Changes in state laws shut down dog kennels

Pennsylvania sees 125 of its 300 licensed commercial kennels shut down after new laws go into effect
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Feb 01, 2010

Lancaster, Pa. — Often called the "Puppy Mill Capital of the East," Pennsylvania has struggled to improve its image by passing laws that crack down on irresponsible breeding and kennel operations. But now that the laws are in effect and an enforcement plan has reached maturity, 125 of the state's 300 licensed commercial kennels are being shut down, leaving humane groups bracing for what officials believe will result in an onslaught of dumped dogs.

"We keep hearing rumors of kennels closing down or being closed down," says Megan Gallagher, vice president of development and outreach for the Humane League of Lancaster County — the heart of kennel operations. "We're anticipating we'll see a larger number of dogs, but we haven't seen it yet."

But the closures aren't rumors. Changes to commercial dog-kennel laws in Pennsylvania went into effect Oct. 9, and a 55-day enforcement period during which all 300 of the state's class-C kennels were inspected ended Dec. 31. Based on those inspections, 125 kennels have been ordered to close, says Justin Fleming, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement.

New laws require class-C kennels — which breed or sell more than 60 dogs per year to dealers or pet stores — to double the minimum floor space for dogs, provide access to an outdoor exercise area, keep kennel temperatures above 50 degrees, provide water at all times, remove all wire flooring from canine living quarters, stop stacking cages upon each other and have each dog checked by a veterinarian twice each year.

Fleming says previous versions of class-C kennel laws didn't require that dogs ever be removed from their cages, let alone be required to have exercise areas. Challenges to the new laws by breeders and kennel owners were shot down by a federal judge.

Over the last year, many states have passed legislation cracking down on puppy mills and irresponsible dog breeding and kenneling. But the effects of those laws on the dogs they are meant to protect are only now becoming evident as enforcement comes into play.

"There will be challenges for veterinarians when people adopt these dogs who have had little handling from shelters. They could have behavioral challenges and may have not been bred with the utmost care," Gallagher says. "We've been hearing about the effect from the new laws for a long time, but it's only now that we're going to start to see it."

Some breeders are allegedly dumping dogs from their operations to get below the 60-dog cutoff for being classified as a commercial shelter, and others are euthanizing their dogs to avoid sending them to shelters that might set them up for negative publicity, Gallagher says.

"It has been rumored that some of the breeders have chosen to euthanize more of their animals instead of seeing them go to animal shelters. The issue became particularly hot with some of the organizations really going after specific breeders and things like that," she says.

Some breeders have reached out to rescue groups who will take the dogs with no questions asked, rather than go through humane societies and shelters, she says. But once kennels are shut down, the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement will call upon humane groups like Gallagher's to pick up the pieces. Then, it's anyone's guess what will happen to these dogs once they are placed in new homes.

"It will be interesting for the veterinarians because this whole thing came to fruition because people were purchasing puppies and taking them home to have them die," she says. "I would suspect they'll be seeing more clearly identifiable health issues with dogs being rescued from puppy mills."