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Underfunded state department forced to use PA taxpayer money to fill in gaps

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To solve the problem, lawmakers are considering raising the amount of money it'll cost to register a dog in Pennsylvania

WKBN

(WYTV) – The Pennsylvania Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is running out of money. For the first time since it was created in 1893, the department is having to rely on taxpayer dollars.

The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is responsible for inspecting kennels, investigating and prosecuting illegal kennels and puppy mills, protecting the public from dangerous dogs, investigating dog bites, reuniting lost pets with their owners and reimbursing farmers whose animals are killed by wild dogs. It’s overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The bureau is $1.2 million short on its budget.

The bureau’s money comes from its licensure fees. Right now, the current fee is $6.50 for spayed or neutered pets and $2 more if they aren’t fixed. Pennsylvania hasn’t raised that fee in 25 years.

Since the bureau started, their funding had been entirely covered by those fees, but this is now the second year that more than a million dollars had to be diverted from other funds to help fill the gap.

Last year, $1.5 million was diverted to help cover expenses.

There’s still not enough money to cover the state’s minimum mandated services.

There are vacancies for dog wardens that they don’t have the money to fill. Lancaster County, which has the most dog kennels, doesn’t have a warden right now. Dog wardens from neighboring counties are spread thin, picking up the extra slack.

The department said it has had to cut spending by slashing programs, like offering less money to local shelters that take in strays.

“We pay a stipend to shelters for taking in a stray dog,” said Shannon Powers, with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “When we pick up a stray dog, a shelter will house it and we will fund that. That’s typically around $40. We’ve had to reduce that to $5 and we may have to cut that out altogether, so that’s put a bigger burden on those nonprofit shelters to raise the money to house those animals.”

Two companion bills — one in the House and one in the Senate — hope to raise the licensure fee so the bureau will get more money.

Senate Bill 232 and House Bill 526 have been introduced to raise the current dog license fee from $6.50 to $10.

“People want dogs to be bred in safe conditions and held under safe conditions,” Powers said. “These dog wardens are who makes sure that happens and when you don’t have people to do that work, there is, essentially, darkness in the industry.”

If one of these bills is passed into law, it would also change the requirement age for pet registration from 3 months to 8 weeks — the time when dogs are legally old enough to be sold.

The bureau said these changes are necessary to keep Pennsylvania dogs and the community safe.

It said registering a dog is the owner’s responsibility, but only about 50% to 60% of dogs in the state are licensed. Anyone who fails to register their dog could face a $300 fine.

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Mel Robbins Main Area Middle

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