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Secretary of Agriculture Warns: No Justice for Dog Bite Victims, Dangerous Dogs at Large without Dog License Fee Increase

03/19/2021

Harrisburg, PA – Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding today warned that Pennsylvanians will be at significant risk of coming into contact with a dangerous dog or be victim in a dog-related incident without immediate legislative action to raise the dog license fee.

The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, whose work is primarily funded by dog license dollars, maintains a statewide registry of dangerous dogs in Pennsylvania. The bureau also works to investigate dog bites and provide justice to victims.

"Most Pennsylvanians don't even realize there is a registry of dangerous dogs in the state. They don't worry about keeping alert for vicious dogs outside of their home or at the park because they don't have to," said Redding. "The work of dog wardens to track and monitor the more than 500 dangerous dogs in the commonwealth is a service that goes unrecognized.

"Without a dog license fee increase to fund the work of wardens, such as monitoring dangerous dogs or investigating dog bites, Pennsylvanians will notice," added Redding. "They'll notice when dog attacks become more frequent in their neighborhoods. They'll notice when there's no one to require these dogs to be confined and muzzled or ensure that they are up to date on rabies vaccinations. They'll notice when the owners of vicious dogs are uninsured to cover their medical bills."

When a dog in Pennsylvania attacks a person, that person or a state dog warden can file a complaint with a magisterial district justice charging the owner with harboring a dangerous dog. Dogs deemed dangerous are required to be registered with the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and reregistered annually.

Owners of dangerous dogs are required to follow a strict set of standards related to housing of the animal. When the dog is outside of the enclosure, it must be muzzled and restrained. The premise where the dog resides must be clearly labeled with a warning sign that there is a dangerous dog on the property. The dog must be spayed or neutered and microchipped, and the owner must hold a liability insurance policy with a minimum of $50,000 in coverage.

Wardens actively work to check in on dangerous dogs and their owners to ensure they're in compliance and maintain an up-to-date registry of dangerous dogs.

"The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement plays an important role in protecting the public health of Pennsylvanians, both animal and human," said Betsy Schroeder, State Public Health Veterinarian with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. "The Department of Health works closely with the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to investigate and respond to a variety of public health issues that can impact humans, such as brucellosis, animal bites, and rabies, among others. To keep these services in place, and to continue our mission of creating and maintaining a healthy Pennsylvania for all, it is imperative that the dog licensing fee in the state be increased."

In the event of a dog bite or attack, wardens work to investigate the situation and provide justice to victims and prevent future attacks. Throughout the investigation, wardens work closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to determine risk for rabies, or other zoonotic disease, for victims of attack.

"Prior to my dog bite incident, I knew very little about the bureau of dog law enforcement," said Allison Smigiel who was victim to a dog attack in 2020. "Since the horrific ordeal I have learned firsthand the importance of the bureau and the positive impact that a dog warden can have on these truly terrifying experiences."

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that people rely on dogs for companionship. While many industries were negatively impacted, the pet retail supply industry had record sales and the number of people bringing a dog into their homes skyrocketed. Demand for dogs increased, while the supply decreased.

As a result, we are seeing the importation of dogs from large breeding kennels in other countries to fill this demand in the U.S. The unknown sources of the dogs and their living conditions, coupled with a lack of veterinary medical information is resulting in new disease outbreaks. The dogs are often improperly socialized or unsocialized, which leads to behavioral problems and dog bites.

With increased risk of incidents as a result of these importations, it's critically important that Pennsylvania's dog wardens aren't overburdened and able to respond to needs of the public.

"We love our pets and we love to rescue a dog," said animal welfare advocate Mary Kennedy Withrow. "Pennsylvania dog wardens play a vital role in ensuring that the pet you are bringing into your home is healthy in every way. Their work leads to happy, healthy pets and human companions."

For several years the Department of Agriculture has been pushing for a minimal dog license fee increase to keep the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement funded to continue their work to crack down on illegal kennels, register and track dangerous dogs, and ensure the health and well-being of dogs across the commonwealth, but the legislature has not heeded that warning. 

Now, as a result of the legislature's failure to act on a dog license fee increase, the bureau has been unable to fill mission critical warden vacancies and they're barely able keep up with their responsibilities that protect the public.

State Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and State Representative Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne) have introduced two corresponding pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 232 and House Bill 526, to raise the dog license fee by a minimal amount that would adequately fund the bureau to continue protecting both dogs and the public in Pennsylvania.  

The proposed fee increase is in line with standard inflation and will fund the work of wardens to ensure humane treatment of dogs and investigation and tracking of dangerous dogs. 

A minimal fee increase – for example for a spayed/neutered dog would increase from $6.50 to $10 annually – will benefit Pennsylvanians at large. The bills will also require puppies to be licensed at 8 weeks or the same age they are legally allowed to be sold. This efficiency is expected to increase license sales of puppies and further stabilize the bureau. 

Without immediate action to pass a fee increase, dangerous dogs will go unregistered and victims of dog bites will be left to their own devices to find justice.

For more information of Pennsylvania's dog laws, visit agriculture.pa.gov or licenseyourdogpa.pa.gov

MEDIA CONTACT:  Shannon Powers – shpowers@pa.gov 

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