New PA Gov. Corbett: Dept. of Ag Allowed to Gut Dog Law

Update Nov. 11, 2010: After securing his own election as Pennsylvania governor, Tom Corbett, currently the state’s Attorney General, issued a statement in which he elected not to help breeding dogs in Class C commercial kennels. Corbett decided to let stand the Dept. of Agriculture regulations that despite the 2008 Dog Law will allow dogs about to give birth or who are nursing to live in cages with 50% wire flooring. These dogs will also not be required to have "unfettered access" to an exercise area as required by the 2008 law. 

For more on this, read Animal Law Coalition’s earlier report….

Original report: In August the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) approved regulations offered by the Dept. of Agriculture and its Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement that gut the ban on wire flooring for breeding dogs held in Class C commercial kennels.

This despite nearly universal opposition to the regulations during the public hearing held by IRRC on August 19.

One of the notable accomplishments of the 2008 Dog Law was the unequivocal requirement that Class C commercial kennels cannot use "metal strand whether or not it is coated" for flooring and even slatted flooring can have spaces no more than 1/2 inch between them and slats must be at least 3.5 inches wide and "run the length or the width of the floor, but not both."

In June, 2010, the Pennsylvania Canine Health Board unanimously rejected a proposal to allow Class C commercial dog kennels to use wire flooring or "hog flooring". The Board also rejected use of plastic flooring that has "paw-and-claw-grabbing" holes. 3 P.S. Sec. 459-207(i)(3).

Despite the law and overwhelming opposition, Gov. Ed Rendell’s Dept. of Agriculture and its Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement have managed to push through regulations that allow nursing mothers in Class C kennels to live in kennels with 50% wire flooring. In fact, the plan, according to Jessie Smith, Deputy Secretary for the Bureau, is to allow dogs about to give birth also to live in kennels with 50% wire flooring.

For more on the plan by the Dept. of Agriculture and Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to allow nursing mothers and mothers about to give birth in Class C commercial kennels to live on wire flooring ….. 

The Pennsylvania United Against Puppy Mills (UAPM) working with Animal Law Coalition presented this statement to IRRC, "It is clear from reading the Dog Law provisions for Class C kennels in particular, that in prohibiting wire flooring altogether, the legislature was well aware there would be nursing mothers in the kennels. And, after all, that is the purpose of commercial breeding kennels, i.e., to house dogs that are pregnant or nursing. The legislature did not create any exception that would allow part of the flooring in kennels occupied by nursing mothers to be wire. That is something completely made up by the authors of these regulations in direct violation of the law.

"The excuse offered for violating the law is that the wire flooring will facilitate cleanliness. First, the law already provides for the option of slatted flooring and also requires the floor, whether solid or slatted, to allow drainage of fluids. Sec. 459-207(i)(3). There are extensive requirements for regular cleaning as well. All of these issues were considered by the legislature and the law passed prohibits wire flooring and also provides requirements to facilitate cleanliness. It is not for the Dept or Bureau to rewrite this carefully considered scheme."

UAPM also presented evidence that regardless nursing dogs clean up after their puppies.

Jenny Stephens, director of North Penn Puppy Mill Watch, told IRRC, "No wire means no wire." Stephens told the Commission "there are currently in excess of 12,000 dogs housed in these large scale breeding facilities that operate as for profit businesses.

"The flooring regulation, as drafted by the Bureau, presents a serious enforcement issue.  Larger kennels housing 3, 4 and even in excess of 500 dogs, already present a sober challenge to the dogs wardens charged with ensuring compliance with the Dog Law.

"On any given inspection, wardens will have no way of knowing how long any particular female has been on wire or how old any specific litter of puppies may be. 

"Additionally, wardens will have no way of knowing whether or not a dog confined to a cage with wire flooring has or has not had an opportunity to exercise that day."

Significantly, Stephens told the Commission about a July 20, 2010 kennel inspection report where despite the law, the dog warden approved, even recommended the use of wire flooring in a Class C commercial kennel.

She explained, "While wire flooring is currently banned in Pennsylvania’s commercial kennels, we found the following comment during our audit that was entered by a dog warden on an inspection report dated July 20, 2010:
‘The metal strand flooring shall not allow the feet of a dog to pass through the openings in the flooring.  It was suggested to the kennel owner to lay another panel of metal strand flooring on top of the current flooring so that the strands overlap and decrease the size of the holes.  The kennel owner could replace the current metal strand flooring with slatted flooring or metal strand flooring that has smaller holes.  Or the kennel owner could lay Dri-Dek mats on top of the flooring.’"

Stephens pointed out, "There is NO indication in this report that the dogs referred to by this warden are pregnant or nursing mothers or puppies under the age of 12 weeks."

Steven Hoover, Director, Western PA Chapter, League of Humane Voters, told IRRC, "Wire flooring, or hog flooring as it is commonly known, is made for animals with cloven hooves. I have yet to see any dog that has cloven hooves.

"The wire flooring causes extensive, painful, and unnecessary damage to the soft pads on their feet. This is why it was prohibited in [the 2008 Dog Law]…. If the breeders are too lazy or incompetent to keep the enclosures in a sanitary manner, on solid flooring as the law states, they have no business being a breeder in the first place; just as the Dept. of Agriculture has no business pimping the unscrupulous designs of the breeders."

Hoover also described "the obvious alliance between the breeders and Sue West, [Director o the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement], Jessie Smith, and the Dept of Ag. which has direct bearing on this hearing. The real issue is the Dept. of Ag. breaking the law on behalf of the breeders."

He explained, "I have personally witnessed their coalition and disregard for the laws as stated in [the 2008 Dog Law]. On July 8th, there was an open conference call hosted by puppy mill lobbyist Michael Glass about the new proposed regulations. Jessie Smith was the guest speaker.

"I questioned Ms. Smith about the 81 waivers and exemptions which have been handed out to breeders like candy at Halloween, even though the breeders have had three years to comply with the law. I asked that in order to receive a waiver, do I need to submit a detailed report of why I need an exemption after all this time, proposed efforts to comply, and also what I have done to comply with the law since 2008? The answer Ms. Smith gave me was no – just that I should state I have to undergo ‘major reconstruction’.

"So breeders are given the right to break the law by Jessie Smith, Sue West,  and the Dept. of Ag. with no justification whatsoever for doing so. At the conclusion of the call, Michael Glass labeled those who want the law to be complied with as ‘extremists’."

Indeed, several in attendance at the August 19 IRRC hearing, described that the "fix was in" before the hearing and IRRC simply rubber stamped a decision made earlier by the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to appease commercial breeders. 

Hoover concluded, "The real issue of this hearing is the law and the fact that the Dep’t of Agriculture has no authority to rewrite it".  

The new regulations also omit mention of the statutory requirement that dogs held in Class C commercial kennels have "unfettered access" to an exercise area. It appears the Bureau intends to proceed with its plan to deny this as well to nursing mothers and mothers about to give birth.

UAPM working with Animal Law Coalition presented the IRRC with alternative regulations that would comply with the 2008 Dog Law. (The proposed alternative regulations are attached below for downloading.) There was no response from the IRRC to this or any other argument or alternative put forth by opponents of the regulations. As one attendee described, "It was as if the IRRC simply waited for everyone to finish talking and then, as planned, approved the regulations." 

Prior to the IRRC hearing, Bill Smith, founder of Main Line Animal Rescue (MLAR), circulated to Jessie Smith the video below of a puppy mill dog rescued by MLAR. Bill Smith said the dog "had a broken hip when she came to us.  And broken teeth.  After a year of extensive rehabilitation (very timid) and surgery and water therapy, she found the best home.  A great home!  And she’s no longer forced to stand on 50% wire flooring in some dilapidated hutch!  Trapped in some hot barn without access to fresh air and an outdoor run!  This is what’s it all about folks – dogs being dogs with a little joy in their lives".

Why is it so difficult for Gov. Rendell and the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to understand that?