Rendell gives dogs a fair shake
The governor outlined a sweeping overhaul of Pa.'s dog regulations yesterday in W. Chester.
By Kathleen Brady Shea
Inquirer Staff Writer
Nine-month-old Cricket squirmed mightily but politely refrained from barking as Gov. Rendell yesterday outlined a sweeping overhaul of the state's dog regulations.
Forced inside by the rain, Rendell spoke in a packed hallway of the Chester County Courthouse. Politicians, dog lovers, news photographers, and a couple of dogs competed for space - much like the cramped kennel conditions that Rendell hopes to eliminate.
Cricket, a cavalier King Charles spaniel bedecked in Halloween duds, was one of the survivors of an abusive puppy mill in Lower Oxford Township, said owner Amy Dluhy of Chester Springs.
In June, the kennel's owner, Michael Wolf, a nationally known breeder of champion show dogs, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges and received 15 years of probation. The charges stemmed from the deplorable housing Wolf provided for 337 dogs, three cats and two birds.
When the case surfaced in February, Rendell vowed to push for legislation to strengthen state animal-welfare laws and to make administrative changes at the state's Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. That bureau licenses and inspects the state's 2,800 kennels, which include nonprofit operations.
He also fired the 14 members of the Dog Law Advisory Board, saying they had not been "proactive" enough.
The regulation changes Rendell outlined include a dog-law enforcement team, a new advisory board, and stiffer penalties for abuse. He said they were "long overdue" and helped to eliminate situations that existed in Wolf's Mike-Mar kennels.
The fact that the SPCA had to subsidize the care of hundreds of seized animals from that facility exacerbated the tragedy, Rendell said.
"The owner should have to pay for their care or allow the animals to be adopted," Rendell said.
Wearing a dog-theme tie - from his collection of six - Rendell said he received advice from veterinarians, state workers and dog advocates in designing a system to rid the state of its undeserved reputation as "the puppy mill capital of the country."
To oversee enforcement, he appointed Jessie Smith, a 20-year veteran of the Attorney General's Office, as special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement in the Department of Agriculture.
"I left my job because I've had and loved dogs my entire life," Smith said, adding that she looked forward to ensuring that no animal ever has to endure inhumane warehousing.
Dluhy praised the initiative and said she hoped history never repeats itself.
"It's incredibly sad what happened," she said.
She called Cricket one of "the lucky ones," who was able to recover from her injuries. "One dog lost all its teeth," Dluhy said. "Others were so scared you couldn't get near them."