The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement — the state agency that works to ensure the welfare of dogs and puppies in kennels and boarding facilities, oversees annual licensure and checks rabies vaccinations — requires immediate attention.

“The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement may run out of money this summer,” said state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who recently completed an audit of agency operations. “It’s time for Pennsylvania to make sure it is adequately funding dog law enforcement.”

A lack of funding has forced the bureau to cut its staff by 18 percent since 2014, DePasquale reports. The auditor general is calling for an increase in dog license fees — which have been in place at the same rate for 24 years and make up 90 percent of the bureau’s revenues.

The current cost of an annual dog license is $8.50, and $6.50 if the animal has been spayed or neutered. A lifetime license is $51.50, but it’s $31.50 for each dog that is spayed or neutered.

The revenue stream is complicated by a state law that forces the bureau to transfer the bulk of the fines and penalties it collects from dog law violations to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) to help pay for its computer system. Since 1998, more than $4.4 million has been diverted to the AOPC.

The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement currently employs 41 dog wardens, a decrease of 12 wardens working in the field since 2014. The wardens are responsible for inspecting about 2,600 kennels operating across the state at least twice each year.

Without prompt legislative action, the bureau expects the dog law fund to become insolvent by July.

Nearly a quarter of a century is much too long to go without a single increase in dog license fees, needed to fund the important health and safety work carried out by this agency. If the license fees were tied to the rate of inflation, the annual fees would range from $11 to $14, the auditor general reports. They cost more than $20 in some states.

Bills have been introduced in the state Legislature to address these issues, but have seen limited action. Companion bills in the state House and Senate would increase fees to $10 for a one-year license and $49 for a lifetime license and would allow the bureau to set future license rates. Those bills have not advanced beyond the committee level since May 2019.

A state Senate bill would increase the dangerous dog fee from $500 to $1,000 each year and a separate House bill — that was approved by the House and sent to the Senate — would allow the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to retain all of the revenue it receives from dog law citation fines, rather than turning a portion of those fines over to the AOPC for its computer system.

All of these issues require the immediate attention of state lawmakers. We agree with Kristen Tullo, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, who said the efforts of dog law wardens are important for ensuring “the health and well-being of puppies and helping keep the community safe.” Adequate funding for staffing and operations is essential.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publiher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was wirren by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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