State auditor: 'Dog Law' funds are misused

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HARRISBURG -- The state's Department of Agriculture was unprepared and unequipped to enforce a 2011 law that aimed to halt puppy mill conditions in Pennsylvania, according to a report from the state auditor.

Additionally, $8 million from a restricted "Dog Law" account was used for unrelated purposes, according to the auditor's report.

The scathing 45-page special performance audit released earlier this week from state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale faults the department for "lax leadership" and "ineffective" administration of kennel oversight and recommends 18 specific areas for improvement.

"Before the new law went into effect in July 2011, Pennsylvania had one of the worst reputations in the country for allowing puppy mills. Now, we find out that the law changed but enforcement was so poor that there was little impact to alleviate puppy mill conditions," said a statement from Mr. DePasquale released with his office's report.

The Agriculture Department said the report is outdated.

"Pennsylvania has one of the toughest dog laws with the most aggressive protections for adult dogs and puppies in the nation," said a statement from the department Tuesday.

The auditor's report faulted the department for being slow to implement a recent law meant to end so-called "puppy mills" -- commercial operations often marked by overcrowded or squalid conditions for dogs.

"We found that management made a conscious decision to work with the kennel owners rather than citing them" for not being in compliance with new regulations that went into effect July 1, 2011, "essentially choosing to delay enforcement," the report stated.

Furthermore, the individual serving as the department's Dog Law Enforcement Office director had "reportedly no experience in dog law enforcement" and was hired in June 2011 "at a critical point right before the regulations were to become effective.

The new law, Commercial Canine Health Regulations, requires commercial kennels to have ventilation systems, maintain certain humidity and temperature levels and meet lighting and flooring standards.

Yet, the department did not have the correct data loggers to measure temperature and humidity when the law went into effect, nor did it have kestrels, hand-held devices used by wardens to measure ventilation, temperature and humidity. Wardens were not trained to use these devices until June 2012, according to the report.

The $8 million the auditor's report states was not spent on Dog Law-related purposes includes about $4 million transferred to the state general fund in 2010, $2.6 million for unsupported payroll costs, and $1.4 million for unsubstantiated expenditures, according to the report.

The Dog Law fund is supposed to be self-sustaining, with money coming from dog licenses and fines across the state.

A response from the Department of Agriculture, included as part of the audit, takes issue with several of the auditor's findings. The director of the Dog Law Enforcement Office in place when the audit began "was separated from the department" in August 2012 and is no longer there, according to the Agriculture Department.

The report "does not correctly represent current conditions nor note corrective actions taken while the audit was in process," according to the department.

state

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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