capitol building

FILE - This Wednesday, April 10, 2019, file photo, shows the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. More than a dozen Pennsylvania state legislators have announced they won't be seeking reelection in 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania’s auditor general is calling for an increase in the cost of dog licenses — current fees have been in place for 24 years — because the Department of Agriculture has been forced to shed warden positions because it doesn’t have the money to operate the dog enforcement bureau at full strength.

The fund that pays for 41 dog wardens in Pennsylvania could run out of money by this summer, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale warned Thursday.

Agriculture officials say they’ve left warden positions unfilled. As a result, the department has scaled back canvassing efforts in which wardens visit communities to check for unlicensed dogs.

“It’s time for Pennsylvania to make sure it is adequately funding dog law enforcement,” DePasquale said Thursday.

DePasquale in 2013 released an audit that found a lack of enforcement of the dog law and commercial kennel canine health regulations from 2008 to 2012. It also found numerous problems with restricted dog law funds being used for unrelated purposes.

DePasquale said his new report found the bureau resolved those issues and followed most of his audit’s recommendations for improvement.

“Despite its financial challenges, Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Dog Law enforcement is functioning much better — thanks to it having adopted many of my recommendations,” DePasquale said. “However, a lack of funding has forced the bureau to cut its staff by 18 percent since 2014, which means dog wardens are stretched pretty thin.”

There are 12 fewer dog wardens than there were five years ago, De-Pasquale said.

Dog wardens are mainly responsible for inspecting kennels and responding to dangerous dog complaints. While the number of large commercial dog breeders in Pennsylvania dropped substantially after Pennsylvania enacted more stringent rules for puppy mills — from 350 to 86 — wardens are still straining to keep up with all the inspections they’re required to, said Kristen Donmoyer, director of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement in the state Department of Agriculture.

In all, the wardens conduct about 2,600 inspections a year, she said.

“Commercial kennels make up only 2 percent of our oversight and we ensure each one has at least the mandated two inspections per year,” she said.

The cost of a license if $8.50 per dog, unless the animal is spayed or neutered, in which case, it’s $6.50. A lifetime dog license is $51.50, but it’s $31.50 if the animal is spayed or neutered.

Almost half the dogs in Pennsylvania aren’t licensed, Donmoyer said.

The department estimates that there are about 1 million unlicensed dogs in Pennsylvania, she said.

Dog-owners caught with unlicensed pets face up to $300 in fines.

The auditor general’s report notes that license sales have been increasing. There were 985,000 dog licenses sold in 2018, compared to 846,000 sold in 2012.

When the number of dogs with lifetime licenses are included, state officials estimate that there are about 1.3 million licensed dogs in Pennsylvania, Donmoyer said.

But while license sales have been increasing, those increases haven’t kept pace with the rising personnel costs and the dog wardens are paid by the dog license revenue, not from the general fund, according to the auditor general’s report.

Kristen Tullo, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said that the auditor general’s report was “well-researched” and sheds light on the important under-funding of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement.

The efforts of the dog warden are important for ensuring “the health and well-being of puppies and helping keep the community safe,” she said.

Possible remedies

Eddie Day Pashinski, R-Luzerne County, chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, has indicated that he plans to introduce legislation that would increase the cost of a dog license. His legislation has not been unveiled.

Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, has introduced legislation that would increase the cost of a license to $10 a year or $49 for a lifetime license.

Schwank’s bill would also require that people get licenses for their dogs when they get them. Current law allows people to buy dogs as young as 2 months old but doesn’t require a license for the dog until it reaches 3 months of age.

The legislation hasn’t moved out of committee.

Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County, announced last month that he plans to introduce legislation calling for an animal welfare task force to examine a variety of issues related to the state’s efforts to protect animals. That would include examining the state’s dog license fee, as well as other issues, like: Whether the state needs to update kennel regulations, the puppy lemon law or the rules regarding sheltering of animals outside. He has not introduced that bill.

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