Pennsylvania's independently elected fiscal watchdog says the state is doing a poor job enforcing an anti-puppy mill law that's designed to protect buyers and ensure breeders maintain humane practices.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said in an audit released this week that lax leadership and ineffective program administration plagued the Dog Law Enforcement Office.
DePasquale said sales weren't properly tracked to determine which kennels should be licensed, guidelines weren't promptly written for dog wardens and the office's money was spent on other, unrelated Department of Agriculture employees.
The audit covered July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2012. During that period, the dog law restricted revenue account went from $15 million to $3.1 million, with $4 million put into the state general fund in 2010, $2.6 million used for payroll costs and $1.4 million used for unconfirmed expenses.
DePasquale pointed to what he described as a lack of control within the Department of Agriculture as the reason for lax enforcement of the state’s dog law program.
The goal of the 2008 law was to improve the conditions in kennels across Pennsylvania, as well as offer training to Department of Agriculture staff to better enforce the law, but according to DePasquale, that never happened.
“We certainly found through interviews with department staff that they knew there were violations at the kennels, and that was why they didn’t enforce them,” DePasquale said.
He offered an analogy, saying, “How would neighbors feel if police officers avoid a street corner when they know there is a drug deal going down?"
DePasquale said the absence of dog law implementation stems from a lack of leadership.
“When you look at the lax enforcement of the Pennsylvania dog law and the potential harm it put dogs across the state in by not enforcing the law, which is the whole purpose for improving the law in the first place, you can look at taking that money out of the system as a direct result of that lax enforcement,” DePasquale said.
In a written statement, the Department of Agriculture said the audit was “materially incomplete and inaccurate.” It says a reorganization process is resulting in cost savings and tightened administration.
Since the audit, the Department of Agriculture has taken steps toward stricter enforcement. All 54 licensed commercial kennels in Pennsylvania have met design requirements and were inspected twice in 2012.
But DePasquale believes more can be done, issuing 18 recommendations for the Department of Agriculture. Among them: establish a leadership team, track all dangerous dog incidents, develop written procedures and urge owners to license their dogs annually are among the suggestions.