Report warns fewer dog wardens could jeopardize public safety

Investigators

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Department of Agriculture’s annual dog law report has a warning.

The report states that the dog law restricted account will go negative as early as January 2020.

“If the bureau maintains the current financial course, it will no longer be able to keep dogs and the public safe,” the report states. “That means increasingly fewer dog wardens to pick up strays, inspect kennels, or investigate dog bites and illegal kennels.

“It also means the bureau will no longer be able to track dangerous dogs, leaving the public without the information they need to know whether there is a dangerous dog in their neighborhood.”

With January right around the corner, how much money is left?

“Currently, there is $490,000 in that dog law fund,” said Shannon Powers, a Department of Agriculture spokeswoman. “We have made some major adjustments to keep the fund from going negative in January. We have 11 positions we have left vacant and we have put off some IT upgrades.”

According to the report, 87 percent of funds in the account are generated by dog license sales.

“The dog license fees, which are currently at $6.10 for an animal that has been spayed, hasn’t been increased in 23 years, and at the same time, the operating costs have gone up 112%,” Powers said.

In 1997, the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement had 60 wardens. Personnel costs were $2.5 million and operating costs were $954,458.

In 2019, there are 42 dog wardens. Personnel costs are $4.7 million and operating costs are $2.6 million.

According to the report, the bureau licensed 2,644 kennels in 2018. The law requires inspections twice a year.

“We are doing our best to meet that quota. It takes us longer to get out because we have fewer people to do the work,” Powers said.

Kennel inspections are posted online. Powers says the database is in need of an upgrade.

“We want that transparency to be there, but there are some glitches with the system. It is very old,” said Powers.

It is not clear how long the current funding will last.

“Is it a fix to carry it through to the end of the year? Is it a fix to carry it two years? We would rather have a more permanent solution,” Powers said.

There are several bills at the Capitol that could offer solutions. Senate Bill 663 and House Bill 1504 would raise dog license fees to increase funding.

House Bill 1277 would increase license fees and allow all fines collected to remain in the restricted account, instead of sending fines in excess of $70,000 to the Judicial Computer System Augmentation Account.

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