HARRISBURG -- An advisory panel on Pennsylvania's dog law zeroed in on how the state handles dog licenses, deals with animal shelters and enforces the law that was considered among the toughest in the nation when it went into effect in 2009.
Members of the Dog Law Advisory Board expressed frustration over enforcement of the law aimed at puppy mills during a Wednesday meeting at the Agriculture Department's headquarters. It was the first time the board had met since Gov. Tom Corbett took office.
Executive Deputy Secretary Michael Pechart, who ran the meeting, told members of the board the department was "not trying to hide anything" and noted the law has led to a drop in the number of commercial breeding kennels in the state from more than 300 to 52.
He and other officials said the law has been in many respects a challenge, and they are working on a handbook to guide employees of the state Office of Dog Law Enforcement.
Pechart said dog wardens pick up 8,000 to 13,000 strays annually, but with counties and shelters facing financial problems of their own, they are increasingly asking the state to handle their strays.
Officials also said kennel inspection reports were posted online in recent days, responding to a complaint voiced by several people at the meeting.
Board members asked Wednesday about how the regulations are being enforced, and why the agency's budget outlook has darkened.
State officials said 90 percent of the office's restricted account consists of revenue from dog licenses, sold through county treasurers, but that income has been hard-hit by the growing use of one-time "lifetime" licenses.
In 2010, then-Gov. Ed Rendell and lawmakers took $4 million from the account to plug a budget hole. And last year, Auditor General Jack Wagner found the department inappropriately charged about $1.3 million in payroll and general administrative expenditures to the account between 2002 and 2008.
Only 16 commercial kennels were inspected in 2011 after July 1, according to an online department database. Six of them were closing inspections, so there was no need to comply with the regulations. Eight other kennels had waivers, so they too had no need to comply. The other two were inspected because of violations unrelated to the new kennel regulations.
Board members asked about how ventilation rules are enforced without the use of instruments to measure air quality, and other enforcement issues. Pechart said the agency would review that issue, and a subcommittee was established to examine enforcement in general. Subcommittees were also set up to look at dog licenses and sheltering.
The Dog Law Advisory Board makes nonbinding recommendations to the Agriculture Department.
Kennel inspections: www.padogs.state.pa.us/PublicKennels/SearchKennelInspections.aspx