New Pennsylvania law cracks down on kennels

By by Estelle Tran

‘ ‘ ‘ A law passed last week could save the lives of countless dogs in commercial kennels in… ‘ ‘ ‘ A law passed last week could save the lives of countless dogs in commercial kennels in Pennsylvania, which is known as the ‘puppy mill capital of the East.’ But not everyone agrees with the law in its entirety. ‘ ‘ ‘ The state Senate passed House Bill 2525, known as ‘the Dog Law,’ with amendments by a 49-1 vote on Oct. 8, and Gov. Ed Rendell signed the bill into law Thursday night. The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. James Casorio, D-Westmoreland, worked on the bill for more than two years. ‘ ‘ ‘ He said that he and the public are eager to put this law into effect, citing a May 14 rally in Harrisburg for new kennel regulations. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘We are looking for a comprehensive and massive overhaul of this outdated and antiquated law,’ said Casorio. ‘It’s a bi-partisan issue. It’s part of a pledge to improve the conditions for dogs.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ The law works to ensure that dogs in commercial kennels have cleaner, larger primary enclosures. Commercial kennels are facilities that sell or transfer more than 60 dogs to dealers or pet shop owners each year. ‘ ‘ ‘ Dogs in these facilities will also be guaranteed daily exercise outside their holding enclosures as well as access to fresh water 24 hours a day. Many kennels will also have to expand the sizes of their holding enclosures and replace wire flooring, which can damage the dogs’ feet, with solid flooring. ‘ ‘ ‘ The Senate’s amendments included the establishment of a canine health board, made up of veterinarians and animal health experts, to decide when exceptions to the regulations are acceptable. Another key amendment gives commercial kennel owners one year, instead of 180 days, to improve their facilities. ‘ ‘ ‘ Though the law targets large breeding kennels, smaller kennels also will be required to have fire extinguishers and space for exercise. ‘ ‘ ‘ Casorio is careful to distinguish between kennels and negatively associated puppy mills, which are common in central and eastern Pennsylvania. The difference, he said, is in the number of dogs housed and the overall condition of the kennel. ‘ ‘ ‘ Some of the problem facilities are hundreds of feet long and hold thousands of dogs, he said. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Some [facilities] have no electricity and no protection from the elements,’ said Casorio. ‘They’re cruel and barbaric.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ However, some people don’t support the law in its entirety. The Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association voiced some concerns. ‘ ‘ ‘ The organization argued that solid flooring is not preferable over flooring with openings for drainage. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Solid flooring creates unsanitary conditions for the dogs housed in commercial breeding kennels. Even with diligent efforts to keep the primary enclosure clean, multiple dogs urinating and defecating on the floor at various times during a 24-hour period make it impossible to ensure that the primary enclosure will remain clean,’ said the association in a statement on its Web site. ‘ ‘ ‘ Casorio argued that solid flooring would be better than the current kennel standards of wire flooring. He recalled a time a farmer had to use tin snips to cut off the swollen leg of a dog that was caught in wire flooring. Another bill the state government is investigating, House Bill 2532, would make such actions illegal. Casorio said wire flooring is hazardous to the animals’ health. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I say that it is unsanitary now as it stands. It sometimes can be lethal,’ he said. ‘[Metal cages of dogs are sometimes] stacked 15 to 20 high on each other, so excrement runs down to the bottom.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ The recently passed law demands that primary enclosures rest no higher than 12 inches off of the floor and are not stacked upon other cages. ‘ ‘ ‘ The law also calls for allotted time each day for the dogs to be released from their holding enclosures to run around in a space that is at least twice the size of their holding containers. ‘ ‘ ‘ This point troubles the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association. According to a release on the group’s Web site, the association supports an exercise requirement outside of primary enclosures. However, the group said it is concerned that dogs will be forced to exercise outdoors, even in extreme weather conditions. ‘ ‘ ‘ Tracy Wu, a Pitt senior and vice president of Pitt’s pre-veterinary club, said she agrees with the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association that dogs do not have to get their exercise outdoors. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I guess they could have indoor areas,’ said Wu. ‘I went to a vet’s office, and they had an area in the basement, a concrete play area where dogs could be let out periodically to play with each other.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Wu said that when dogs don’t get to move around, their muscles suffer from atrophy. They begin to decrease or waste away. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Like humans, dogs need fresh air and sunlight, or they’ll get lifeless and depressed,’ she said. ‘It’s like if you put a human in a box so they couldn’t move around.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Kennel owners will now have to provide enclosures that are at least 6 inches higher than the dogs’ heads while standing and wide enough for the dogs to lie down. ‘ ‘ ‘ Legislators are also considering implementing regulations to ensure that kennels have air ventilation to let odors escape and to prevent condensation. Kennels will also have to remain between 50 and 85 degrees if dogs are present. ‘ ‘ ‘ Casorio said that in some cases, when holding enclosures are cleaned, kennel owners don’t remove the animals, and the cleaners may spray dogs with cleaning chemicals. ‘ ‘ ‘ Under Pennsylvania’s old dog law, commercial kennel owners aren’t subject to the same restrictions as other citizens. They can euthanize dogs without veterinary assistance. Casorio cited an incident in Berks County this month where two kennel owners legally killed 80 dogs. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Dogs are treated as commodities, whether it’s a pencil or a desk chair,’ he said. ‘ ‘ ‘ He said commercial kennel owners sometimes use plastic pipes and sledge hammers to break dogs’ vocal chords so they can’t bark. ‘ ‘ ‘ If the dog laws are passed, Casorio expects the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and its wardens to enforce the laws. ‘ ‘ ‘ Wu said that dog kennels should comply with public opinion despite the extra costs of larger enclosures and cleaner facilities. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I think the general public thinks that’s a good idea because they care about their pets. And they don’t want their dogs in a kennel being mistreated like that,’ said Wu. ‘You choose to do that business, so you have to take care of the animals.’