House and Senate Agriculture Chairs, Senator Judy Schwank and Representative Eddie Day Pashinski, have introduced SB 232 and HB 526 to raise the dog license fee and close a loophole to increase licensing of puppies that would fix the financial situation currently crippling the bureau.
Senator Schwank has introduced SB 232, along with co-sponsors Senators Brewster, Costa, Fontana, Kane, Tartaglione, and Yudichak, and Representative Eddie Day Pashinski has introduced HB 526 with bipartisan support from co-sponsors Representatives Burgos, Conklin, Galloway, Hohenstein, Howard, Isaacson, Kinkead, Kinsey, Malagari, Sappey, Schlossberg, Sturla, Wheeland, and D. Williams to ensure the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement receives vital funding for enforcement, initiatives, and to protect our commonwealth's dogs and public safety. Additionally, the bills seek to lower the licensing age to 8 weeks, which is pivotal to getting more dogs licensed at the point of sale.
The last time dog license fees were increased was in 1996. 25 years ago.
Expenses have increased a lot since 1996. For instance, a gallon of milk in 1996 cost $1.23 and now it costs $3.50. That's a 182% increase.
In that same time, BDLE is working to serve a human population that has increased by 5% and a dog population that has increased by an estimated 7%. Operating costs have more than doubled to keep up with the increases in dogs and kennels. The number of kennels increased 19% and the number of kennel inspections increased 85% due to critical legislative changes in 2008 to improve the health and safety of dogs in commercial kennels. All this work is being completed with 14 less dog wardens than 1996, a decrease of 30%.
Operating with a primary revenue stream that has not increased in 25 years has created a financial crisis. This financial crisis has crippled BDLE's staffing. For example, Lancaster County, a county with more than double the number of kennels than any other county in the state, is without a dedicated dog warden. This is one of BDLE's 14 vacancies. Why? Because BDLE's Dog Law fund is now insolvent and cannot support the filling of mission critical vacancies. For the first time since 1893, the Department's general fund (taxpayer dollars) is supporting Dog Law.
Dog licensing was created in 1893 to hold individual dog owners responsible for damages when their dogs got loose and attacked farmers' livestock. The revenue raised from dog license dollars also provided reimbursement to farmers whose livestock was attacked by coyotes.
Now, as a result of the legislature's inaction to minimally raise the dog license fee, BDLE is, and will continue to be, supported by general taxpayer dollars.
Without a fee increase, taxpayer support will continue to be necessary to allow for BDLE to continue protecting the safety and welfare of dogs in the commonwealth, as well as human health as it relates to dog attacks and containing infectious and contagious diseases. The loss of BDLE and the services provided is the most immediate threat to the welfare of dogs in Pennsylvania.
A minimal fee increase for a dog license will benefit all of Pennsylvania's residents, canines and counties.
As the only agency in the state that can inspect state licensed kennels without a search warrant, BDLE has a vital responsibility and duty to ensure the safety and welfare of dogs in kennels.
Kennel inspections provide an opportunity for wardens to ensure proper living conditions and check on the overall well-being of the dogs that live there. All wardens receive humane society police officer training in order to arm them with the knowledge they need to make quality cruelty referrals when necessary.
Dog wardens ensure kennel owners are held accountable for maintaining adequate living conditions for the dogs and puppies and strive to ensure Pennsylvania's dog breeding industry maintains high standards of care and continue to improve the image of the dog breeding industry.
As a small business, kennel operators rely on quality inspections and reports to show consumers their kennel is a good place to buy a puppy or adopt a dog.
When you read the headlines in the news about dogs being seized for poor health and horrific living conditions, oftentimes, it is from an illegal kennel operation.
Illegal kennels or underground kennel operations are not regulated; these are most notoriously known as "puppy mills" where sickly dogs are bred and sold unbeknownst to the public.
BDLE is solely responsible for the maintenance of a statewide dangerous dog registry. Any dog that attacks a person or pet and is deemed dangerous in court requires follow-up and registration for the remainder of the dog's life. This is one of the most important duties of BDLE as it relates to public safety for everyone who resides in the commonwealth or travels through the state.
Although police can handle an initial dangerous dog case, it is the dog warden who follows-up with registration, subsequent annual inspections, and updates the data in the registry viewable to the public.
The personnel and resources required to follow-up and maintain an accurate statewide registry for dangerous dogs would be costly for counties and local law enforcement to implement.
Funding for Shelters
Dog wardens pick up and transport stray dogs to shelters. BDLE disburses money to shelters for taking in and holding stray dogs.
Prior to 2021, shelters were eligible to be reimbursed $40 for holding a stray dog.
Due to insufficient funds this reimbursement has been lowered from $40 to $5, the minimum required by statute.
This decrease in reimbursement makes it difficult to find shelters willing to hold strays, an impact that will affect everyone.
For years the Department of Agriculture has been asking for a minimal dog license fee increase to keep BDLE funded to continue its vital work noted throughout this report. But that warning has not been heeded.