Weakened “Puppy Mill Bill” Passes in PA

PA puppy millBy Jenny Stephens, North Penn Puppy Mill Watch, www.nppmwatch.com (reprinted with permission)

In a move reminiscent of a scene from the Wizard of Oz, not many animal advocates were fooled by the "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" theatrics performed by the Senate Appropriations committee on Tuesday, October 7.  To thoroughly understand what happened to House Bill 2525, a walk down memory lane is required…

After passing through the House of Representatives with 181 affirmative votes and absolutely no unfriendly amendments, House Bill 2525 sustained significant damage almost immediately upon entering the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee and the Republican Senate was just getting warmed up. 

When the bill finally surfaced from the Senate Ag committee, chaired by Senator Michael W. Brubaker (R-Part Lancaster/Chester), it now contained two particularly egregious amendments:

1.  a "Waiver" that allows kennel operators the ability to avoid implementing almost all of the provisions that would improve health and welfare standards for the breeder dogs in the kennels if their three year inspection record history revealed no citations; and,

2.  the creation of a Canine Health Board allowing the Senate to remove all preset environmental conditions and permitting the future change of flooring specifications and outdoor exercise requirements by the vets on this new board.  This action allowed the Senate to avoid direct responsibility for passing animal welfare legislation thus affording them the ability to remain friendly with pro-breeder and farming constituents.

Upon learning of the amendments, the majority of Pennsylvania based canine advocacy groups – especially those specializing in puppy mill issues – began encouraging dog lovers across the state to begin contacting state senators and request them to vote for the legislation but without these damaging amendments.  Sadly, this action was decried by lobbyists from HSUS and ASPCA who emphatically reiterated that the amendments "weren’t that bad" and who immediately began spinning the potentially damaging amendments as something that could be fixed on the Senate floor immediately prior to a vote. 

Truth be told, the amendments were very destructive and, eventually, things would go from bad to worse.  Ultimately, absolutely no attempt to correct anything was made on the Senate floor by anyone.

Once House Bill 2525 entered Senate Appropriations, things really began to unravel quickly and rumors began flying that the committee chair, Senator Gibson E. Armstrong (R-Part Lancaster/York Counties) intended to amend the document into a worthless stack of papers.  Commonwealth Confidential reported:

"Among the provisions stripped from the bill are a ban wire flooring, an exercise requirement, and larger cage sizes. It also would force non- profit shelters and rescues to comply with commercial kennel requirements."

in an article published on October 6, and that’s when things became very quiet.  No further information was forthcoming from the Appropriations committee and the threatening amendments mentioned in the article were not only unavailable via the state’s legislative website but no one was capable of obtaining a copy of any amendments from the Appropriations committee until after the Senate had voted and it was too late for advocates to do anything.

So, what did the final amendments contain? 

Enhanced versions of the "Waiver" and "Canine Health Board" of course, the two amendments that advocates never could get behind and support to begin with.  Both amendments originally represented tremendously large loopholes through which puppy millers could avoid implementing changes but, like a tornado touching down in Kansas, those original amendments created in the Senate Ag committee were about to spin totally out of control and cause devastation beyond imagination to the legislation once the Appropriations committee finished with them.

Puppy millThe Waiver

Originally, kennel operators were to have no citations within the last three years as recorded on the state’s
Bureau of Dog Law inspection reports in order to qualify for a waiver.  Now puppy millers must not have any CONVICTIONS.  Inasmuch as the Bureau doesn’t provide any information with regard as to whom has been found guilty or, by virtue of paying a citation admitted guilt, advocates have absolutely no way of knowing which puppy mills may or may not apply for a "Waiver."  

Initially, the "Waivers" were to be available for up to a three year period.  Now, by way of the amendment, the Secretary of Agriculture may extend any waiver length beyond the original three year time frame.  What does this mean?  There are dogs in Pennsylvania puppy mills who may never, ever experience any of the life saving health and welfare measures for whom the legislation was originally designed.

Obviously somewhere along the way our elected officials seem to have forgotten the actual purpose of House Bill 2525.  The legislation that is now referred to as the "puppy mill bill" was never intended to protect greedy commercial breeders and was, instead, initiated, drafted and negotiated to help animals who are imprisoned for life and forced to produce puppies for the pet trade until they are spent and destroyed. 

In fact, were those who raise dogs in commercial settings to have taken proper care of these companion animals to begin with, House Bill 2525 never would have been necessary at all.

The Canine Health Board

Call it the "Canine Health Board" if you like but the addition of two more seats – one of which is designated for a representative from the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, a group who vehemently fought the removal of wire flooring in tens of thousands of cages that house breeder dogs, the balance of power is now heavily weighted against the dogs and this new layer of bureaucracy is already being referred to as the "Canine Mafia." 

What better way for state senators to get off the hook for having passed a canine advocacy bill than by stripping it of all its environmental provisions and passing the buck to a yet to be established board?  When you think about it, it’s brilliant.  That the Senate Appropriations committee decided to add two additional seats for veterinarians who are known supporters of the commercial breeding industry only helps these politicians further cushion the passage of this bill all the more so when questioned about it by agriculturally invested constituents. 

The amendments also establish that this board of nine need only five members present to represent a quorum and no proxy votes will be permitted.  The three seats that will be appointed by the Governor will expire in two years time – along with his term – and depending on how sensitive Pennsylvania’s next governor might be toward man’s best friend will dictate whether this board will go from being potentially harmful to downright hurtful.

Another new amendment will no longer will force commercial breeders to reduce their breeding stock to 25 dogs should their license be revoked for cause. Those who follow puppy mills closely will quickly recognize the name Ervin Zimmerman who, upon losing his license in November, 2007 continues operating "business as usual" to this very day as he appeals guilty verdict after guilty verdict in a process that may drag out for years.  Without a license and on his last inspection in August, 2008, Zimmerman had 203 dogs in his kennel. 

If the very thought of Ervin Zimmerman makes your blood boil, put a lid on it because without a doubt this new amendment has the potential to create many Ervin Zimmermans.  Any puppy miller who has their license revoked for cause will not have to reduce the number of dogs in their kennel as long as they’re involved in the appeals process and, given that many of these kennel operators are millionaires, you can just about bank on this exact scenario repeating and coming to life before your very eyes.

Protest at pet storeWhat, in the long run, are we absolutely positive the dogs will receive with the watered down version of House Bill 2525?  Enlarged and unstacked cages, marginal veterinary oversight, some form of exercise along with the inability for puppy millers to shoot their dogs.  What did we lose?  Solid flooring, set temperature highs and lows as well pre-established ventilation, humidity and ammonia levels, required outdoor exercise and the ability to force a puppy miller to reduce his breeding stock to 25 dogs should the kennel license be revoked for cause to mention but a few of the very troubling changes.

But what of those amendments that were going to gut the bill as reported by the media on Tuesday?  Did those amendments ever exist?  If they did, we’ve never seen them on paper but, then again, we never took our eyes off the man behind the curtain.

In 2006, when Governor Ed Rendell promised to reform the Dog Law in Pennsylvania, advocates happily skipped down the Yellow Brick Road.  Along the way we ran into a wicked witch or two, met many politicians – some without brains, hearts or courage – and even managed to be snubbed by some carpetbaggers from national organizations.  Our visit to the House had us very "optimistic" but it was inevitable that eventually we’d have to face those nasty flying monkeys in the Senate. 

Unlike the real Wizard of Oz, there is no Emerald City and this saga is far from over.  Pennsylvania still has puppy mills and, given the now enhanced "Waivers" and slanted Canine Health Board, it’s likely that they’ll be around for some time to come…. but then again, so will we.  After all, someone has to be watching out for the canines in those kennels with less than 60 dogs – a group that was never covered by the new legislation at all – and to see who will be lucky enough to win a favor… I mean waiver from the Secretary of Agriculture.  Over the next winter and summer, and until this legislation is enacted a full year from now, dogs will certainly freeze to death and exhaust from the heat while candidates posture for seats on the newly created Canine Health Board and that is a disgrace. 

As canine advocates we have come a long way toward improving the daily lives of breeder dogs but still have quite a ways to go before we’ll be able to call it a day and truly know that no dog in a Pennsylvania puppy mill is being legally abused, neglected or treated cruelly.  

Indeed, there is no place like Pennsylvania and these last two years of legislative haggling have been much more like a nightmare than a dream.

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For more details and history of H.B. 2525…..