee has thrown a wrench into plans for new laws to regulate kennels in Pennsylvania.
What happens next is anyone’s guess, as negotiations unfold between the Senate, House and Gov. Ed Rendell, in the waning days of this year’s legislative session.
The bottom line is that the Senate, House and Rendell must reach and act upon an agreement before the Senate adjourns, possibly as early as the end of next week, or the legislation is dead. If an agreement is not reached, the entire legislative process will have to either begin again next year or be scrapped.
In an Oct. 2 letter to the Senate, which was made available to the American Sporting Dog Alliance, Rendell asks the senators for a compromise so that House Bill 2525 can be passed this year to improve the lives of dogs in commercial breeding kennels.
Rendell’s letter was light on specifics, but said he accepts a Senate amendment to create a canine health board of veterinarians to make decisions on health and safety requirements for commercial kennels.
In turn, Rendell asks the Senate to compromise on the timeline for implementing changes so that commercial kennels would be required to follow the new rules more quickly. Senate amendments phase-in some of the new requirements, and allow waivers to kennels that have done substantial upgrading within the past three years.
On the surface, Rendell’s request sounds reasonable.
However, we urge the Senate to use great caution in negotiations with the Governor.
The American Sporting Dog Alliance continues to believe that Rendell’s proposals to improve the lives of dogs in commercial kennels are a smokescreen to hide his real goal of creating an extremely repressive legal and enforcement framework to apply to all dog and kennel owners.
Any delays in providing increased protection for dogs in commercial kennels have been caused solely by Rendell’s refusal to protect the rights of the vast majority of kennel owners who are conscientious and law-abiding people. This law could and should have been passed almost two years ago, and blame for the delays rest squarely on Gov. Rendell’s actions and, we believe, should weigh heavily on his conscience.
Improved standards for commercial kennels are only a small part of HB 2525. The lion’s share of the legislation is about enforcement and prosecution that applies to all dog and kennel owners.
If this legislation really was about improving the lives of dogs in commercial kennels, the American Sporting Dog Alliance would support the Governor.
But that’s not the case. It’s about everyone who owns a dog.
HB 2525 will put every dog and kennel owner squarely in the bullseye when Rendell pushes for new regulations of all dogs and kennels next year, which he reportedly plans to do.
For dog owners, it is a matter of trust, and Rendell has lost our trust.
Rendell’s statements and actions over that past two years have convinced us that he has embraced the radical animal rights ideology of the Humane Society of the United States. HSUS pushes for legislation that severely restricts the right of people to own or raise dogs, and sees each new law as a step toward the ultimate goal of eliminating animal ownership in America.
The Governor’s intentions were shown clearly in his 2006-2007 regulatory proposal, which would have shut down almost every kennel in Pennsylvania. Under intense questioning, Department of Agriculture officials conceded that not one of Pennsylvania’s almost 3,000 kennels could have met the requirements of those regulations.
We cannot forget that this is what Rendell really wants, and what he actually would have done last year if there had not been a massive outcry from dog owners to the Legislature.
Dog owners are thankful that the Legislature did not buy into Rendell’s radical agenda. Forced by political reality to compromise, Rendell revised his proposals in late 2007. The revisions were an improvement, but were still patently unfair to all dog and kennel owners. Compliance with many of the rules would have been impossible.
Dog and kennel owners have been continually portrayed by Rendell and his allies as the “bad guys” who deserve to live in fear under the heavy hand of “Big Brother.”
This defamatory label simply doesn’t fit the vast majority of kennel and dog owners in Pennsylvania.
Faced with another political roadblock to his agenda this year, Rendell cut a deal with the American Kennel Club, the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and the state association of commercial kennels. The deal was to separate legislation from regulations, in order to move the political process forward.
The American Sporting Dog Alliance refused to accept or support this deal because of our growing mistrust for Rendell’s intentions. We cannot endorse legislation that creates very repressive enforcement measures, without also seeing the regulations that would be enforced.
Throwing the book at people who abuse or exploit their dogs is one thing.
But bringing down heavy-handed law enforcement on ordinary dog and kennel owners for mere technical violations, paperwork deficiencies or kennel standards that are impossible to meet is another thing altogether. This is exactly what Rendell’s previous legislative proposals would have done.
We have been given no reason to believe that Rendell is not planning to do this again with his expected 2009 regulatory proposals. In orchestrating the 2008 deal with some dog owners’ organizations to separate legislation from regulations, Rendell showed great political savvy. Using the “puppy mill” issue as a smokescreen, Rendell snookered the dog owners’ organizations into taking their eyes off the ball.
The ball is the repressive regulatory and law enforcement framework that is Rendell’s true goal on HB 2525.
The American Sporting Dog Alliance has not taken our eyes off the ball.
We are, quite frankly, sick and tired of watching Rendell and his allies tar all dog owners as villains with the broad brush of the “puppy mill” controversy.
We resent the tactics of Rendell’s continued negative portrayal of dog and kennel owners.
We resent his collusion with animal rights activists and talk show host Oprah Winfrey to slander Pennsylvania kennel owners. The Oprah program was a clearly orchestrated effort to apply political pressure to pass HB 2525.
Every problem in every kennel shown in the Oprah show is a violation of existing state and federal kennel regulations. Those kennels could have been shut down immediately, but they were not.
Instead, they were protected in order to make use of them as tools to pressure the Legislature into passing repressive legislation, and also to provide a steady and lucrative stream of “rescue” dogs for organizations with close ties to HSUS.
The kennels shown on the Oprah show could have been shut down immediately. Those kennels should have been shut down immediately. Instead, the suffering of the dogs in those kennels was perpetuated as a tool to gain political leverage for HB 2525.
We also resent the clearly orchestrated wave of high-profile animal cruelty busts of “puppy mills” in Pennsylvania during the debate over HB 2525. This was another attempt to place kennel owners in the worst possible light for political purposes.
Those kennels could and should have been shut down under existing kennel regulations, but once again it was clear that they had been protected from existing regulations in order to use them for leverage on HB 2525 through animal cruelty police raids that invariably are accompanied by a media circus.
The American Sporting Dog Alliance cannot condone these political “dirty tricks,” which have resulted in the suffering of many innocent dogs in order to use them as political weapons. To us, this is the most cynical form of animal exploitation imaginable.
We want to be absolutely clear about this issue. We know that the kennels shown on the Oprah report and in the media reports of animal cruelty busts represent conditions at only a tiny percentage of Pennsylvania’s 3,000 licensed kennels.
If all of these bad kennels are added together, the total is less than 50. That is about 1.3-percent of the total number of kennels in Pennsylvania, which puts the problem into an accurate perspective. We also have certain knowledge that existing kennel regulations could close down these shoddy operations immediately, if they are enforced.
In addition, we can say with certainly that the vast majority of the remaining 2,950 kennels in Pennsylvania take good-to-excellent care of their dogs.
Dogs have never received better care and treatment at any time in recorded history than they do today. Most kennel owners dedicate their entire lives to the welfare of the dogs they own or care for, and provide them with excellent housing, nutrition, medical care, companionship and love.
We know this for a fact because we know hundreds of kennel owners personally. We have seen their kennels, and have seen how they care about their dogs.
Thus, we strongly resent being smeared with the political dirty tricks of the animal rights groups that are pushing for HB 2525 as a major step toward forcing many kennels out of business and scaring many people into giving up their dogs.
We are not saying that all kennels are perfect. In fact, none of them are. We know that many kennel owners have problems that they are trying to solve. We do not expect to live in a perfect world.
Nor are we saying that many positive steps should not be taken toward improving life for the breeding dogs in commercial kennels. We know there are problems that harm the quality of life for some dogs in commercial kennels.
The American Sporting Dog Alliance would be strongly supportive of new laws to make life better for dogs in commercial kennels, and also to raise the bar generally in standards for all kennels.
However, we cannot support repressive laws that trample our constitutional rights, especially in regard to due process under the law and protection against wrongful searches and seizures. HB 2525 still allows a dog warden’s unsubstantiated “reason to believe” a violation has occurred to be considered as legal grounds to obtain a warrant for search or seizure. Dog owners thus are reduced to second class citizens by being denied “probable cause” protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights that require an officer to present hard evidence to a judge in seeking a warrant. Belief is not the same thing as evidence based on good police work.
We cannot support laws that require higher standards for dogs than for human children. For example, parents are not required by law to have their children examined regularly by physicians, but HB 2525 requires all dogs in commercial kennels to be examined twice a year by veterinarians in the absence of any evidence that a problem exists.
We also cannot support laws that subject good and law-abiding people to terrifying fines and civil penalties that can destroy their lives for even minor problems, or simply for failing to follow bureaucratic protocol.
Nor can we support laws that leave enforcement and prosecution up to the opinions of dog wardens or supervisory personnel, who sometimes may have personal agendas in opposition to animal ownership or hunting, or laws that deny accused dog owners the right to their day in court and to a full appeal.
We also must oppose laws that make irrational and impossible demands on dog owners, such as a requirement for a dog owner to be available for inspection within 36 hours of a notice by a dog warden or to set up a time for inspection that is agreeable to the dog warden, or face the loss of his/her kennel license. This requirement might be workable for a full-time commercial kennel, but shows utter disrespect for the lives of the vast majority of kennel license holders, whose kennels are mostly an avocation. Many kennel owners have jobs, prior commitments, personal and business travel plans, and other factors that make compliance with this requirement impossible. Many professional trainers and handlers also must travel extensively away from their kennels, sometimes for weeks at a time. While family members or employees are available to care for the dogs, they cannot be expected to participate in an inspection, which requires detailed knowledge of individual dogs, paperwork, vaccination records and management practices. Remember that these kennel owners are accused of no crime or violation of the law. This requirement is for a routine twice-annual inspection.
Nor can we support a law that will destroy a vital part of the kennel industry for no good reason. HB 2525 will make it virtually impossible for dog daycare services to stay in business, as it requires even very small businesses to be licensed, taxed and regulated as if they are huge kennels. HB 2525 counts every dog as a different dog for every day it is in daycare. Thus, a daycare service for 10 dogs would be regulated as if it is a kennel for more than 2,000 dogs. We believe this part of the legislation will destroy dog daycare services, which greatly increase the quality of life for thousands of Pennsylvania dogs every day of the week.
For these and other reasons, we cannot endorse HB 2525 in its present form.
Thus, the American Sporting Dog Alliance is urging dog and kennel owners in Pennsylvania to immediately contact their own senator and members of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. Time is of the essence, as this issue probably will be decided early next week and a vote is anticipated on or shortly after Monday, October 6.
Please ask the senators to both hold the line in their negotiations with Gov. Rendell, and also to strengthen amendments to offer more protection to dog and kennel 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 will be too late.
A phone call to the senators Monday morning 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 strengthened 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.
This link will give each senator’s email address: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/email_list.cfm?body=S.
Thank you for helping Pennsylvania dog owners.
We also urge dog owners to read the legislation for themselves and form their own opinions. Here is a link to the current version: 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=4434.
We also must caution dog owners that resistance to HB 2525 now carries a substantial risk of facing worse legislation next year, depending on the results of the November election. The American Sporting Dog Alliance’s position is that we must take this risk, because we cannot support a law that is clearly wrong and violates the constitutional rights of dog and kennel owners. For us, it is a matter of right versus wrong. That is something we cannot compromise.
What might happen next year depends to a large extent on the results of the November general election, which has the potential to change the balance of political power in the Legislature. The Republican Party now holds a razor thin edge in the Senate, and the Democrats hold a solid majority in the House. But this could change in either direction after the election, especially if one of the presidential candidates wins big in Pennsylvania and carries several state House and Senate candidates to victory on his coattails.
The possible results of the election make the current situation a gamble for both sides on HB 2525. Each of them must decide now if their chances are better by making an immediate compromise, or whether they would be better to gamble that one political party or the other can alter the balance of power in the election.
The stakes are high for dog owners. If the Democrats win in November, Rendell probably can pass very tough kennel legislation next year. But, if the Republicans either win or simply maintain the current balance of power in the Legislature, any legislation next year would likely fall short of Rendell’s goal of creating a law that would be very oppressive for dog owners.
Here is a synopsis of what has happened on the legislation, and what must happen for it to be passed into law this 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.
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