Groups blast dog law proposal
Thursday, 27 September 2007
By JILL WHALEN
Sportsmen’s groups from across the state and beyond believe that proposed regulations aimed at cracking down on abusive commercial dog breeding operations will negatively impact small-scale breeders.
The proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s “Dog Law Enforcement” regulations are so stringent, the groups believe, that they could eventually put small sporting dog kennels and hobby breeders out of business.While opponents agree that something should be done to stop abusive commercial breeders, they don’t believe that a breeder who turns out a few puppies each year should be regulated in the same way as a kennel that produces thousands of puppies annually.Groups also take issue with the regulations because, they claim, no one in the sporting dog community was consulted for input.“The regulations put forth what would be akin to applying the same set of regulations to a factory that are applied to a mom and pop hardware store,” said Beth Ruth, director of communications for the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA), which is against the proposals. “The regulations do not distinguish between a large scale breeder and a hobby breeder.”Dozens of sportsmen’s and dog-breeding groups recently formed the USSA’s Sporting Dog Defense Coalition (SDDC) to protect the interests of sporting dog enthusiasts who hunt and participate in field trials.The SDDC – as well as other dog organizations, dog fanciers and animal rescue groups – have been urging Gov. Ed Rendell and state lawmakers to rewrite Dog Law Enforcement regulations to distinguish between large- and small-scale breeders.The regulations were introduced in December by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. They would classify an establishment that has 26 or more dogs as a kennel, and as such, they would be required to meet numerous health, safety and welfare standards.Ruth explained that the SDDC agrees with the regulations’ goals of protecting consumers, animals and reputable breeders. But what is required to meet those goals, she said, could serve to “cripple” small-scale breeders.Under the proposed regulations, each dog must be exercised on a leash for at least 20 minutes each day. Allowing the dog to run – or hunt – is not acceptable and a day of missed exercise requires an excuse from a veterinarian.Also, air exchangers must be installed in kennels, and the temperature must be regulated. In addition, if there is rust on a fence or a crack in the concrete, those issues must be immediately addressed.“These regulations are a lot more stringent than regulations for day care providers,” Ruth said, noting that a day care center would not be shut down if rust is found on a fence.Kennel pens that are currently in compliance with state and federal standards would need to be doubled in size. The Department of Agriculture estimates the cost of renovations would be about $10,000 for each kennel – and all kennels would have to be upgraded.“Right now, there is not one kennel in Pennsylvania that is up to the proposed code,” Ruth said.Kennel owners must also record information about exercising, feeding and cleaning. Opponents say that for a kennel containing 50 dogs, owners would have to complete 300 different forms each day. Those found in non-compliance of any regulation face costly fines and confiscation of dogs.Without costly renovations and a staff, Ruth said it would be impossible to raise dogs as required under the new regulations. Those who continue to raise dogs, she said, will likely charge an exorbitant price for them in an attempt to recoup costs.“Sportsmen are concerned that the regulations will drive the cost of a hunting dog through the roof,” Ruth said.“These regulations will drive sporting dog kennels and hobby breeders out of business,” said Rob Sexton, USSA vice president for government affairs. “They will apply to fox hunts, field trials and most houndsmen. These folks do not operate puppy mills. They should not be treated like criminals.”John Kline, Harrisburg, a lobbyist representing the USSA, said that when public comment was being taken on the proposed regulations, about 15,000 comments were received.“That was the most in history,” he said. “This is a very emotional issue.”The Department of Agriculture is expected to issue its response to those comments in October or November. Thereafter, the regulations will either be accepted or revamped.The proposed changes were recently reviewed by the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC), the independent agency charged with studying regulations to determine whether they are in the best interest of the public.“The IRRC typically releases a 2- or 3-page report on the regulations it reviews. For this, the report was 22 pages,” Kline noted, and said he found the IRRC’s comments on the proposed regulations “scathing.”The IRRC wrote that the costs to renovate kennels would “far exceed what could be recovered by adoption fees for puppies or dogs.” It also asked that the Department of Agriculture explain the reason for its suggestion to manage all kennels with a uniform set of requirements, and asks how certain requirements – such as amount of exercise – were determined.Furthermore, the IRRC wrote, “We strongly encourage the department to organize stakeholder meetings with representatives from all types of kennels to develop a full understanding of their operations, dogs and clients. In this way, it can develop standards that will protect the health and safety of dogs while simultaneously recognizing the unique functions at different kennels.”“Besides being bad regulations, there are fundamental problems with the process,” Kline said, agreeing that representatives from the sporting dog community and other interest groups should have been consulted for input prior to the introduction of the regulations.As the owner of a sporting dog, Michael Gontar, Jim Thorpe, is also opposed to the new regulations.Gontar purchased his dog, a Clumber spaniel, from a private breeder in Pennsylvania.Although she only turns out a few dogs every few years, the breeder would be required to follow the proposed regulations, Gontar said. That would mean she’d have to construct runways on the acreage where she previously let the dogs run freely, and retain reams of paperwork about her dogs for three years.A member of the Pennsylvania Trappers’ Association, Gontar believes that the proposed regulations are too strict. He’s also convinced that the Department of Agriculture doesn’t want to hear from sportsmen who see the proposal as a threat to hunting.Ruth recalled a Dog Law Advisory Board hearing held in July in Malvern during which Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Jessie Smith stopped testimony from the USSA and Holly Hill Beagles representatives.Because the changes are not proposed legislation – and can be likened to rewritten regulations – no votes are needed by either the state House or Senate.A number of organizations are opposed to the changes and include the American Kennel Club, American Canine Association, Cabela’s Inc., National Animal Interest Alliance, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs, which believes the regulations will affect the Eukanuba Dog Show in Philadelphia. Also opposed are dog clubs, including the American Brittany Club, Carlisle Beagle Club, Jack Russell Terrier Clubs of America and the American Plott Hound Association, and several animal rescue organizations.Ruth, who visited Hazleton from the USSA headquarters in Ohio, said national groups are watching with interest what is unfurling in Pennsylvania. If the proposed changes are accepted, she said, other states might follow suit.Throughout the week, Ruth is scheduled to meet with sportsmen’s groups across the state to encourage members to contact their lawmakers and demand that the dog-care regulations be withdrawn.