Speranza

Libre, a 5-year-old Boston terrier, poses for a photo Monday, June 7, 2021. Libre was found nearly dead in southern Lancaster County in 2016. Since he was brought to Speranza Animal Rescue in Mechanicsburg, he's healed and has inspired legislation, Libre's Law, which imposes harsher penalties on people who abuse animals. He still lives at the animal rescue, just now in the private residence that overlooks the farm.

THE ISSUE

As Spotlight PA reported earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Legislature “departed for the summer without voting on bills that would have raised dog licensing fees from $6.50 to $10 per year, an increase advocates say is critical to address insufficient staffing and a dire funding shortfall within the state’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. Without a new and permanent stream of revenue, they say, the bureau will soon be unable to carry out its basic functions.” Spotlight PA is a nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer; its partners include LNP Media Group.

Passing legislation to increase funding for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement should have been a cinch for state lawmakers.

As far as dog ownership expenses go, an extra $3.50 per year is a drop in the bucket. It’s perhaps a third of what an inexpensive bag of dog food costs. It’s a mere fraction of what a grooming or veterinary visit costs. And it would do a great deal of good for dogs — which responsible and caring dog owners surely would appreciate.

A funny thing happens when a dog enters your life. You begin to care about other dogs, too. The idea that some people are treating dogs cruelly tears at your heart. Conscientious dog owners would welcome the opportunity to help ensure that even dogs they’ll never know will be safe from abuse.

In an interview with Spotlight PA, however, state Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams County, who chairs the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said fee increases of any type are politically unpopular. “He and other House Republicans fear a public backlash if they were to approve a fee hike,” Spotlight PA reported.

Moul told that news organization that he still receives angry calls from constituents about an unrelated gas tax hike he voted for nearly a decade ago.

“Believe it or not, people will spend thousands of dollars to go buy a dog, but you increase their dog license fees by five bucks, they have a fit,” Moul said.

There’s a lot that bothers us about that sentence.

First, we wish more people adopted dogs from rescue organizations rather than buying them.

For another thing, the proposed fee increase isn’t five bucks.

And for yet another thing, Moul and his fellow lawmakers should be able to make necessary decisions without factoring in how those decisions are going to affect them.

Moul told Spotlight PA that he worked with Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding on an alternate plan that involved tucking — that is, hiding — the proposed increase in a budget-related bill, as lawmakers might be more likely to approve a major budget package.

That plan failed.

The fact that lawmakers can’t garner the courage to pass legislation with an annual $3.50 dog license fee increase explains why they can’t do bigger things. They apparently lack courage, in moments big and small.

They can show up for photo ops with Libre — the Boston terrier rescued from a Quarryville farm who gave his name to Pennsylvania’s stricter 2017 animal abuse law — but they won’t fund the agency that is meant to enforce that and other vital laws.

Libre’s Law increased penalties for animal cruelty and made aggravated cruelty a felony. These were long-overdue reforms. But what good are they if Libre’s Law can’t be adequately enforced?

As Spotlight PA reported, the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is “almost entirely funded by licensing fees paid by dog owners, though the price last increased in 1996.”

That was 25 years — a quarter of a century — ago. What other expense do you know of that hasn’t increased in 25 years?

The state Department of Agriculture is redirecting $1.5 million from its own budget this year to keep the bureau afloat. But as state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, told Spotlight PA, that’s a temporary fix.

Moreover, as that news organization reported, “Even with the $1.5 million from the Department of Agriculture, the bureau is unable to fill job vacancies. Fourteen counties in Pennsylvania are without a dog warden tasked with inspecting kennels, taking in stray dogs, and enforcing all dog-related laws.”

Lancaster County is one of those warden-less counties. That’s particularly troubling because our county has twice as many licensed kennels as any other county, Spotlight PA reported.

Three of those local kennels are on the Humane Society of United States’ annual “Horrible Hundred” list of problematic puppy breeding and/or puppy brokering facilities.

“The fact that the Bureau of Dog Law (Enforcement) is going to be less able to to stay on top of those (kennels) is a big concern for us,” Kathleen Summers, director of outreach and research at the Humane Society, Pennsylvania, told Spotlight PA.

It will, however, be a boon to those in Lancaster County who operate kennels without providing proper care to the animals housed in them.

Those who love dogs find it hard to read about the Daniel Esh family of Leacock Township, for instance. Members of that family have been charged with at least 44 offenses related to animal cruelty, animal neglect or kennel law violations since 2013, according to court records.

As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Ty Lohr reported, the most recent visit by humane law enforcement officers on June 4 resulted in the removal of 13 dogs and the filing of a cease-and-desist order for another 45 to be removed.

The Esh family isn’t alone in allegedly mistreating dogs. Sadly, Lancaster County has become known for its puppy mills. (The Humane Society defines a puppy mill as “an inhumane high-volume dog breeding facility that churns out puppies for profit, ignoring the needs of the pups and their mothers.”)

Those signs you see in parts of the county offering purebred puppies for sale? Some of them should be fitted with flashing red warning lights.

Unfortunately, they often operate without drawing much attention. This will be even more the case if the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement continues to be hampered by budgetary issues.

As Summers of the Humane Society told Spotlight PA, “Democrats and Republicans, and everybody in between, they’re all dog lovers.”

She said lawmakers “are not listening to their constituents if they’re not passing budgets that protect dogs because nobody wants Pennsylvania to be seen as a puppy mill state and everybody wants dogs to be protected.”

She’s absolutely right.

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