By SUSAN E. LINDT, Staff
Animal advocates were elated Wednesday as word came that the state House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Bills 2525 and 2532, which are designed to improve the lives of breeder dogs living in the state's commercial breeding kennels.
The House voted 181-17 in favor of H.B. 2525, which would double the required minimum floor space for kennels, require annual vet checks for all kennel dogs, ban wire floors in kennels of adult dogs, require that dogs have access to outdoor exercise areas twice the size of their kennel enclosures and eliminate cage stacking.
The House unanimously voted in favor of companion legislation, H.B. 2532, which would allow only veterinarians to perform surgical procedures on dogs, including cesarean birth, tail docking for dogs over 3 days old and debarking, which destroys a dog's vocal cords to prevent barking. It also allows Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement wardens to enforce animal-cruelty statutes in counties where there are no humane-society officers.
Both bills now head to the state Senate, where they are expected to be dealt with next week.
Only one local legislator, Republican Rep. Gordon Denlinger, voted against H.B. 2525. After Wednesday's vote, Denlinger said he believed a slew of amendments to the bill that were defeated Monday would have improved it, but Gov. Ed Rendell's very vocal support skewed the process.
"I support some elements of the bill, but the opportunity to correct a few points was totally ignored by the other side," Denlinger said. "It's a tragedy when the legislative process is taken over by the governor. When that happens, we haven't totally heard from all the stakeholders, we haven't weighed all the elements of the bill. We're just playing to somebody's agenda. That was very apparent as the bill was moving through the House floor."
Specifically, Denlinger said he opposed elements of H.B. 2525 that would require kennel owners to dramatically reconfigure kennels, such as doubling cage sizes and replacing wire floors with solid flooring.
"In some cases, some of these (kennels) are very modern facilities that may be only a year old, and now they'll have to be torn down and reconfigured because of the narrow definition of the bill," Denlinger said. "Some (kennel owners) are good, upright breeders, and this is going to force them out of business, and I don't think that's appropriate. Everyone wants to see bad operators shut down, but with this bill, we're penalizing good breeders. That's a major concern."
Others who lobbied for the legislation for more than two years considered the solid House vote a good sign for the upcoming Senate vote.
"I'm delighted these bills passed the House, and I'm hopeful they'll pass the Senate," said Jessie L. Smith, the state's special deputy secretary for dog-law enforcement. "We got so many groups onboard with this legislation that most legislators felt their constituents want this. We didn't even think (the House) would get to H.B. 2532, but again, there was a consensus on that bill."
Rendell, who made sweeping changes to the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement over the past two years to rid the state of its reputation as "puppy mill capital of the east," praised legislators for not allowing amendments "filed on behalf of special-interest groups" to weaken the bill's intent.
"The House has delivered a strong legislation that reflects not only the needs of dogs, but the will of the public in improving the minimum standards in the worst of Pennsylvania's kennels," Rendell said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "I believe the bills that came out of the House reflect the needs of reputable kennel owners while raising the bar for those who are concerned only with the value, and not the welfare, of the dogs they breed."
With just a handful of voting days left in this session, Joan Brown, CEO of the Humane League of Lancaster County, said she's cautiously optimistic the bills will pass.
"It's a great day for all Pennsylvania and especially Lancaster County," Brown said, referring to the county's high number of commercial breeding kennels. "We are now holding our breath and crossing our fingers for the Senate to pass it quickly so we can implement humane changes for dogs in these kennels."
H.B. 2525 gained momentum in August, when the Bureau announced that two Berks County breeders had shot and killed their 80 otherwise healthy dogs after inspectors ordered 39 of them to be checked by veterinarians for flea bites.
Many in the public expressed shock that current state law allows dog owners to shoot and kill their own dogs. The widespread publicity about the killings boosted interest in H.B. 2525, which would allow only veterinarians to euthanize dogs.
Meanwhile, Denlinger said he hopes H.B. 2525 is altered by amendment in the Senate, in which case, the amended version would return to the House for another vote.