Reading the recent performance audit of Pennsylvania's relatively new dog law program is a little like watching a puppy chase its own tail.
The circular discussion goes like this. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale lays out a scathing analysis of the state Agriculture Department's administration of the law, which was enacted in 2008 and took effect in July 2011. The agriculture department responds, saying the problems identified in the report either have been corrected or were incorrectly described in the first place. Then the auditor offers a rebuttal.
Although some of the details can be debated, the overall conclusion is clear: The department wasn't prepared to enforce regulations on commercial kennels from the start.
The change in state law was necessary to put a stop to inhumane conditions at commercial dog-breeding kennels, which earned Pennsylvania the label of "puppy-mill capital of the East." That derogatory label was earned by places where dogs were kept in filthy conditions, trapped in excessively small cages without access to exercise or proper veterinary care while awaiting purchase by unsuspecting owners.
The new law establishes minimum cage sizes, limits stacking them, requires the removal of dogs while cages are cleaned and sets standards for temperature, lighting, ventilation and veterinary care. The dog law's enforcement is funded by licensing fees as well as fines and penalties from violations.
Despite long debate and care in crafting a law that made vital distinctions between commercial breeding kennels and smaller facilities and shelters, the agriculture department initially didn't aggressively pursue enforcement, the audit says. Leadership was lax and auditors questioned whether and when proper training and equipment were provided to dog wardens assigned the task of inspecting Pennsylvania's 54 commercial kennels.
The department's defense boiled down to this: The program director under whom the problems had occurred left the position in August 2012, and big improvements have been made since.
Let's hope so, but no one will know if that's true unless the auditor general conducts another audit.
The state's notorious reputation for abusive commercial kennels is a disgrace. The new dog law can be the remedy only if it is properly enforced.