With Deficit Looming, Lawmakers Outline Proposal to Reform Protections for Dogs, Public

BIRDSBORO, Pa. — During a visit to the Animal Rescue League of Berks County Friday, state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding warned that the fund which helps Pennsylvania to protect the well-being of dogs, as well as members of the public from dangerous dogs, will run out of money in the next year without reforms that will modernize operations and raise revenues.

The Secretary said recently introduced legislation will allow for such improvements. State Senator Judy Schwank, minority chair of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, and State Representative Eddie Day Pashinski, minority chair of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, have introduced Senate Bill 738 and House Bill 1463, respectively.

“Nine years ago, we amended the state’s Dog Law to provide some of the strongest protections in the nation for dogs bred at commercial kennels,” said Redding, “but we did not address the long-term financial viability of the fund that support that work. Today, due to a number of factors, we’re facing the very real prospect of a deficit in the department’s Dog Law Restricted Account.

“If we don’t have the financial resources to support that work, we risk undermining all of the improvements we’ve made since 2008. For anyone who cares about the health and safety of dogs in the commonwealth, including their own pets, that should be a tremendous concern.”

Redding explained that the Dog Law Restricted Account is the primary source of funding for the department’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, which licenses and inspects commercial kennels, protects stray dogs, and monitors and responds to dangerous dog bites.

In order to balance the state’s General Fund budget in 2009, $4 million was transferred from the Dog Law Restricted Account — a move that eroded the resources available to support the bureau’s work.

Roughly 85 percent of revenues into the Dog Law Restricted Account is derived from the sale of dog licenses, but those fees have not changed in more than 20 years.

In order to keep the account solvent, since 2012, the department has increased the number of licenses sold by 14 percent, or nearly 120,000 additional licenses, increasing revenues by more than $1 million annually. Additionally, the bureau has cut annual expenses by about $1.1 million.

SB 738 and HB 1463 would allow the Department of Agriculture to continue modernizing its operation to function more efficiently and effectively by creating a single, statewide online platform for selling dog licenses.

Presently, the state relies on a fragmented system operated by counties that use multiple online service providers or – in some cases – only paper forms. Having one uniform system will allow better record keeping and better customer service. Plus, the new statewide system could be offered to counties at no cost rather than using their current vendors, which creates an additional expense.

To finance these improvements and enable the bureau to continue protecting dogs and the public, SB 738 and HB 1463 would increase the cost of a dog license at a rate commensurate with inflation over the past 20 years.

For example, the annual license fee for a spayed or neutered dog would increase from $6.50 to $10; the cost of an annual license for an unaltered dog would increase from $8.50 to $13; and lifetime license fee would go from $31.50 to $47.

The increased revenue would allow the state to reinstitute a grant program to local shelters that accept and hold stray dogs.

County treasurers would also benefit by seeing an increase in the amount of license sales revenue they are allowed to retain.

“It is very disturbing to the Animal Rescue League of Berks County that lack of funding could jeopardize the future of the Bureau of Dog Law,” ARL Executive Director Liz McCauley said. “For many years, ARL’s Humane Police Officers have collaborated with local dog wardens and the Department of Agriculture to monitor dangerous dog situations, protect stray dogs and the public, and cite individuals for animal cruelty. We do not have the resources to inspect commercial kennels or provide the services to the public that the dog wardens provide, and without them, the well-being of dogs in our community will be compromised and the public’s safety will be at risk.”

Pennsylvania requires all dogs three months old and older to be licensed by January 1 of each year.

Last year, the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement conducted more than 5,000 kennel inspections, issued about 3,000 citations, and helped more than 5,000 dogs by ensuring they were held safely in shelters until they could be reunited with their owners. Approximately 520 dangerous dogs are registered or pending registration in Pennsylvania.

A report issued earlier this year ranked Pennsylvania fourth nationally for the number of dog bite insurance claims filed by homeowners.

To learn more about dog law enforcement in Pennsylvania, visit at agriculture.pa.gov.

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