Revised state law goes after puppy mills

Pennsylvania to require regular outdoor exercise, prohibit stacking cages
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Over the years, Pennsylvania has picked up another nickname besides the Keystone State—The Puppy Mill Capital of the East.

Whispering Oaks Kennels photos
Whispering Oaks Kennels (pictured above in Parkersburg, W.Va.) was raided Aug. 23 with assistance from the Humane Society of Parkersburg and other organizations such as Best Friends Network. Local law enforcement officials executed a search warrant and negotiated with the kennel operator to relinquish all 927 dogs, many of them pregnant. Recent state and federal legislation has targeted commercial dog breeding facilities to improve standards and eliminate puppy mills. In October, Pennsylvania became the first state to go beyond requirements set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Federal lawmakers are trying to close a loophole that exempts some large-scale dog breeders from federal scrutiny.

That moniker hasn't set well with Gov. Ed Rendell and Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff, who decided to take on the issue of unscrupulous dog breeding a few years ago.

The state's Dog Law has since undergone dramatic revisions, most recently on Oct. 9, when Gov. Rendell signed into law legislation, applicable to all commercial breeders, that, among other things:

  • doubles the minimum floor space for cages
  • requires regular outdoor exercise in an area at least twice the size of the dog's primary enclosure, with exceptions granted by a Canine Health Board
  • prohibits the use of wire flooring and requires flooring to allow for moderate drainage
  • prohibits the stacking of cages
  • requires veterinary examinations semiannually
  • mandates that only a veterinarian may euthanize an animal
  • requires unlimited access to water

The Dog Law overhaul has been lauded mostly as a success, but not by everyone, including some stakeholders in the commercial dog breeding industry who say they are being put at a serious business disadvantage.

Different way of doing business

In 2006, Gov. Rendell announced sweeping changes to the state's Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. Effective since late 2006, these modifications included putting dog kennel inspection results online and opening communication channels with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to share information on commercial kennels being inspected by both entities. Kennels not in compliance received conditional licenses or were placed on probation. Efforts were increased to enforce the out-of-state dealer license requirement, with coordinating efforts to confirm that former license holders who did not renew their licenses were not continuing to operate. Four kennel compliance specialists were hired, trained, and deployed.

The results showed an extraordinary increase in citations—a 500 percent increase in Lancaster County, home to 11 percent of Pennsylvania's kennels and much of its Amish community, from 2006 to 2007, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's 2007 report to the state's General Assembly. A nearly 600 percent increase in kennel citations occurred statewide. Twenty-one licenses were revoked, including four on the basis of cruelty convictions. Dogs from several illegal, unlicensed kennels also were seized by or surrendered to humane society police officers.

Going one step further, Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced legislation (House Bill 2525) this past spring to amend the state's Dog Law. It gained much attention across the state, attributable in part to a high-profile incident this summer when two brothers killed 80 dogs in their kennels instead of complying with a state dog warden's order to let a veterinarian examine them.

The bill passed Oct. 8, and for the first time, defines and sets standards for commercial kennels. It applies to kennels that breed dogs and sell or transfer more than 60 per year as well as those that sell any dog to a dealer or pet shop kennel. That means it would affect 650 of the state's 2,750 licensed kennels, since boarding kennels, private sporting kennels, pet stores, and rescue shelters are not included.

We're certainly planning on using this (law) as a model. There's been an amazing groundswell of grassroots support. Legislators said they heard more on this than any other effort. That was essential to getting this accomplished. We hope to build the same kind of groundswell in other states.


To determine appropriate kennel conditions concerning temperature, humidity, ventilation, and lighting, the law grants oversight to the Canine Health Board. It will be made up of nine small animal veterinarians—Three appointed by the governor, four by the legislature, one by the Pennsylvania VMA president, and one by the dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

One bill, many voices

A number of animal rights groups, such as The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania, shelters and rescue networks, breeders, and veterinarians weighed in on the legislation as it made its way through the legislature.

Cori Menkin, senior director of legislative initiatives for the ASPCA, said the society wasn't completely satisfied with the law but said the major provisions stayed intact.

"I think it's fantastic we were able to get as strong of a bill through tough legislation," Menkin said.

"We're certainly planning on using this as a model. There's been an amazing groundswell of grassroots support. Legislators said they heard more on this than any other effort. That was essential to getting this accomplished. We hope to build the same kind of groundswell in other states."

The Pennsylvania VMA acknowledged it did have some concerns throughout the legislative process. VMA officials pushed hard against proposed solid flooring, instead taking the position that the floor should provide for moderate drainage to reduce the risk of dogs sitting in their urine and feces. The PVMA also did not want exercise mandated outdoors because it believed the more important issue was that dogs receive exercise outside their primary enclosure. The PVMA believed that if exercise were mandated outdoors, provisions should be made for snow and ice removal of runs, roofing over at least a portion of the run, a "doggie door" placed on the opening to help with temperature, and pest control inside the kennel.

Along the way, the PVMA received a lot of negative feedback because of misrepresentation of its positions from some animal rights groups and media, said Charlene Wandzilak, executive director of the PVMA.

"I'm not sure why anyone saw us as an adversary, because our positions were all based on scientific knowledge and veterinary expertise, which we thought would create the best situation for dogs," she said.

Eventually, the law made concessions for both concerns. It also included the establishment of a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, which further defines the responsibilities of a dog breeder and veterinarian and is consistent with the state's Veterinary Medicine Practice Act.

"We basically stuck to animal welfare issues. We didn't weigh in on anything outside of the welfare of the dogs. We didn't want to discredit ourselves by being part of something we had no business in, like search warrants," Wandzilak said. "In the end, our expertise and calling for scientifically based provisions did end up getting into the bill."

Though the PVMA ultimately says it is pleased with the outcome, it also believes the state legislated to address the "few bad players" in the commercial breeding industry that created a negative public perception.

"The unfortunate part of it is that there are good breeders out there that will have a hard time complying with the new law," Wandzilak said. "Not all commercial breeders are 'puppy mills.'"

On the contrary

Indeed, the law hasn't been without its critics. Opponents say it goes too far and criminalizes certain aspects of breeding.

Ken Brandt, a lobbyist for the Professional Dog Breeders Association, which represents 300 large commercial breeders that sell puppies to pet stores, said his group opposes the law because the cost to comply would put many kennels out of business.

"You're talking major revamping. They're going to have to get rid of half their dogs, or build a space twice as big as they have now to keep the same number," Brandt said.

Brandt said many commercial breeders are USDA-inspected and -licensed, and have been getting along fine under those rules and regulations. (See JAVMA story for more information on USDA standards for commercial breeders.)

"These (new provisions) go far from what the USDA says. For lots of folks they will have double standards to (adhere) to," Brandt said. "You're still going to have folks working under the radar, no matter what you have. ... The problem is you have most breeders that have upward of 100 dogs. This is a business to them. This is their livelihood."

He says on a positive note, the law allows commercial breeding kennels one year to meet the new physical standards, unless granted a temporary waiver by the Department of Agriculture.

At least three states besides Pennsylvania have passed measures designed to address commercial kennel operations. New laws in Virginia and Louisiana limit the number of dogs that can be housed in kennels, and the Maine legislature authorized a working group to evaluate the regulation of dog and cat breeding facilities in the state and recommend any changes necessary to ensure the humane treatment of animals.

Source: AVMA State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department