Lack of Funding for Dog Law Enforcement May Shortchange Local Animals

| February 17, 2020

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – A recent special report from the state Auditor General indicated that lack of funding for the state’s Dog Law Enforcement Bureau is cause for concern in our area – and across the state.

(Photo courtesy of Venango County Humane Society Fan Club)

According to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a lack of funding has forced the bureau to cut its staff by 18 percent since 2014. With just 41 wardens, down from 53 in 2014, many of the wardens are covering large territories, which is a cause for concern for many people.

“They’re stretched very thin especially in rural areas,” Tri County Animal Rescue secretary and board of directors member Debbie Stephens told exploreVenango.com.

“They can’t always get around enough, and it’s a big issue. Some larger towns may have their own animal control, but we don’t have that around here.”

Deb Hardy, a local resident and certified shelter manager who retired from her position as the Lead Marketing Director for the Venango County Humane Society this year, agreed.

“They’re really spread out. We have a very large area for just one warden. Our local warden, Kane Kuzior, is also the warden for Mercer County.”

Jefferson County Humane Officer Deb McAndrew also noted the same issue.

“Our warden for Jefferson County also covers Elk County, so to me that means if I have an emergency in Jefferson County and need to contact him, he might not be an hour away, he could be several hours away if it happens on a day he’s way up into Elk County.”

While the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement does not oversee or have jurisdiction over animal cruelty, Pennsylvania dog wardens do receive humane officer training to provides them with knowledge about what to look for in kennels and other situations where animal cruelty may be present. If a warden suspects cruelty, they will refer the case to a humane society police officer or police officer for official investigation.

Their primary purpose is to oversee licensed kennels and boarding facilities, as well as annual licensure and rabies vaccinations for dogs. They also often handle stray dogs.

“A lot of people want us to come and pick up strays, but we just don’t have the resources to do that,” Stephens noted.

“We’ve also been full a lot lately, and since we’re the only rescue in Clarion County with a kennel license, if we’re full or can’t take a dog for any reason, he (the dog warden) generally has to take the dog the whole way up to Erie, to the A.N.N.A. Shelter.”

The dog wardens also interact very regularly with the animal rescues in our area.

According to Venango County Humane Society Manager Dan Prichard, the warden for Venango County checks in at the shelter several times per month.

“He goes through all of our records to make sure we’re maintaining the strays that come into the Humane Society.”

Prichard noted the warden also occasionally brings them stray dogs he has been called to pick up.

While handling strays is part of what the dog wardens do, the fact that they cover such large territories can make that difficult, as well.

“My concern is, if you have a stray dog, you see a dog in your yard and call the warden, by the time he’s able to get there, that animal could be long gone,” McAndrew noted.

According to Auditor General DePasquale’s report, part of the funding problem is that annual dog license fees, which make up nearly 90 percent of the bureau’s revenues, have remained at $8.50 — or $6.50 if the dog is spayed or neutered – since 1996. If license fees were tied to the rate of inflation, those fees would be roughly $14 and $11 today.

“Dog licenses are very inexpensive in Pennsylvania. I personally think they could raise it a little, or maybe make it a bigger difference between dogs that are spayed and dogs that aren’t and encourage more people to get their dogs spayed,” Stephens said.

The special report also notes a state law forces the bureau to transfer the bulk of the fines and penalties it collects to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), and since 1998, more than $4.4 million has been diverted to AOPC to pay for its computer system.

“That I think is totally wrong,” McAndrew stated.

“The warden puts in a lot of time to do these cases, he even has to prosecute his own cases, so any money awarded by fines should go to the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to pay the salary of the person who does all of the work.”


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