OFF TRACK Instead of focus on puppy mills, dog law revisions on wrong path
Monday, October 01, 2007
With much fanfare, Gov. Ed Rendell took on the state's "puppy mills." He brought in a new dog law advisory board last year, created a sort of state "dog czar," and had the Department of Agriculture propose tough new kennel regulations. Although we originally applauded those efforts to address Pennsylvania's dreadful reputation for indiscriminate mass breeding of dogs in sometimes unsavory conditions, we now take pause. The process has become mired in controversy, with nearly 50 reputable breeding and sporting groups raising concerns under the umbrella of the U.S. Sportmen's Alliance. These groups, which include the American Kennel Club and the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs, feel the new regulations are a "one size fits all" approach that fails to address the differences between kennel operations and specific breeds. More troubling is that representatives of these organizations say they've been shut out of process. John Gibble, president of the Northeast Beagle Gun Dog Federation who was appointed to the Dog Law Advisory Board last year, told The Patriot-News Editorial Board new regulations were mailed to board members last November, prior to their first meeting on Dec. 13. Three days later, they were posted in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. And he adds that his input since then has largely been ignored. Significantly, the critics are backed by the state's Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which last spring reported the proposals are too broadly applied and are "at odds with the recognition that not all kennels are alike." Regulations like standard crate sizes, the amount of exercise required and the surfaces exercise should be conducted on fail to recognize that the different breeds and size of dogs also have different space and exercise needs. T he Agriculture Department has estimated the costs of complying with these new regulations at between $5,000 and $20,000, a cost that will be much easier to bear for large commercial operations and not "hobby breeders," whose interests aren't profit-oriented but in carrying on a breed's history and characteristics. Members of the alliance contend existing laws are on the books to address puppy mills if there was adequate enforcement. They also suggest defining such operations in state law, and applying different regulations to different types of kennels. We continue to think that Gov. Rendell, a dog lover who has two golden retrievers he has taken in as rescues, is well-intentioned and on the right path in addressing Pennsylvania's reputation as "the puppy mill capital of the East." But those raising red flags are a cross-section of organizations and individuals across Pennsylvania who are experts in dog breeding through medically sound and humane methods. The governor should tell the Agriculture Department to go back to square one, revisit the proposed regulations in their entirety, and hold more public meetings in which everyone is satisfied they've had their say. After that, make any regulations part of a state law that requires legislative approval. To continue ramming these proposals through is going to further splinter interests that really have much more in common than they do differences, and possibly impose the heaviest financial and regulatory burdens on the wrong breeders.