Ex-prosecutor lets his career go to the dogs

Beaver County assistant DA is Pennsylvania's first lawyer hired as a special prosecutor for dog-law enforcement

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As an assistant district attorney in Beaver County, Jeffrey Paladina spent most of his time prosecuting rapists, predators who surf the Internet and suspects charged with committing acts of domestic violence.

 Jeff Paladina appointed dog-law enforcer by Gov. Rendell. 

In his new state job, Mr. Paladina will serve a completely different population. He is the state's first special prosecutor for dog-law enforcement.

While he prosecuted criminal cases in Beaver County, much of his work on the new job will involve civil court cases and other non-criminal matters, including the administrative appeals of kennels that have had their state operating licenses revoked. He also expects to be involved in the state's proposed crackdown on unlicensed kennels.

Mr. Paladina will be prosecuting animal cruelty cases according to Jessie Smith, named to the newly created post of special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement.

Yes, Mr. Paladina has heard the jokes about his career "going to the dogs," and he's OK with that because he does have a sense of humor and he does own and love dogs.

Mr. Paladina, 34, has been working in his new position for about a month, though his appointment was announced on Oct. 17. He has moved to Harrisburg with his wife, Julia, their 16-month-old son, Max, and their baby, Dominic, born Oct. 28. They also have dogs -- a pug named Suki and a Chihuahua named Gizmo.

Mr. Paladina is a native of Center, Beaver County. He graduated from Center High School, the University of Pittsburgh and Wake Forest Law School. He was hired as a part-time Beaver County prosecutor in 1998 and had worked there full-time since 1999.

Mr. Paladina gets high marks from his former boss, Beaver County District Attorney Anthony J. Berosh.

"I think Gov. Rendell made a great choice. The governor's gain is our loss," Mr. Berosh said. "The kinds of cases that Jeffrey Paladina handled -- sex assault crimes -- from an emotional standpoint, those are very difficult cases. DA's are not lining up to volunteer for those cases, but he did, and always performed well.

"He always did a good job and he was a great guy to be around."

Mr. Paladina did prosecute at least one dog abuser in Beaver County.

"A guy left his dog in the car when he went to a bar. A juvenile stole the car, and threw the dog out the window," Mr. Paladina said.

"The dog survived" and the juvenile was convicted of car theft and animal abuse.

Currently many animal cruelty violations are summary offenses handled at the local level by district judges. Gov. Rendell has indicated he would like to see stiffer criminal penalties for violations of state dog law and cruelty cases.

Fifty-three dog wardens who work for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture currently inspect breeding and boarding kennels and have the power to bring charges against operators who are not providing adequate shelter and care. Dog wardens prosecute their own cases though they are not lawyers, which puts them at a disadvantage when going up against large commercial breeders who can afford to hire lawyers. Gov. Rendell has also created a special enforcement team with four kennel compliance specialists.

The appointment of Mr. Paladina and Ms. Smith are part of what the governor earlier in October called "proposed sweeping changes to the state's dog law and related state regulations to improve the conditions under which dogs are bred and sold in Pennsylvania."

Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that have the dubious distinction of being targeted by a number of animal rights groups for operating puppy mills. Puppy mills are breeding facilities that raise hundreds of puppies -- or more -- per year. Such puppies are raised in kennels, not in the homes of the breeder. Critics charge that the puppies are not properly socialized or handled, which can result in personality and temperament problems, and do not receive good veterinary care.

Puppy mill operators do not do genetic testing or screening of their breeding stock, critics say, which results in health problems, down the line, for the people who buy them as pets.

"There are good breeders and bad breeders," said Ms. Smith, a 20-year veteran of the state attorney general's office and president of the Humane Society of Harrisburg. With the new initiatives "I think we will go from good to great."

The governor, she points out, has two golden retrievers adopted from "rescue" organizations that find new homes for dogs whose owners were unable or unwilling to keep them.


Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.


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