After all the emails, phone calls, lobbying and work to get the Puppy Mill Bill passed and signed into law, when I heard that the kennel requirements recently passed three to one included an exemption for pregnant and nursing dogs from the solid floor and access to exercise requirements, all I could think was that we’d been cheated.
Getting dogs off of wire flooring and giving them access to exercise were among the central and most important parts the law that the Humane Society of Berks County and thousands of Pennsylvania voters demanded. And we thought we had achieved that goal. But with the stroke of a pen and some regulatory sleight of hand, a deal was cut with breeders to make it easier on- and more profitable for- them. As a result, half the dogs or more in any commercial kennel (breeding females) will spend half or more of their time (when they are pregnant and nursing) subject to the same lack of exercise and solid flooring they had before the Puppy Mill Bill passed.
Breeders claim they have the puppies’ well being in mind. But we know they have the bottom line in mind.
To top it off, the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, announces this “improvement” in a press release that barely mentions these changes while focusing on other parts of the regulations. They make the case that because there has been some improvement over three years ago (like that would be hard) we should be satisfied and accepting of this deal they have struck. That we should be happy that they came down so hard on the humidity levels in kennels. But when a female dog is stuck in a puppy mill hell, I don’t think it will saying to itself, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”
Now the rules are in the hands of Attorney General Corbett, who has the chance to decide that the regulations are a violation of letter or spirit of the law. It’s a slim chance, but it’s the only chance thousands of dogs have. Please take a few minutes to email or call Attorney General Corbett and urge him to join you in the determination that these new flooring and exercise exemption are a clear circumvention of the intent of the Puppy Mill Bill and ask him to stop the implementation of these regulations.
But if you are like me, you are asking yourself how this could possibly have even happened. Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters could loudly voice their demand for some simple changes to how dogs are treated in commercial kennels yet 111 kennels can manage to force a compromise? How could that equation possibly balance out?
Perhaps it is because the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement (BDLE) is part of the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture’s explicitly stated mission is to protect and promote PA agriculture and farmers. If breeders are “farmers” and commercial kennels are “agriculture”, then they are part of one of the largest lobbies in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania Farm Lobby.
The BDLE is a regulatory agency, not an animal welfare agency. The Department of Agriculture’s job is to help farmers. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have to balance the wishes of voters with the wishes of a major source of employment and revenue- farming and agriculture. When you think about it, doesn’t it make perfect sense that a bargain would- should– be struck that gives breeders a disproportionate benefit? So what if the argument is 1000 to 1 in favor of the dogs? If the “dog farmers” get treated like real farmers, we shouldn’t expect much more.
But I do. I expect a lot more. Dogs aren’t crops and breeders aren’t farmers. And the Humane Society of Berks County and dog lovers like you don’t have to accept that equation. We don’t have to strike a legislative compromise. We don’t have to accept half a law as the best we can get. We can say that the law intended dogs to have solid floor and exercise. Not some dogs- all dogs. And we need to start saying that and saying it loudly. And we need to look at the structural problem facing the improvement of the lives of dogs in Pennsylvania.
The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement (BDLE) needs to be removed from the department of Agriculture and made and enforcement agency, not a regulatory agency. The days of its primarly function being to pay farmers for livestock killed by dogs and coyotes is are long past. Let’s move them into the 21st century. That might not sound like much, but you wouldn’t believe how hard that actually is.
The BDLE is a large government bureaucracy, run by political appointees whose jobs depend more on keeping their political masters happy than doing what’s best for dogs. Unlike elected officials, they don’t answer to you and me, and their jobs last only as long as the person who appointed them allows them to stay. And they don’t always take kidly to criticism.
There are many documented cases the BDLE targeting those who speak out against it with “surprise” inspections of kennels of critics, “random” home visits of critics by dog wardens, and slander and whisper campaigns against critics. Many non-profit animal welfare organizations have been slow to openly question the BDLE for fear of retribution, of having a kennel license revoked on minor charges, or in an attempt to work within the system and not make waves.
We have been among the organizations which have been fighting this battle behind the scenes because we try not to be public in our disappointments with those who are supposed to be on our side. We prefer forceful but quiet negotiation to public airings of grievances and dissatisfaction. We have found that it is usually the most effective means of making real changes. But it only works when you have a real partner in negotiation and we have reached the conclusion that we do not have that in the BDLE.
It is time for all of us to speak up and speak out.
So we are saying publicly what we have been saying privately for a very long time: 1. Hold those who profit from breeding dogs accountable and enforce the law as it was intended- give breeding dogs solid floors and exercise. 2. Get the BDLE out of Agriculture. 3. Stop the BDLE from putting more scrutiny on its critics than it has on puppy mills.
We hope you will join us in saying this loudly and widely. But make sure if you say it too forcefully you double check that your dog’s license is up to date. You might just find yourself getting a “random” visit from the BDLE. You can bet I will be checking mine.