Pennsylvania passes anti-puppy mill legislation

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell signed House Bill 2525 into law earlier this month at a Langhorne, Pa., animal hospital. The so-called “Puppy Mill Bill” represents an important step toward improving the lives of the state’s dogs.

The 102-page law, signed Oct. 9, takes aim at commercial breeders that operate puppy mills, for which the state is infamous. Many of the major changes pertain to breeders who sell dogs to dealers or pet shops, or who sell more than 60 dogs per year.

Charlene Wandzilak, executive director of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association (PVMA), said her organization sees the bill as a big step toward better care for dogs kept by large commercial breeders.

“It is a significant improvement in providing humane treatment, ensuring standards for exercise and living conditions, and a regular program of veterinary care including two exams per year per dog and euthanization only by a veterinarian,” Wandzilak said. “It is a great stride toward advancing the welfare of dogs in Pennsylvania and PVMA is proud of our contribution to ensuring this happened. Now, it will be a matter of enforcement and compliance.”

The PVMA came under media and public criticism for taking issue with certain parts of the bill, but Wandzliak said the association supported the bill all the way.

The bill amends Pennsylvania’s “Dog Law,” which lays out criteria for the regulation of the sale, treatment and care of dogs. The new amendment creates a definition and new standards for “commercial kennels;” revises provisions related to dangerous dogs; establishes a Canine Health Board; and adds penalties and enforcement authority to the law.

The major changes include:

  • Requirement that the euthanization of any dog under a cease and desist order be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and only be done if determined by a veterinarian to be medically necessary to alleviate suffering.
  • Addition of language requiring that all flooring allow for moderate drainage of fluids, does not bend or sag between the structural supports, and does not allow the feet of the dogs to pass through the openings.
  • Establishment of a Canine Health Board of nine veterinarians to develop scientifically based and measurable standards for ventilation, ambient temperature, lighting, and relative humidity and approve variances in flooring and exercise plans. One seat will be appointed by PVMA and one seat will be appointed by the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine. Three seats will be appointed by the Governor and four seats will be appointed by the Majority and Minority Leaders of the House and Senate.
  • Allowance for variances in exercise plans if they are verifiable, enforceable, and provide for equal to or greater amount of exercise than is required by the bill if approved by the Canine Health Board.
  • Doubling of the cage size from the current requirements.
  • Veterinary exams for every dog twice a year.
  • Rabies vaccinations administered by a veterinarian or under his or her supervision (consistent with the Pennsylvania Rabies Law).
  • A written program of veterinary care.
  • Establishment of a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship and related responsibilities between the veterinarian and the kennel operator.
  • Exercise outside of the primary enclosure by an attached outdoor run unless prohibited by local ordinance or by recommendation of a veterinarian due to medical or health reasons.  Authorizes the Canine Health Board to allow alternative means for access from a dog’s primary enclosure to its exercise area and for exercise on a case by case basis upon request of a kennel operator.  The plan must be verifiable, enforceable, and provide for an amount of exercise equal to or greater than required by the law.
  • Access to water at all times.
  • Euthanasia only by a veterinarian.

Many states have little or no regulation of large-scale breeders that sell dogs directly to the public, according to the Humane Society of the United States. With a new layer of state oversight, the Pennsylvania law makes it more difficult for these breeders to abuse the system and do harm to their breeding dogs. The Humane Society has a list of states and their current “puppy mill” laws on its website.

Wandzinak said the PVMA has worked with the state government since the governor began considering changes to the Dog Law in 2006.

 “It is fairly evident that our imprint is on the new law, and thats a good thing. Our positions were based on veterinary expertise as animal health experts,” she said. 

Wandzilak said that while the bill was being refined, the PVMA disagreed with the wording of parts of the bill. This was mistakenly interpreted by some people as opposition to the bill as a whole.

But that was not true, she said. The PVMA only had a problem with certain sections of the bill, namely solid flooring (could be unsanitary), outdoor exercise areas (could be too cold for some breeds), who can administer rabies vaccinations and kennel temperature/ventilation standards. To address the public’s concerns, the PVMA laid out all of its positions on its website.

“We only weighed in purposefully on the welfare provisions of the bill because we wanted to offer expertise in the areas we should and not dilute our credibility by commenting on other provisions,” she said. “Good legislation is a process of compromise and collaboration and these people are extremists who want it their way or no way.” 

Wandzinak said all of PVMA’s concerns were addressed in the final version of the bill.

NEWStat Legislation & regulation