PA Legislators Kick Dogs. The Dogs Kick Back.

March 10th, 2011 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized

A funny thing happened in Harrisburg this month.  A few majority legislators introduced a resolution filled to the brim with unsubstantiated “facts”, specific calls to “refine” a wildly popular law, and a call for a “study” of the impact of this law.  Twenty years ago, ten, five even, this House Resolution would have flown right by.  But this year, legislators are discovering that there is a new furry third rail in Pennsylvania politics: dogs.

Gordon  Denlinger  (Republican)The Prime Sponsor of HR 89, Rep. Gordon Denlinger, represents Lancaster County, widely considered to be the epicenter of cruelty by puppy farmers in their previously woefully poorly regulated puppy mills.  He is joined by others who either opposed the 2008 Puppy Mill law to the bitter end or those who fought it tooth and nail in committee, tried to kill it through death by a thousand cuts and amendments, and then heroically vote “Yea” for when it became clear that it would pass by unprecedented numbers in the PA House and Senate among Democrats and Republicans.

Despite their protests to the contrary, and many felt they doth protest their innocence too much, HR 89 was clearly an effort to, at best, impotently assuage their puppy mill lobby supporters by showing they could be tough on dogs or, at worst, at attempt to reopen the amended Dog Law in order to weaken it, roll it back, or hold it hostage for tax credits for those who can only make a profit by tormenting dogs.  Animal welfare advocates saw it, newspaper editorial boards saw it, legislators who fought for the 2008 Dog Law saw it and, ultimately, even their own party leadership saw it.

In response to an avalanche of negative feedback from constituents, the sponsors of HR 89 changed their tactics from boldly attempting to drive their resolution through to claiming that it did not call for what it explicitly called for (those pesky words again) to trying to turn the tables and asking, “Gosh, who’s afraid of a little study?”, as if that was the issue.

However, people who care about animals in Pennsylvania, who worked hard to get the Puppy Mill Law passed in 2008, and who have been ignored for decades by their “representatives” in Harrisburg, have learned a lesson from their experiences and from their more politically deft friends in the NRA and Agriculture lobby.  We learned that an attack on the laws we believe in, no matter how supposedly innocuous or inconsequential, needs to be responded to swiftly, powerfully and with unanimity.  Canine shock and awe.

We are not stupid, we know how to read and we know how to read between the lines.  HR 89 was a pile of dog crap.  Claiming there was nothing to fear from an independent study sponsored by puppy mill apologists is like a prosecutor telling an innocent man not worry about going to trial without a defense lawyer because he’s sure to get a fair jury.  Would you risk your life or freedom on that?  The sponsors had presupposed a litany of offenses in HR 89.  These sponsors weren’t asking if the Puppy Mill Law was guilty of something, they were asking how guilty it was.

Now here is the funny thing that happened.  The session closed yesterday with HR 89 stalled and an omnibus amendment, an amendment which nearly entirely replaced the text of the original HR 89, being offered by John Maher, the majority head of the Ag Committee to be considering it.  Oh, snap!  We’ve always said animal welfare was not a partisan issue.  There are good, bad and indifferent on both sides of the aisle.  It just so happens that Rep. Maher was quite proud of the 2008 Puppy Mill Law he helped to pass.

We asked him why, if this HR 89 was so innocent, were there only a few pro-breeder sponsors, why did it make unsupported negative claims only, why did it specifically include a call for “reconsidering” implementation, why was it being fast tracked, why was it being considered before the law was even fully implemented, why didn’t it call for questioning why wire floors are still allowed and blanket exemptions and delays were given by the BDLE to kennels?  He answered, “Why, indeed?” and he returned with a gutting of the very resolution which so many of us felt was intended to start the gutting of the Puppy Mill Law.

In Harrisburg, a response like that is a rare and beautiful thing.

cruety-dog-2I will diverge from many on this issue by declaring that I do not fear a truly independent study on the 2008 law.  In fact, I believe that the blanket exemptions given kennels and the decisions to allow breeders to keep dogs on wire floors without access to exercise are a travesty and circumvention of legislative intent which would be exposed by a review.  I called for the termination of a study based on a biased and surreptitious HR 89 and asked it to be completely revised and re-introduced with true bi-partisan sponsorship we can believe in.  Prime Sponsor Denlinger is correct.  There is nothing to fear from a fair study.  But that’s not what he and his kennel posse were calling for.

It is what John Maher is calling for and I’d like answers to a few of my questions about the mishandling of implementation of the Puppy Mill Law and enforcement.  Questions like why are dogs are still on wire floors when the law is explicit that this is not permitted?  Why were kennels not collecting sales tax for years without intervention by the State and how many are still in violation of the law?  How many kennels are in violation of local zoning ordinances and State and Federal labor laws? Why does the State, through its “agriculture” promotion arm, the Department of Agriculture, continue to prop up an industry which now seems to claim it can only make money through the abuse of dogs and the circumvention and violation of PA law and the will of the voters?  And why would we give tax breaks to people whose prior deplorable business practices are now criminal business practices?

Is it safer to leave the whole matter closed?  Without a doubt.  Do I love every word in the new amendment?  No.  But when the leaders of the very party of the people who tried to get a crummy resolution through intervene, drastically alter it, and challenge us to take puppy mill apologists and the pro-cruelty lobby on head to head, I believe we should do exactly that.  We have a lesson to teach here.  I’d like to make it an unforgettable one.

Denlinger wanted his answers.  Now I want mine.  I am encouraging the support of the Maher Amendment to HR 89.  And we should all be watching very, very carefully to make sure they stay far, far away from our furry third rail.


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4 Responses

  • Donald Martin says:

    There should be no wire floors for dog kennels. The animals need room to move. The dogs should have semi-annual veterinarian checkups and clean living conditions and have room to move around. The laws for dog breeding need to be strengthen and enforced. Here it is 2011 and the animals really have no quality of life. I have rescued two dogs from a breeder that he was giving away just because they got to old and could’nt use them to have more litters. When taken to a veterinarian all of their teeth were abcessed and had to be pulled. The dogs had to have suffered for years. Breeders need laws to make them accountable for how their animals are taken care of and if they have to shutdown then they evidently were not a reputable Breeder. Did our State Representatives ever think about Spay/Neuter Laws for the State of Pennsylvania.

  • Sherry Moon says:

    Personally i feel this should be FEDERAL LAWS. Not state by state. We need stringent laws enacted on every single breeder in the USA. If we had this, then our state wide reps couldn’t bullshit us into believing they are trying to do right by the animals. I also believe breeders should have to provide larger runs, daily walks and socialization for every single animal they have. They should NOT be permitted to breed more than a certain number of animals a year. Our shelters are so critically overloaded, and we wonder why. I feel very strongly about No More Homeless Pets.
    We as humans tamed the canine and it is every single persons duty to help our dogs live a long, happy and pain free life. We also need to make it easier on pet adopters/owners in the spay/neuter area. If you have a dog registered with your state (ie:dog license) that dog should HAVE to be spayed/neutered. We do NOT need to keep breeding our animals to the point where we are now. Give the person an incentive for doing so. Like a lifetime license free if your animal is altered. Discounts on animal care, etc.
    Our reps, whether they own animals or not, are in this for themselves. there are so few who actually care about “Joe/Jane Public” and what they really need or want. They claim to serve us and we pay their salary. Then when you do NOT serve us…your salary should be withheld. If i did my job in such a manner as they do, i’d be fired or suspended. Why do we continue to pay these idiots if they are following big business agendas and lining their pockets with our money. I work hard. I expect them to do so as well.

    Since HR 89 originated in the House, we have a chance to fire them every two years. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, you should get actively involved in your party structure at the primary level to ensure that every candidate, regardless of party, is pro-animal welfare and pro-cruelty candidates get defeated. In Berks we just had a special Senate election and Humane PA PAC could not make a recomendation becuase BOTH candidates, Republican and Democrat, offered equally great repsonses on an issues questionaire. THAT is were we need to ge in every district in PA.

    On the Federal front, I believe the PUPS act is getting brought up again in the US House and Senate. It’s a step forward. HSBC sends out props to PA 6th District Representative Jim Gerlach for sticking with his sponsorship of PUPS. Karel

  • Tom says:

    Pennsylvania passed a very bad law that cost good breeders a lot of money and gave even more power to the dog wardens to mistreat people. You either don’t have your facts straight or you don’t care about the facts.

    I concede you are right on both counts. I just don’t think it matters. First, don’t get me started on the BDLE. A quick read of my stuff will show that I have more than my share of concerns about how it operates. However, the problems at the BDLE don’t mean that there shouldn’t be proper enforcement. I also agree that there are good breeders (and many would disagree with me that there is such a thing) facing financial burdons to ensure the improvement of the majority of kennels run by less than good breeders. However, I believe that is the price of a safe consumer society. I have to get my brand new car inspected every year, despite the fact that I get it serviced like clock work and would never drive my kids in an unsafe car. Yet I pay for inspection because others are not so conscientious and I am safer on the roads as a result. Good breeders should be happy to have their industry viewed with less disgust. It drives up the vaue of their product…I mean cute little puppies.

    If you want to get up in arms, ask why the rules changes didn’t apply to non-profit kenels like mine? Maybe because we’d have all have closed our doors and the BDLE would have been forced to actually address the problems hundreds of thousands of stray dogs, let alone the cats, entering PA shelters every year. Karel

  • Lisa Roemer says:

    I emailed all of the suggested representatives when news of HR 89 hit cyberspace. Surprisingly, I received a response from “my” representative, Stan Saylor (I did not vote for him).

    His letter stated that they were not “gutting” the pm bill; rather that they “merely…want straight-forward factual answers” about the “economic impact of the new law and the status of implementation”.

    It went on to further state that “Supporters of the dog law should not be afraid of analyzing economic impact and should welcome an independent look at the status of implementation”.

    He then went on to pat me on the head and tell me I was a good girl. No, just kidding, but the tone is typical of politicians who consider their constituents morons.

    Okay, great, do the study – I’m not afraid of that. However, I am afraid of their intent based on the results (or not – remember the WMDs all over Iraq??). If the study is simply to ensure that the law is being adhered to, I’m all for it, but frankly I could care less what the miller’s may have to pay to update their facilities, get proper vet care, etc. I have seen too many victims of the mills in my rescue work, and my opinion of those millers is not fit for print.

    Come on Mr. Saylor, don’t consider me a stupid person incapable of reading between the lines. What would the results of this study have been? Why do a costly study at all, especially in a time of huge budget slashes from your pal Gov. Corbett. The only reason I can think of is to remove or lessen the restrictions on puppy mills and make a certain squeaky wheel of voters happy…voters who make a profit on the misery of breeding stock at the mills.

    And by the way, do the majority of puppy mill owners really vote?? Just curious..

    You make a spectacular point about the waste of money on this report while school districts get millions cut from their state budgets and lay off thousands of workers as a result. Wasn’t one of the claims of HR 89 that it was an unaffordable loss of jobs? Since this proposal for a study came from the “starve the government beast” wing of their party, I wonder how they square up that waste of funds? I also agree there are studies and there are studies. Pretty sure the tobacco industry armed themselves to the gills that smoking cigarettes wasn’t bad for you. Karel

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